There are 368 health care job openings from Williston to Minot for just one hospital, and about 40 teacher openings just between Divide, Williams and McKenzie counties.

That’s a lot, but it is just the tiny tip of a big spear when it comes to unfilled job openings in the Oil Patch — a spear that is cutting into what the economic recovery could be, even as oil and gas companies are ramping back up to meet $60 oil.

The latest jobs report shows a 33.2 percent increase in mining and oil extraction jobs in Williams County for the third quarter from 2016 to 2017. That is 2,167 more jobs. McKenzie County’s increase for the same sector is 20.6 percent or 256 jobs.

Transportation is up 330 jobs or 19.1 percent in Williams County, and up 125 jobs or 17.2 percent in McKenzie County for the same sector.

Between the three Oil Patch counties covered by Job ServicesND’s WIlliston office, job postings have hit a three-year high. They’re back where they were in 2015 before everything began to really slide.

Cindy Sanford, the manager for Job ServicesND’s Williston office, is on the front lines of the battle to win workers back to the Bakken. Housing stipends, per diems and flexible work schedules are a few of the perks she is seeing companies explore to recruit workers.

One company Sanford worked with recently is bringing health care services to the workplace, and offering flexible schedules, so that employees can find a better work-life balance.

“But the thing is, you can’t generalize (what companies are doing),” Sanford said. “It is all over the board.”

Some companies do still have 80-hour workweeks if that’s the type of job a person wants to find, Sanford added. And there are still some of the old-style, two-weeks on, two-weeks off rotations, too.

“One difference with that is that many of the companies, with some of the changes, need someone who is available within an hour if called,” Sanford added. “So basically, you have to live here. And it is so many jobs. So, so many.”

Unlike the previous boom, however, this time the rest of the nation is no longer in a recession. That’s making it harder to fill positions. It is driving wages up, to sweeten the deal for recruitment in a scenario where jobs already outnumber workers 2 to 1, and the recovery is just beginning.

“Wages have gone up 34.5 percent for mining and oil extraction for third quarter July, September, and August of 2016 to 2017,” Sanford said. “Transportation is up 25.9 percent.”

Administration and waste services, meanwhile, are up 18.7 percent and utilities 12.4 percent.

That’s a trend likely to continue, Sanford suggested. Warmer months are ahead, and oilfield activity generally rises substantially once frost law restrictions are lifted, as do construction positions.

“We aren’t even in construction season yet,” Sanford said. “So I think (the jobs crunch) is going to keep going. Once construction starts, it’s going to get even higher.”

Sanford is having two job fairs this month, one in Watford City and another in Williston, both of which are now full of hopeful employers with double-digit job openings.

Wiliston’s job fair has 96 booths and Watford City 72. Between the two, there are 106 different companies vying for new employees.

Sanford said there are more than 2,000 job openings, just figuring a conservative 20 jobs for each company.

“I know for a fact, though, that two of the companies need 100 truck drivers each,” Sanford said.

And an oilfield service company she is working with has 40-plus openings right now.

“Everyone who comes in here right now is talking about double-digit need,” Sanford said.

This year Sanford has invited area juniors and seniors to both job fairs, along with their parents, to learn more about the lucrative careers available in the area.

Williston’s job fair will start at 3 p.m. and go to 7 p.m. at the Raymond Family Center on April 25. Juniors and seniors may enter the job fair after veterans have had their chance to talk to companies first, likely about 3:15 p.m.

In Watford City, veterans choice begins at 11 a.m. April 26. The juniors and seniors are invited to join the job fair at 2:30 p.m., which is the end of their school day. That fair goes to 3 p.m. in and is at the Rough Rider Center.

“Sixty-three percent of kids go where their parents tell them to go,” Sanford said. “We have to start educating our students at an earlier age on what is available, because you don’t know what you don’t know. This will be a great opportunity for them to look around and ask some good questions.”

She believes North Dakota is a particularly great career opportunity for people just getting started, because of the potential to advance rapidly.

She tells a story quite often to illustrate that about a young man who came out to Williston to work in the finance sector. He had a buddy back in Grand Forks who was about the same age and experience level, who started his career at about the same time.

“When he left here and went back to Grand Forks, he’d had four or five promotions,” Sanford said. “His buddy didn’t have any, so his experience here was five-fold to what his friend’s was, and they both graduated with the same degree. If a person is willing to come out here and willing to work, the opportunity is here. You just need to grab it.”

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