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Job openings limit North Dakota’s potential

April 9, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — If North Dakota could fill its available job openings, it’d be like adding another city the size of Jamestown.

That’s the comparison Gov. Doug Burgum made during the recent Main Street ND Summit to emphasize the unrealized potential as thousands of jobs wait to be filled. Job Service North Dakota listed 13,873 job openings statewide in February.

“This is actually a gating factor, which is slowing down our growth and our potential as a state,” Burgum said during the summit.

The Bismarck Tribune reports that North Dakota Labor Commissioner Michelle Kommer said, while job openings are a positive economic indicator, they also have a downside.

“They also indicate a barrier to growth if we can’t fill them,” said Kommer, who also serves as executive director for Job Service North Dakota. “Our ability to fill these jobs allows us to remove that barrier so that we can grow and prosper business by business, industry by industry, region by region.”

The need for workers locally is similar to the need statewide, said Phil Davis, customer service area manager for the Bismarck Job Service office. Burleigh and Morton counties had 2,237 online job listings in February.

“There’s a need for workers across the state, from health care, to entry level, Hardees or KFC, to CDL drivers to welders to engineers,” Davis said.

Last fall, state leaders re-energized a Workforce Development Council with guidance from Burgum to develop an evidence-based plan to better understand the state’s workforce needs, Kommer said.

The council includes representatives from a variety of industries and the group plans to develop best practices and a framework to help address worker shortages, she said.

“It isn’t the state’s role to jump in and solve the problem,” Kommer said. “It’s our job to facilitate the best of what’s possible by working with private industry and other partners.”

One area the council plans to focus on is addressing the statewide nursing shortage, Kommer said. The council’s goal is to bring stakeholders together to identify potential solutions and propose a comprehensive policy package to the 2019 Legislature, she said.

Health care-related jobs are consistently in high demand in the Bismarck area.

For example, Sanford Health recently had 177 open positions in the central and western North Dakota region that includes Bismarck.

Leah Kelsch, Sanford’s human resources strategic business partner for the Bismarck region, said 98 of those jobs are nursing positions.

“Nursing is probably one of our top positions,” Kelsch said. “Our talent pool is just so limited right now.”

In addition to the current vacancies, Sanford expects to add about 100 nursing jobs within the next five years, in part due to replace nurses who will be retiring, Kelsch said.

Sanford recruits nationwide and recently went to Canada, where a medical center was closing to try to recruit workers, Kelsch said. In addition, Sanford also aims to hire people after they complete clinical and non-clinical internships.

“It’s our hope that, when they graduate, they enjoy their experience at Sanford, and they gain employment here,” Kelsch said.

The Bismarck-Mandan Development Association periodically does talent attraction campaigns aimed at recruiting nurses and other professionals.

The targeted marketing campaigns promote Bismarck-Mandan to people around the country who may be looking for job opportunities, said Judy Sauter, marketing and research director.

“Not everybody thinks about moving to Bismarck if they’re looking for a career opportunity,” Sauter said.

Over the past few years, workforce issues have been the top priority for area businesses, Sauter said. In addition to nursing and health care jobs, there is also demand for skilled trades and engineers, she said.

“It still is a high priority of businesses, they need employees in general and they need trained employees for the right positions,” Sauter said.

The development association can’t recruit for all businesses, so it focuses helping raise the awareness about the opportunities in Bismarck.

The organization has done six campaigns, with the most interest coming from Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington, Arizona, California and Texas.

One area of focus is to try to reach North Dakota natives who left the state but may be interested in coming back. One campaign ran in North Dakota around the holiday season to reach people who were back home visiting relatives.

“A lot of people, once they get to the point where they have children and they start going to school, they realize North Dakota’s a good place to raise a family,” Sauter said. “And you don’t have an hour-long commute and you have safe schools.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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