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Workers wanted: Job openings pile up across North Dakota

September 3, 2019
In this Aug. 27, 2019 photo, registered Nurse Lacey Johnsrud, the site instructor at the Sakakawea Medical Center, poses in in Hazen, N.D. Johnsrud prepares students to become licensed practical nurses. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
In this Aug. 27, 2019 photo, registered Nurse Lacey Johnsrud, the site instructor at the Sakakawea Medical Center, poses in in Hazen, N.D. Johnsrud prepares students to become licensed practical nurses. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Hiring managers across North Dakota are looking for ways to solve the workforce shortage that plagues the state.

Job Service North Dakota, which tracks employment data, estimates the state currently has 14,000 job openings. A decade ago, North Dakota had 8,000. State officials say the real number today is closer to 30,000, given that some employers only advertise with one job posting when looking to hire multiple people for that role, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Some of the positions remain open a long time. A survey of employers last year found that 28% of openings remain unfilled longer than three months.

When Scott Wirth took over three years ago as human resource manager at Roers, a development, construction and property management company located in Fargo and Dickinson, he used to joke that with so many people filling out applications, he didn’t have to do much recruiting. Now he’s hustling every day.

“I recruit hard and am always looking for new avenues, new ways to recruit,” Wirth said.

Since the 2008 recession, North Dakota has enjoyed a low unemployment rate amid the oil boom that brought thousands of workers to the state, in addition to openings in sectors such as health care and information technology. But the workforce landscape, nationally, has changed in recent years.

“There were times in Williston where the train would arrive and an hour later our resource room was absolutely packed and people were outside waiting to get in to look for work,” said Phil Davis, Job Service customer service area director. “Now, we’ve seen a slowdown in that because there are so many other job openings across the United States, and we are competing with those states to fill those jobs.”

Arik Spencer, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said the workforce shortage isn’t just problematic for employers. It’s bad for North Dakota’s economy, he said.

“That impacts tax collection, that impacts schools, parks, a whole variety of things,” Spencer said.

There’s no clear relief in sight. North Dakota’s workforce is projected to grow in the years ahead, with an additional 55,000 jobs anticipated by 2026 compared to 2016 figures. The fields expected to experience the most growth are health care and social assistance, as well as mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction.

“This is going to take a long-term, more surgical approach,” Spencer said. “One thing you’re not going to see is a one-bill-fixes-everything solution.”

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