North Dakota oil boom creates squeeze for Red Wing trucking companyIt’s no secret that the oil industry is thriving in western North Dakota. In the last four years, North Dakota has risen from the ninth-leading oil producing state to the fourth, just behind California and Alaska.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
It’s no secret that the oil industry is thriving in western North Dakota. In the last four years, North Dakota has risen from the ninth-leading oil producing state to the fourth, just behind California and Alaska. In January, daily oil production hit a record 546,000 barrels.
That growing industry is demanding employees, and the appeal of easy-to-find jobs with relatively high salaries is enticing workers from neighboring states. Red Wing-based trucking company Lawrence Transportation Services is feeling the effects.
“It’s been pulling a lot of labor,” said owner Steve Lawrence. Lawrence’s company has 17 locations across the upper Midwest, including western and southeastern Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Of its approximately 300 employees, about 75 percent of them are truck drivers and mechanics — the very professions needed in the oil fields.
“On that side, the draw is pretty intense to get labor up there to do the repairs on not only trucks (but also the rigs),” Lawrence said. “They’re very high paying jobs.”
But, Lawrence said those jobs, especially in the oil industry, are “kind of burnout jobs because the intensity.” He cited a general lack of infrastructure and poor living conditions for many in western North Dakota. Currently, many oil field employees — and their families — are living in hotels, RVs, trailers and other temporary housing.
As a result, schools are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of children classified as “homeless.”
“It’s a quality of life issue. It’s a trade off,” Lawrence said.
Nevertheless, those high-paying jobs may be drawing away Lawrence’s would-be employees. In addition, current employees are being pulled in, too; Lawrence said his trucking company has lost at least one mechanic from its Brookings, S.D., location to the oil industry.
But it’s not just oil taking employees from him. Silica sand mining has taken employees from the company’s Eau Claire, Wis., location, Lawrence said.
To make matters worse, Lawrence said it’s a challenge to find skilled drivers and mechanics. He said younger people aren’t taking up trades like they used to, and there are fewer people to fill positions.
At Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, truck driving instructor Thomas Gierok said Lawrence Transportation isn’t the only trucking company short of drivers.
“There is absolutely a great demand for drivers,” he said. “Carriers are screaming for qualified drivers. I haven’t seen it this bad in years.”
So far this year, Southeast Tech has trained between 80 and 100 students in four classes. Gierok said the eight-week classes — after which the students are fully qualified to get behind the wheel of a truck — fill up quickly.
In addition, Gierok said the tech college brings about 10 to 15 trucking companies to the campus so that students can meet with them and apply for jobs directly. Southeast Tech’s website says truck driving students have nearly a 100 percent job placement rate.
“Qualified students are the biggest thing,” Gierok said. “(If they) pass the Department of Transportation physicals, (have) good driving records, they’ll get a job.”
In addition, Gierok said many trucking companies have tuition reimbursement programs that may cover most if not all of a student’s tuition.
About five years ago, Lawrence Transportation Services started such a program.
“We’re encouraging younger people. You really have to create your own employees by training them and getting them educated,” Lawrence said. “The solution … is training and getting younger people involved in training and vocational schools.”
Currently, Lawrence said there are a few scholarship recipients working in his company’s Red Wing location. And, so far this year, Lawrence Transportation has awarded two scholarships. However, Lawrence said there are still about eight scholarships available for this year.
Still, the company owner said he’s optimistic.
“I’m confident,” Lawrence said of the program. “I’m hoping that more young people will be interested.”
- Writers from the Patch Today, a division of Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report