the Dakota’s Self Inflicted Labor Shortage…

The steady stream of ads for car dealers and hospital oligopolies on Sioux Falls TV has been interrupted of late… By ads advertising job openings for welders and such at some big Sioux Falls area manufacturers. Now out here in farm country there’s never been a shortage of welders, truck drivers, mechanics, techs, machinists, etc. for simple reason- All of the above are useful if not essential skills for running a farm, and back in the days before seven buck a bushel corn a farmer had to repair much of their own machinery to survive.

So why has this surplus of relatively skilled labor not satiated Dakota industry’s demand? Let me explain it from my personal viewpoint… I’m a retired Teamster trucker and Postal Worker, enjoying a modest pension. I’m still young and fit enough to get back behind the wheel, and the call of adventure in the Bakken has moved me as far as checking the North Dakota Job Service’s listing. That bit of research pretty quickly quenched my zest for Bakken adventure, as I noted that most of the jobs offered didn’t even list what the job paid, and almost all of the one’s that did quoted a weekly salary that sounded tempting until you realized you’d be working 60 to 80 hours a week to earn said wages. And while a few jobs promised “housing available”, they didn’t bother to mention that you’d probably be paying for it. So while that thousand bucks a week sounds tempting, said temptation is tempered by the likelihood half will go to a quarter share of a bed in a “mancamp”. Let’s see, $500 for a 60 hour week is… Barely minimum wage.

Actually, the job market is slightly better in Fargo, which has become the de facto supply base for the Bakken. But the pay ain’t much better, and probably only because a lot of job seekers go right past Fargo on their way to the blue collar promised land in the Bakken. Worse yet, the Bakken boom shows signs of slowing- the rig count dropped a few months back, and lately I’m hearing chatter of falling wages and disappearing job openings. But why even bother with the Bakken, when the going rate for a CDL qualified truck driver 20 miles away in South Dakota is a whopping twelve bucks an hour, with doubles endorsement. If you want to spend a year or two in South Dakota’s heavily subsidized tech schools learning a trade, you can maybe make all of $15 an hour. Or you can spend four years getting a BA and teaching certificate, and probably earn not a cent more in South Dakota. No wonder South Dakota has such an abundance of fresh out of college teachers, who quickly leave for states that more highly value education and pay their teachers accordingly.

So with all these tech schools cranking out skilled techs and around a quarter of the adults possessing a commercial drivers license, why are the Dakota’s employers running prime time TV ads in search of workers? Farming’s had some good years of late, so only a really bored farmer is going to take a low wage job that’ll drag them away from the farm. Even during the recession, UPS in Sioux Falls all but kidnapped me for a $20 an hour driving job. The only offer that tempted me to the Bakken was a missive from Local 49 of the Operating Engineers, offering union scale and housing for construction work, no experience needed, will train. And if you’ve got a bit of experience in construction or trucking or other trades, the railroads are hiring as fast as they can, union scale AND a pension. And if they force you to the Bakken, by contract they provide housing. So with these good jobs available, it’s no wonder that the cheapskate employers of the Dakotas are left to try to staff their workplaces with the drunks, druggies, etc. that can’t get hired anywhere else? I hear drug testing is almost nonexistent in the Bakken…

So back in Sioux Falls, the ads for welders blare on, no mention of pay… The South Dakota Job Service listings shows a pay range of but $10 to $15.29 an hour for welding jobs offered in the county. The builder’s association wonders why they had no applicants for scholarships for “Construction Technology” training, the listed jobs for carpenters offer but $10 to $14 an hour. Truck drivers? $10 to $18 an hour, “DEQ”… I think I’ll stay retired!



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