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FNS Photo by Amy Dalrymple The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference opened Tuesday with more than 500 exhibit booths at the Bismarck Civic Center. The conference continues through Thursday and is expected to attract more than 4,000 people.

Bakken takes center stage: Research to examine state’s new workforce

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Bakken takes center stage: Research to examine state’s new workforce
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BISMARCK — Research funded by the North Dakota Industrial Commission will examine the state’s new workforce, with hopes of informing companies that need workers and communities that need to plan for them.

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The study was announced at a set of sessions at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference’s opening day that focused on how the state can adapt for and help the growing workforce.

Nancy Hodur, a North Dakota State University research assistant professor, announced plans for the study into the scope of the state’s new population. Issues with recruiting, retaining, turnover, poaching and transient workers all contribute to development planners, she said.

For industry, the study results will give companies guidance as they try to fill the estimated 25,000 unfilled jobs in North Dakota, Hodur said.

“It’s not efficient to have high turnover and employee poaching and constantly training and retraining,” she said.

And for communities, the study will give planners the data they need to know what sort of services the workforce will require.

Members of the transient workforce, for example, aren’t “buying soccer equipment for little Johnny or purchasing furniture for a home,” Hodur said.

Transient, or “fly-in, fly-out,” workers are one of four types Hodur identified, along with permanent workers, temporary workers and workers at jobs with high turnover.

“We hear all of these things anecdotally and folks have a sense about them intuitively, but there’s no giant data set that tells us that we’ve got this percentage of the workforce” in each category, she said.

In introducing Hodur, DAWA Solutions Group’s Jeff Zarling said temporary housing is improving, but to truly understand housing needs going forward, an understanding of workforce demographics is vital.

“You can now expect to find a hotel room in Minot or Dickinson when you need one,” he said.

Hodur said researchers plan to do interviews in June, focus groups in July and August and data collection from August to October, with a goal of releasing preliminary results by the end of the year.

“We need to understand what kind of a workforce we have. What are their intentions?” she said. “We don’t want our communities to just be an outpost for a transient workforce.”

At DAWA, a western North Dakota marketing company, builders frequently ask Zarling for a list of oil companies, with hopes of renting the new housing out in blocks for workers, he said.

But he said the market has changed, and emphasized the need for permanent small single-family housing, as opposed to multi-family housing, such as apartments or crew camps.

“Companies want to get employees into permanent housing so they stay,” he said. “We need smaller houses that are less expensive.

He added: “That’s what we’re trying to communicate to builders and developers and investors: build the product they’re looking for.”

B&G Oilfield Services’ Pat Bertagnolli said employee services like that, along with generally treating employees well and taking their concerns into account, is important for retention.

Another speaker brought up more individualized ways to retain a worker, like through financial counseling to help him or her obtain that house.

Katherine Lymn
(701) 456-1211