Initiative aims for more stable workforce in oil patch

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

A county job development authority in the North Dakota oil patch on Wednesday launched a unique initiative aimed at centralizing state and university programs to help build a regional workforce less susceptible to the boom-and-bust cycle of the oil industry.

 

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A county job development authority in the North Dakota oil patch on Wednesday launched a unique initiative aimed at centralizing state and university programs to help build a regional workforce less susceptible to the boom-and-bust cycle of the oil industry.

The move comes as energy production in the state is on the uptick after a recent slowdown, but more than one-third of the 3,000 job openings in northwestern North Dakota are not in the oil fields, according to Cindy Sanford, manager of the Job Service North Dakota office in Williston.

"There's help wanted in just about every window," she said. "There are tons and tons of jobs out here. Social work, retail, manufacturing, information technology, energy, customer service, teaching, agriculture."

The McKenzie County Skills Initiative brings together job training programs, classes and services offered by the University of Mary, Williston State College, and the state-sponsored TrainND program and the North Dakota Small Business Development Center. They're centralized at the new $57 million community center in the oil boom town of Watford City, and could help job-seekers with everything from computer skills to truck driving skills, said Daniel Stenberg, director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority.

Organizers say the effort is the first of its kind in the state. The partnership "shows an innovative way to address workforce and education needs," said Wayde Sick, workforce development director for the state Commerce Department.

The initiative was unveiled during a job fair at which more than 50 companies advertised 500 jobs in a range of industries. Development officials were looking to the event to get a better idea of how many people might be coming to the patch as oil production picks up again.

The latest production report from the state Department of Mineral Resources, released Tuesday, showed production in April rose more than 2 percent from March and was above 1 million barrels per day for the third straight month. Natural gas production in April reached an all-time high at 1.8 billion cubic feet daily.

The number of people coming to the Job Service office in Williston each day is about one-third what it was in 2012 and 2013, even though the number of job openings is about the same, according to Sanford.

"We have to get rid of the image that was here in 2011, 2012, that there wasn't an (affordable) place to stay," she said. "The infrastructure is all in now."

The establishment of the skills initiative in a city whose population has almost quadrupled since the 2010 census also should prove helpful in attracting workers, Sanford and Stenberg said.

"We have kind of a critical mass in Watford," Stenberg said.

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