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Good help can be hard to find in Dickinson area

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Barbara Caperton of Fryburg restocks coffee cups at the Villard Cenex C-Store in Dickinson on Tuesday. Area businesses have had a hard time keeping employees as higher-wage jobs in and out of the oil field lure them away.

The lure of the oil field and higher wages combined with a general lack of work ethic have caused staffing issues for several area businesses.

Sanford's Grub & Pub in Dickinson was so short staffed it needed to close its doors for a day on a recent Sunday, Manager Andres Gonzales said.

They've had the hardest time keeping kitchen staff, who can either make a little extra across the street at Taco John's or go into the oil field and make a lot extra, he said.

"We got the owners to give us a little more money to pay the cooks -- the staff a little bit more to keep them here," Gonzales said.

The wait staff is paid North Dakota minimum for a tipped employee per hour, which is $4.86, he said. This is one of the higher minimum wages for servers in the country. Federally, the rate is $2.13 per hour.

"They pretty much work for their tips," he said. "And that helps a lot with all the business; they do make it up with the tips."

It has been hard to keep housekeeping staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Dickinson, General Manager Kim Froehlich said.

"Housekeeping is a low-paying job. It just is," she said. "They're getting paid a good wage compared to a year ago."

The hotel tries to keep up with wages from comparable positions in the area, Froehlich said.

A lack of staff hasn't changed the hours at his three Dickinson Cenex C-Stores, Operations Manager Joe Hoffert said, but it did prevent them from expanding the Museum Drive location to 24 hours.

He also had issues at his six Bismarck/Mandan locations, including having to alter hours due to employee availability.

At Sanford's, Gonzales has had a hard time retaining employees as well. Of six recently hired, two already left. Some of those that do stay don't have the work ethic.

"I've got help up front that they just don't want to work," he said. "They want the hours and they don't work."

There are good employees out there and they often get the most hours, Hoffert said.

"The people you have and the people you can count on and rely on, they get a lot of hours in and you rely on them more and more," he said. "Most of them don't mind the overtime, though, that's for sure."

While he can understand employees leaving, whether it be for higher wages or because they didn't like the job, it gets hard when those employees just leave without notice.

"In the past we've had people where they just, you will hire them, they just won't show up. Or you have them on the schedule after a few weeks and they just don't show up," he said. "It seems like the courtesy of somebody calling and just explaining why they're not coming in... they don't let us know, they just don't come in anymore."

It isn't a generational thing, either, Hoffert said.

"It's not just younger people," he said. "It's people of all ages, I'm not going to say the young kids or anything like that because we have some young gals and guys that are very dependable.

Rumors swirled around town Tuesday that a major retailer who had planned to come to the Roers Development in west Dickinson was pulling out because it couldn't find staff, but that rumor was unconfirmed.

"I have not heard anything with any authoritative source that they are," Dickinson City Planner Ed Courton said. "They made initial contacts with the city a month or so ago, so I'm imagining they're still working on their plans to be submitted."

Calls to the retailer as well as Roers were unreturned Tuesday.

Both Sanfords and Cenex have seen an uptick in applications, but getting the good employees is a race with other businesses.

"You better hurry up and get a hold of them, give them a call and get them in here kind of thing," Hoffert said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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