Employee training business works to meet Oil Patch Demand

JAMESTOWN -- When Teri Ann Gullickson and Dale Knutson started their own employee training business, they expected to primarily serve eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

JAMESTOWN -- When Teri Ann Gullickson and Dale Knutson started their own employee training business, they expected to primarily serve eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

Now, Knutson finds himself on some type of Oil Patch site almost every day.

"This wasn't in our business plan," said Gullickson, a Jamestown resident.

Their business, True North Training, also still serves clients in eastern North Dakota and Minnesota, mainly between Jamestown and Alexandria, Minn.

But Oil Patch work has helped True North expand, including adding a training center in Underwood.


Starting True North

True North Training started about four years ago. Both Gullickson and Knutson worked for the North Dakota University System, teaching short-course employee training to nontraditional students.

They realized the University System was visiting only about 6 percent of the state's employers, Knutson said.

"That means there was a big number of people not being affected," he said.

The Wahpeton resident, originally from Jamestown, said he knew if he started his own business, he could raise that number of people receiving employee training.

So he started True North.

Six months later, Gullickson left the University System to join Knutson at True North Training.

"One of the things we made sure of when we left the college system is that we didn't poach any of our customers," she said. "We didn't want to hurt the system we were leaving."


"We went out and built new relationships," Knutson said.

Those new relationships led to clients requesting skills that Knutson and Gullickson had already honed, including computer training, technical training, organizational development, communication skills and more -- but clients also started requesting training that Knutson and Gullickson were less familiar with.

"We kind of pride ourselves on being fast and flexible," Gullickson said. "Give us the information and we can turn around and train it."

Both Gullickson and Knutson have extensive credentials in professional training, and they share most of the same credentials, which allows them to split up and serve more clients, Knutson said.

True North also partners with other trainers or businesses if there are skills Knutson and Gullickson aren't specialized enough in to teach.

The duo has traveled a lot for True North, both to train themselves and gain credentials, and to meet clients for training.

Oil Patch

Although it "wasn't in their business plan," True North expanded into Oil Patch training a couple of years ago because of the need.


"We thought, this is an area we can help," Knutson said.

Although True North trains in many skills, Knutson and Gullickson have had to focus mainly on safety training in the Oil Patch.

"That's where the demand is," Knutson said, because every new oil worker -- and there are many -- needs basic safety training. "To gain access to any of those sites, you need to have certain safety credentials."

Knutson has taken on the bulk of True North's Oil Patch work, but Gullickson stays busy away from the oil fields, "because we've got much, much to do," he said.

Knutson put 9,000 miles on his vehicle traveling for True North just during last month.

Knutson said his experiences in western North Dakota have differed from some of the stigmas people may hear.

"One of the most important things I can say is that everybody is extremely professional," he said. "Everybody takes the technical aspects of their job and the safety aspects of their job extremely seriously."

It is true that it's a rough place to work, though, he said.


"The working conditions on these sites are hard, tough working conditions," Knutson said. "We can make them safe through tools and training, but the fact is it's still a rough, tough working environment."


True North's Underwood location has helped Knutson and Gullickson better cater to the Oil Patch, but it's also helped them expand into Montana and elsewhere, they said.

And although they just started their Underwood location, they still take the majority of their training on the road, Gullickson said.

"It's much easier for a company to train 15 guys by sending one trainer to them instead of trying to figure out how to get 15 people to us," she said.

In addition to contracting training with clients, True North has offered some open enrollment classes, including classes in Jamestown and Valley City, Gullickson said.

Knutson and Gullickson said they've recently felt that they have the Oil Patch demand for safety training under control, and they're looking forward to focusing on training in other areas again and providing other skill training in the Oil Patch, like communication or problem solving.

"It wasn't in our business plan to be in the Bakken," Knutson said, repeating Gullickson.


"That was part of us being fast and flexible," Gullickson said.

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