While many areas of the country still are lagging in their economic recovery, a booming oil and natural gas industry and an already low unemployment rate have local employers clamoring to attract prospective employees.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Garfield County currently has an unemployment rate of less than four percent, compared to state and national averages of 6.1 and 8.3 percent, respectively.
The low number of available workers and a still-increasing demand for labor in the oil fields have industry employers and trainers working hard to fill job openings.
“We are seeing a huge demand, and a lot of it is due to the oil and natural gas industry growth,” said Teri Holle, director of business and industry services at Autry Technology Center.
Across the state, Career Tech campuses are increasing their class sizes and adding classes to train new workers.
Holle said Career Tech schools measure the need for professional training by polling companies across the state for number of job openings, starting salaries and skills needed to fill those positions. The surveys traditionally have been conducted annually, but recent expansion in the demand for oil field jobs has required more frequent attention.
“Employment has been so volatile in the last year, we’ve started doing those surveys every quarter,” Holle said.
Fueling the job openings
A survey last year of Garfield County and surrounding communities yielded more than 1,300 available jobs, most of those being in the oil and gas industry. Holle said by the next quarter that number had increased to 1,800, and by January it had increased again to 2,000.
Holle said some of those openings are due to “churning in the job pool,” or people moving from one job to another within the industry. But, she added, “we estimate about three quarters of the openings are new positions.”
Filling all of those job openings requires training a lot of people to move into new positions, including many workers who never before have been employed in the oil field.
“There are a lot of openings out there,” Holle said. “We’re trying to determine what jobs need to be filled, we’re trying to help people get jobs and get the training they need for those jobs. The biggest openings are for skilled positions, but there’s everything available down to entry-level operators.”
Holle said increased oil field activity and a resurgent manufacturing sector have boosted demand for welders and CNC machine operators.
“Both of those positions pay a good wage, and both require training,” Holle said. “We’re offering welding every chance we can, and we’re trying to add as much to our curriculum as we can to fill this need.”
Holle said Autry Tech has doubled its welding enrollment in the past year and has increased enrollment for CNC machine operators, heavy equipment operators and diesel mechanics.
But, the need right now for one type of worker is outstripping all others: the need for truck drivers.
“Truck drivers is probably the number one need,” Holle said. “Drivers of every type you can imagine are needed, but they’re primarily for the oil and natural gas field.”