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Job market still strong

High pay drives high costs

Jill Schramm/MDN Hiring signs are posted around Minot’s Target store. Sales positions, including in retail, are among the most numerous job openings in Job Service North Dakota’s North Central Region.

There’s still plenty of jobs in oil country, and many of those jobs pay well. However, the high cost of living is a barrier to recruiting, according to Job Service North Dakota representatives who spoke at the Western Dakota Energy Association meeting in Minot Oct. 31.

Paula Hickel, manager of the Williston workforce center in the Northwest North Dakota Region, presented data from September that showed a demand for workers in Divide, Williams and McKenzie counties, particularly in transportation-related jobs.

“We show 1,436 jobs. We know that’s not the true number because not all the jobs that are open have been listed in our system. So we can only take our best guess that it could be about double, maybe even triple that many job openings,” Hickel said. “I pay more attention to the patterns and the historical content versus the exact number. But we know that we have lots of job openings in every category.”

In northwest North Dakota, the average wage for open jobs posted with Job Service is $29.28 an hour, compared to the state average of $26.70.

“Over 80% of those jobs in the job openings pay $20 an hour or more,” Hickel said.

Jill Schramm/MDN Paula Hickel, left, and Susan Ogurek, respective managers of Job Service North Dakota workforce centers in Williston and Minot, address the Western Dakota Energy Association Oct. 31.

Average wage for the online postings in the North Central Region is $25.39 a hour, and 60% of postings are $20 an hour or more. The region includes Burke, Mountrail, Renville, Ward, Bottineau, McHenry and Pierce counties. There were 1,543 job openings in the region in October.

High wages can be offset by a high cost of living, and that’s been a concern in the Williston region, Hickel said. Oil field workers also struggle with work and life balance, while employers with non-oil field jobs find themselves at a disadvantage in competing with oil-field wages, she said.

McKenzie, the state’s highest producing oil county, has the state’s highest cost of living. Dunn and Billings counties are next, followed by Ward and Williams, according to Job Service.

“Oil-field spouses often stay home rather than working because daycare costs are so high,” Hickel said, noting it can take a potential employee with valuable skills out of the market.

Hickel said working 12 to 14 hours a day in the oil field, or working for several weeks to get a week off doesn’t allow for spending time with family and self care. The at-home parent also may be overwhelmed in going it alone much of the time, she said.

She read the comment on Job Service’s Facebook page of one worker, who wrote, “I earn great money; however, would love to have a better schedule than working five weeks on and one off. It’s hard to ever make plans. Who cares about how much we make if we have no life?”

Hickel said it also is difficult for residents to become engaged in their communities when their lives revolve around work. She said she sees job seekers who are looking for those positions that offer a more balanced schedule.

“We’ve even seen it in our office here,” said Susan Ogurek, manager of the Minot workforce center. She said the military has developed programs to assist families through deployments, and those programs may be ones that private employers can learn from to help employees and families who are stressed by their work commitments.

However, despite having some negatives to overcome, the oil and gas industry does provide tremendous career and financial opportunities, Hickel said.

“If we could find more employees to fit, I think that those employees working there now would have a better quality of life. They’re often just working overtime because somebody’s got to get the work done,” she said. “So if they could bring those hours down, I think they would appreciate that in a lot of those sectors.”

Successful hiring is chipping away at the open positions. Both the Williston and Minot regions are down somewhat in job openings from the same time a year ago, largely because of positions getting filled, Hickel said.

The top opening in northwest North Dakota consistently has been transportation and materials moving, and even that category doesn’t capture all the jobs available to people with commercial driver’s licenses, Hickel said.

“So having a CDL is huge,” she said. “Basically in northwest North Dakota, if you have some experience with your CDL and hazmat, it’s like the doctorate of the Bakken, and it continues to be high demand and great pay.”

Beyond transportation, the greatest demand for workers is in the healthcare field, she added. In northwest North Dakota, there are 12 health care positions for every applicant. Healthcare workers are needed across the state, as are employees in the category of installation, maintenance and repair, she said.

Ogurek said the majority of open positions in the Minot region are in the category called “sales and related.” Sales goes beyond retail to include a variety of sales executives, including those who work in the oil and gas industry, she said. Healthcare is next in job opening numbers, followed by installation, maintenance and repair.

Hickel said there continues to be demand for workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher, but there are many jobs that don’t require that level of education.

“That sweet spot is between high school education and bachelor’s degree,” she said. Certificate programs in the trades look good on resumes, and Hickel said regulations will change in February to require attendance at a CDL school to obtain the license.

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