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Energy In America

On the Job Hunt: Boom in oil industry creates wealth of jobs in North Dakota

 

When it comes to jobs, they say they need everything from A to Z, just like the Yellow Pages.

The once rural town of Williston, N.D., is projected to double -- and maybe even triple -- in the next five years because it is in the heart of what the locals refer to as the rockin' Bakken, an oil and gas rich swath of western North Dakota.  

Technical advances in energy exploration and production have made it possible to get much more out of the ground here. As North Dakota has outrun Alaska and leaped into the No. 2 spot for production, it's feeding all sorts of demand in the state with the lowest unemployment in the nation.

Unemployed residents of other states have been migrating to the Peace Garden State in search of work. 

"We're able to find workers which, otherwise, if we'd been on full employment, it would have been hard to get people to move to a rural area like this" says Tom Rolfstad, executive director of Williston Economic Development.

The work and business opportunities are wide-ranging and plentiful, but small towns are racing to keep up with demand for housing. For example, Williston put in 2,100 units last year and expects to add 3,500 next year. 

"For the most part, everybody's working. To a degree I could even say we have the working homeless, that we have so many workers and not enough housing, that that's our problem with homeless" says Rolfstad. The town has had to regulate where RVs are parked and crack down on sleeping in the parks.   

It's not unheard of for people to live out of their cars. The Williston job services office actually has handout information on where to find showers.

While potential for high wages is a draw, Cindy Sanford, with Job Service North Dakota's office in Williston, says many employers are looking for skilled labor, applicants with actual experience and certifications. Just because someone has a welding background does not mean he or she will qualify to weld on an oil company's pipe; the certifications can be very specific.  

And it can be more than know-how. A job might require a high level of physical fitness because of the danger involved. Sanford told Fox News that one company requires 34 pushups, followed by planking for 2.5 minutes. The potential employee has to lift arms and legs, one at a time and the chest cannot touch the floor.  Right after that, an applicant has to climb a 16-inch step for three minutes without their heart rate going over 85 percent of the person's maximum.

Just about all oil patch jobs require the minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Background checks, drug tests and clean driving records also figure big in one's prospects.  Job Service North Dakota has a guide, "North Dakota Oilfield Employment" which which contains drilling basics, occupations, how to apply for jobs and other tips.

The Job Service North Dakota team pointed out efforts are being made to help and recruit veterans. There are waivers to allow those with a military driver's license to skip the road test for a Commercial Drivers License (CDL), therefore making it easier to land a trucking job. Some jobs involve working with explosives, which can be compatible with veterans backgrounds.

Maren Daley, executive director of Job Service North Dakota, says the state's economy is diversified. The oil boom has about one-third of the job openings in the state and it is "...acting sort of like the tip of a pyramid. There's all of this oil activity and a lot of really good jobs closely tied to oil, but with that the influx of people to those oil areas, it has the impact of creating more jobs in other industries such as transportation, food service, hospitality."

Rolfstad echoes the fact there's a nationwide, even worldwide, ripple effect from the energy boom. "We drilled 2,100 wells last year ... and so we did 8,400 miles of pipe last year.  Now if that didn't help Pittsburgh, I don't know what would."  He noted brand-new trucks are on the roads, power lines and construction mean more lumber has to be produced. The oil business means lots of tools on the job.  

"I think what's good for us is good for the country and, uh, we have employees from all over. We have investors from all over the country, so we're part of the big symbiotic relationship across the country and we couldn't do it alone without the rest of our country working with us."

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