Deanette Piesik has gotten her hands dirty, both physically and metaphorically, to ensure the safety of North Dakota workers partaking in the state's leading industries.
For the last 10 years, Piesik has worked to create programs that teach people the skills they need to get and retain jobs in the high demand industries in the state, such as agriculture, transportation and manufacturing. But the last three years have been devoted to the oil and gas industry, a move she did not see coming.
Although her husband works in the oil industry, "I never thought I'd work with them," she said. But through interactions with her husband's business partners and other oil entities, "I was naturally connected to the industry."
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
Deanette Piesik, director of Workforce Training for northwest North Dakota, is a tireless proponent of workers and the oil and gas industry.
With the rise in skill-specific employment opportunities, North Dakota officials recognized the need to make major changes at the business, community and individual level to ensure local jobseekers remained viable and competitive in the job market.
Created in 1999 by the North Dakota Legislature, the Workforce Initiative is a statewide program whose aim is to solve the problem of hiring and maintaining a well-trained workforce.
Out of that came Workforce Training, which emphasizes complete and customized training based on the needs of individual businesses or entire industries in the state. They offer programs concerning computers, specialty training such as certified nurse, supervisory training, agriculture and continuing education.
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Piesik joined the Force from its inception, starting out as a workforce specialist, eventually becoming the director for the northwest region.
Workforce Training, "evolved faster than I ever thought," she said. In less than 10 years, she has quadrupled her northwestern staff.
Based at Williston State College, Piesik is responsible for all of the programs offered in a 10-county area as well as managing personnel at Williston and the satellite office in Minot.
In 2002, oil companies began asking about local safety training programs, Piesik said, so the Workforce put together some material and taught 13 classes. But after that, things became stagnant until 2004 when the Petroleum Safety and Technology Center opened, thanks in part to a grant provided by one of the governor's programs.
"It was quite a big undertaking, but since then, the program has snowballed," she said. "We now have a quality program with good trainers and wide accessibility."
Through her hands-on involvement and guidance, the group has started the general oil and gas industry, service rig and commercial driver's license training programs in recent years.
The oil and gas industry training, which began in May 2008, focuses on general industry information, new hire training, safety and first-aid, and hands-on fire training.
In 2006, the group launched the CDL program, a two-week long course that focuses on state and federal commercial driving requirements, hazardous material knowledge, cargo handling information, safety, basic auto repair and 60-hours of hands-on driving experience.
Although the Floorhand for Well Servicing Training Program officially began in November 2007, the physical legwork happened weeks earlier.
In October 2007, Piesik traveled with two others to Woodward, Okla., which is experiencing a similar oil boom to Williston, to partake in a weeklong service rig training program. After learning the safety and operation basics, the three from the North joined two locals from the South and spent the next three days working on an actual service rig that had been converted to a training facility.
Working in 80- and 90-degree heat with a hard hat on, each member of the six-person team took turns wrenching rods, operating hydro tongs and lifting 28-pound tubing.
"It was more physical than anything I had done in a long time," she said, but it did not faze her. "I wanted to run the rig, but he (the operator) wouldn't let me."
As only the second, and oldest, woman to go through the program, Piesik said she was on display as groups of people were sent down to watch her work.
"The instructor later told me he thought I would be less involved, but I wanted to understand if a woman asks me about what it's like, it's important to answer the question honestly," she said. "This experience has given me firsthand knowledge to relay to future workers."
With the three newest programs all running, 2008 was a year to behold.
"We have had an exceptional year," she said, adding that the northwest region trained more people than any of the other regions in the state, with 4,000 individuals in all of the programs combined.
"The safety programs are the bread and butter of our business," she said, with more than 1,000 participants when all of the Safety Awareness classes are combined. But the other programs fared well, too. The CDL classes had 90 participants this year, up from 50 in 2007, and of the 191 businesses served in 2008, 103 were oil and gas related, an increase of 10 percent over last year.
Although it was the first year of the rig service training, results look promising. Of the 42 participants who completed the course, 95 percent of them have been hired by a rig or oil-related company.
"The oil and gas companies see the value of it, so it's a win-win for both sides," she said. The biggest challenge for Piesik and her team is tailoring each program to the specific requirements of each company, but, "It's a challenge we arise to." With more than half of businesses returning for further training needs, the extra effort pays off.
Piesik said Workforce Training chose to offer a service rig training program partly because it is an entry-level position, but more so because the skills learned there are fundamental to the industry and mastery of those basics will enable workers to advance or move into other sectors of the industry.
With an estimated 40 percent of oil industry workers at retirement age, Piesik said companies are actively looking to fill those positions and quick advancement is possible.
"It's an excellent time to get into the business. Many worry about the cyclical nature of it, but with dedication and hard work, you will move up," she said, adding, "And they're a fun group to work with."
To further help workers in the oil field, Piesik said Workforce is working on four new programs for 2009, but added that it takes an average of six months to create the curriculum for each training program, so nothing is definite.
One program they will have for 2009 will build on their service rig training. A lease-operator, which maintains the well, is a middle-level position that requires on-the-job experience and Workforce is currently in the midst of creating the necessary curriculum for the lease-operator training program.
Although she can't seem to find the hours needed in a day to get everything done, she said her job allows her to work with people in the industry, travel, write grants, and create and plan a variety of programs. But the biggest perk is those in the office.
"I have the best staff of anybody I know. They give me 110 percent and are honest and upfront with me," she said.
Kallie Swanson, a Workforce Training specialist who works in Piesik's Minot office, said, "She has a tireless work ethic and seems to move mountains with ease. Under her leadership, our training program has grown tremendously. She is a terrific boss and I am continually amazed at her achievements in receiving grant dollars and creating new programs."
Originally from Glendive, Mont., Piesik moved to Williston in 1994 and has been in the state since.
"North Dakota is a nice place to live. There are numerous opportunities available, but at the same time you still have the 'home' feeling."
With the last of her three daughters graduating college, "Who knows what the new year will bring," she said, "but I can't imagine doing something else. We have a good vision and a plan to move forward, so I'm comfortable to stay."