Faces of the Boom: Job Service manager sees no slowing in demand for workers

Cindy Sanford, manager of the Williston branch of Job Service North Dakota, shown here Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, says job-seekers continue to arrive from around the country. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – With “now hiring” signs posted throughout the Bakken, even the agency charged with filling job openings struggles to keep a full staff.

Cindy Sanford, manager of the Williston branch of Job Service North Dakota, if often looking to fill vacancies in her own office while also helping companies find workers.

“We’re like everybody else,” Sanford said. “We say we feel your pain because we know. We’re hiring.”

Last week, Sanford made a job offer to a woman who declined because she didn’t have housing in Williston.

“Housing is still the biggest issue,” said Sanford, who commutes more than 45 miles from Sidney, Mont., to Williston. “We still have a lot of people living in cars.”

Sanford began managing the branch on Nov. 1, 2011, a day that is remembered well by anyone who answered phones in Williston that day. An episode of NBC’s “Rock Center” about the jobs available in the boomtown aired the night before, prompting calls from around the country.

“It was just fanatically crazy,” Sanford said.

Although the pace is no longer as intense as it was that day, the number of people who arrive at Job Service every month has stayed fairly consistent, Sanford said. In September, 2,030 job seekers sought assistance at the Williston office, which also serves Watford City, Crosby and the surrounding communities.

“I don’t really see it slowing down a lot,” Sanford said.

Those who take the train or bus to Williston often make Job Service their first stop, sometimes with suitcases or bags in hand.

“The economy elsewhere is suffering,” Sanford said. “This is kind of their last hope.”

A recent job fair in Williston attracted more than 1,500 people. License plates from about 40 states were in the parking lot.

People from all 50 states, 10 provinces and 10 countries have come through the Williston office.

Last year, Sanford said popular states were Idaho, Washington and Oregon, in addition to states that neighbor North Dakota. This year, Sanford said she has seen more people from Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

Initially, more than 95 percent of the job seekers were men, but now Sanford said she sees a lot more women as they join their spouses in North Dakota.

“They know this is where they’re going to stay,” she said.

Sanford said she notices more long-term job openings related to oil production, but she continues to see demand for drilling-related jobs.

Truck drivers, qualified construction workers, plumbers and electricians are in high demand, as are cooks and kitchen managers as Williston adds several new restaurants.

On Friday, a woman walked into the office and called out, “Are there any truck mechanics here?”

“We do on-the-spot job fairs,” Sanford joked.

Sanford said she has enjoyed meeting people from around the country and finds that her staff go above and beyond to help them find the right job.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who walk through here are just good people looking for a second chance,” Sanford said.

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