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ND Oil Patch sees high demand for workers

Judy Billehus, human resources and marketing manager for JMAC Resources, works at a job fair in Williston, N.D., on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Human resources manager Judy Billehus had goosebumps as job-seekers filled a Williston job fair Wednesday, March 22.

"I knew it was going to be hopping," said Billehus, who was recruiting workers to fill oilfield and construction-related jobs for JMAC Resources.

Compared to the past two major Williston job fairs, Billehus said more excitement was in the air as the oil industry rebounds from the recent slowdown.

Oil drilling is on the rise again in North Dakota with 50 drilling rigs now operating in the state, up from 32 at this time last year. Companies expect to do more hydraulic fracturing this year after many postponed operations while oil prices were low.

But growth in the Bakken could be tempered if employers can't fill the job openings, which Job Service North Dakota estimates to be between 1,000 and 1,500 in northwest North Dakota.

"We need people," said Cindy Sanford, who manages the Williston office of Job Service.

Experienced truck drivers with Class A commercial driver's licenses are in high demand, especially drivers who haul to drilling and fracking locations.

"We're all fighting for the same one guy," said Bill Milner, regional human resources manager for Rockwater Energy Solutions.

Nuverra Environmental Solutions is hiring 300 to 500 truck drivers in North Dakota to keep up with the company's workload, said recruiter Vernette Torgerson.

"We turn down work every day," Torgerson said.

Truck driver Janathan Williams said he received three offers at the job fair, all offering more than $25 an hour and more than 70 hours a week.

"When you have a CDL, it's like having a master's degree out here," said Williams, who moved to Williston from Florida in 2014.

Kevin Bird, district manager for RockPile Energy in Williston, said it's tougher to get workers back to the oilfield who left during the slowdown. Some expect wages to be as high as they were during the boom when oil prices were stronger, Bird said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the industry may need to get creative or use social media to get the word out that the Bakken is hiring.

"There's a lot of oil and gas activity around the country that wasn't here in 2009," Ness said. "We need to find a new workforce source and bring in new people again."

The industry also needs to let job-seekers know that housing is in western North Dakota is now more affordable and communities have built new schools and made other upgrades, Ness said.

Dickinson held a similar job fair on Tuesday with 37 employers and 375 job-seekers, said Mary Urlacher, manager of the Dickinson Job Service branch.

Individual companies also hold their own job fairs, including one scheduled for Thursday in Minot for an oilfield service company.

Daniel Stenberg, economic development coordinator for McKenzie County, said he's looking to host a job fair later this year in Watford City to help companies fill jobs.

"They have plenty of work and not enough employees right now," Stenberg said.

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