Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

The Thrill Of The Hunt

Posted on: February 12, 2012

This post is directed toward two categories of job-hunters: the 25-year-old adventurers, and everyone else.

Estimates have it that western North Dakota and eastern Montana’s oilfields will be in development for the next fifteen to twenty-five years. That means oil companies will be poking holes in the ground at seemingly random places that are actually plotted carefully by geologists. After all the oil has ultimately been found and tapped and capital costs spent, production will be the exclusive enterprise with its incremental maintenance costs (read: almost pure profit). This could continue for many decades beyond the development phase.

Every major oil company, every oilfield service company and hundreds of support companies are here. They all need to build (or support the building) at the drilling sites. A network of pipelines need to be built to aid in the efficient flow of crude. All of this requires lots of laborers. Those would be the 25-year-olds. It’s hard and dangerous work in all kinds of weather done on non-standard schedules. You’ll have enough energy at the end of a day to shower, eat, and hit the bed before another long day tomorrow. Recreation? Not so much. Money? You’ll be making tons of it. But there’s nothing here to spend it on. This is not “the good life.” It’s work.

Much has been said in the media about the frenzied Oil Patch environment. Williston ND has been the center of attention. Now swollen to a population of 15,000, it is dusty and dominated by trucks of every kind…everywhere…all the time. If you have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and experience, just show up and you’ll be working within a day. Bring your similarly-qualified friends.

There are companies that’ll train you for a CDL on their own equipment. But the number is diminishing because (mostly) rookie drivers are trashing trucks to the tune of 1½ each day. Insurance companies are tacking on larger premiums and new requirements.

Housing is the first problem, though. The shortage is so critical that most companies won’t interview you unless you have already found a place to live. It’s a classic catch-22. You can’t afford a house until you get a job. You can’t get a job if you don’t have a house. And finding a place to live is darn near impossible.

The larger companies have erected temporary “man-camps” to help solve the problem a little. Man-camps are communities of living trailers with dining hall, exercise and entertainment facilities contained at the core. These camps can number between 100 and 1,200 residents each. Women live there, too, though they are outnumbered by quite a large margin. Other random trailer and tent communities have sprouted up all over the landscape including – infamously – the Walmart parking lot. This rowdy bunch was so problematic for the city, the store and its shoppers that all the campers were evicted last Wednesday and a permanent patrol has been established to keep them out. Nowhere else have I seen height barriers at parking lot entrances to keep 5th wheels, campers and trucks out.

While oil rig labor and commercial drivers seem to get all the pub, other employment categories are needed as well. In fact, almost every discipline is needed here; and in great numbers. This is the second category of hunter to which I referred at the top. These folks range from thirty-five to my own (undisclosed) age. I keep hearing of the need for mature, experienced managers. There will be more to say about this in future posts.

The “lodge” for this job hunt (if you’ll forgive the pun) is the Williston office of the Job Service of ND (www.jobsnd.com). The office and the website are resource-rich providing information about how oil drilling and extraction works, job titles and what they do, companies and contact information and a place for you to submit applications to them all.

The thing is, many of these companies will never call you. You can and should put yourself into their databases, yes. But you need to show up in person to be considered. Networking counts, too. Everyone you’ll talk with will have a recommendation, suggestion, lead, or contact for you. And if you follow the trail, you will find the cheese. Big cheese.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket. It’s just that I’ve seen and heard of prospective oilfield workers with dollar signs in their eyes as they head for North Dakota. Too often, they are faced with the reality that getting a job here is still a job; not a coronation.

So come on down! Just set your expectations correctly first.

2 Responses to "The Thrill Of The Hunt"

I’m anxious to hear how your own search is going too, but in the meantime it is really interesting how this booming commerce is unfolding.

I can almost hear the Pitch from the Oil Patch show now. Hope you get to drive a Mack Truck, safely!

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