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Talk addresses tough task of attracting talent to N.D.

DICKINSON - Larry Anderson, talent coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, admits his title sounds a bit odd.

"It invokes thoughts of American Idol," he said.

But as he explained on Tuesday, during a talk that was part of this year's Strom Entrepreneurship Conference, his job is much different than Simon Cowell's.

As talent coordinator, Anderson is responsible for creating a plan to attract workers to North Dakota and develop the state's current workforce. That plan is called the North Dakota Talent Initiative.

In his presentation, Anderson laid out the challenges of building an adequate workforce in North Dakota and the initiatives designed to solve the state's workforce problems.

The workforce inadequacy affects all industries in all areas of the state, Anderson said. "Wherever you go you see a shortage of workers to meet the needs that businesses have today."

Such shortages deter businesses from coming to North Dakota and limit the expansion of businesses already here.

He highlighted the energy industry, including power production and mining, as a sector that has a drastic need for workers. Over the next three years, the industry will need to recruit roughly 12,000 workers, he said.

"We need a much more demand-driven, service-delivery model."

As an example of that, he cited a program in Williston that trains oil field rig technicians.

The other industries which the state's plan is focused are technology, advanced manufacturing, value-added agriculture and tourism.

The state's low population base, aging workforce and loss of younger workers are major obstacles to developing a stronger North Dakota work force, Anderson said.

The solution, he said, comes in different forms including wooing workers from out-of state at recruitment fairs, but also, training and retaining in-state workers.

Anderson said North Dakota students, parents and educators need to be made aware of the job opportunities in the state.

"They tend to look outward as they begin to make decisions and look at career opportunities," Anderson said.

In an effort to retain younger workers, Anderson said a state-funded internship program was established with the purpose of pairing young people with North Dakota businesses.

"Unless we do something in North Dakota to...educate, to retain as opposed to educate to export, it literally puts our economy in jeopardy."

One of the bright spots is that North Dakota has the highest labor force participation rate in the nation, with more than 72 percent of residents between ages 16 and 65 working.

However, there are population groups in the state that are under-represented in labor force participation. Anderson said the state must do a better job of incorporating American Indians, veterans, disabled people, legal immigrants and other groups into the workforce.

Since 1991, North Dakota first began investing in workforce development, Anderson says the state has made considerable progress.

"We've come a long ways. But we've still got a long way to go," Anderson said.

Anderson's presentation comes on the heels of a focus group hosted by the state Legislative Council's Workforce Committee in Dickinson on Feb. 13, which brought together area legislative and business leaders to discuss workforce issues.

The next event in the Strom Center's conference series, the third of four, will address eco-tourism and is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19.