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Help wanted: Breaking down North Dakota's abundant job openings

The numbers displayed in this illustration show the number of job openings available by industry in North Dakota as reported by Job Service North Dakota’s Labor Market Information Center. Illustration by Troy Becker / The Forum

Fargo - State officials are beckoning outsiders to “Find the Good Life” in North Dakota, touting 20,000-plus job openings for six straight months.

But what are those jobs? Where are those jobs? And how much do they pay?

Those are questions some local, educated job seekers may ask with some dismay.

“The traditional four-year degrees in liberal arts, there isn’t a huge demand for those positions right now,” said Carey Fry, Fargo Job Service office manager.

That fact can lead those with bachelor’s or even graduate degrees to fill positions traditionally held by those without post-secondary education, creating an underemployed population – an issue a local consortium hopes to address through a comprehensive Fargo-Moorhead area workforce study.

“We have jobs and we have people, and a lot of the people don’t have the skills for the jobs that are available,” said Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., one of the organizations behind the proposed analysis.

The numbers

Each month, Job Service North Dakota’s Labor Market Information Center issues an online job openings report. July’s report, released Tuesday, showed a total of 23,501 job openings in North Dakota.

More than 5,700 of the state’s job openings are in Cass County. Burleigh has the second-highest number of openings with 3,534.

The top seeking occupational groups statewide are office and administrative support (secretaries, receptionists, tellers), 2,577 job openings; transportation and material moving (truck drivers, truck and tractor operators, packers and packagers), 2,512; sales and related (cashiers, retail salespeople, insurance agents, telemarketers), 2,089; and construction and extraction (carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, oil and gas roustabouts), 1,867.

Different regions of the state will have different demands.

“You might expect a slightly different set of job openings in Fargo versus Devils Lake, or Fargo versus Dickinson,” said Michael Ziesch, manager of the Labor Market Information Center in Bismarck. “Fargo would have more health care, financial operations, a little more management, office and administration.”

Fry also said there are “still a huge amount of service industry jobs that aren’t being filled.”

Job Service publishes an average wage for each occupational group. Management, with 1,548 job openings statewide, has the highest average wage at $95,710. Food preparation and service, with 1,035 open jobs statewide, has the lowest average wage at $21,670. Ziesch said wages within the occupational groups can vary wildly.

Sara Otte Coleman, state tourism director and spokeswoman for the “Find a Good Life” campaign, said one complaint the state Commerce Department has received is that its postings don’t include salaries. She acknowledged that is a challenge, though job seekers can get those sorts of details once they’ve honed in their search.

Otte Coleman said the campaign has seen an uptick in traffic to its website, So far, the campaign been focused on recruiting military members transitioning to civilian life in the next six to nine months, she said.

The goal of the “Find the Good Life” campaign is to attract permanent workers and families, she said.

“We’re hoping these families come and you need spouse jobs and kids jobs,” Otte Coleman said, noting that high school or college-age children may be prime candidates for jobs like those in the service industry.

Aligning skills

While there is certainly a job opening for every local job seeker and more, those jobs may not meet their expectations, said Gartin with the GFMEDC.

And, especially with jobs in the service industry, they may not be enough to live on, he said.

While the state has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate – 2.7 percent as of June – many people here are underemployed, Gartin said.

“There are a lot of people with college degrees that are filling positions that wouldn’t traditionally fall in to that category,” he said.

The GFMEDC is part of a collective wanting to do a comprehensive workforce analysis that would clearly define the local labor market, allowing for workforce and industry alignment.

Gartin said he doesn’t think the state’s numbers reflect all the local openings, particularly those in health care and technology. “I think the number you’re talking about is greater.”

The goal of the analysis would be to identify the high-demand occupations and create programs to allow people to “upscale” through education, he said.

That may be through a certificate program or through a technical college like North Dakota State College of Science or Minnesota State Community and Technical College, he said.

Fry advised current job seekers to retrain, “transferring those great skills you have with a liberal arts degree into the industries that are in demand.”

She also pointed to local technical colleges or shorter-term certificate programs, such as those for commercial driver’s license, certified nursing assistant or IT skills.

Fry also said people should consider jobs in an unfamiliar industry to open the door to a better position.

“Sell yourself into another opening in a career you probably didn’t think of,” she said. “Be creative and don’t close your mind or options off to a narrow focus, especially if you’re someone with a liberal arts degree.”

Sherri Richards

Sherri Richards has worked for The Forum since 2002. She is the features and business editor, overseeing Variety, SheSays, Farmers' Forum, the daily Business pages and Saturday Business section.     Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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