HIRED: Staffing Insight

By THE BAKKEN MAGAZINE STAFF | July 31, 2013

Clayton Conine is a candidate stockpiler. Toni Poston is a job fair veteran. Both are responsible for providing Bakken firms with talented workers and have their own unique staffing challenges that help reveal the state of hiring in the Bakken.

Third-Party Staffing
Conine, senior search consultant for Texas-based Energy Search Associates, specializes in matching or finding upstream job candidates with oil and gas companies. In 2006, Conine and his team began working for companies operating in the Bakken. Although Conine’s team frequents industry and geological society events to find potential job placement candidates, the time required to place a petroleum engineer or project manager could be several weeks to several years, he says, and is one of the most challenging aspects of his job.

“When you are talking about highly technical folks, it is a small pool that we are working with,” he says. Conine says the current state of the industry’s supply of multi-year, highly educated individuals makes his job tough. In the early '90s when commodity prices fell, industry jobs were in low demand, specifically petroleum engineers. Classroom sizes dropped, in some cases, from 200 students to five. And, he adds, “When you look at the industry today, there are a lot of guys that are getting close to retirement age.”

To ensure his database of potential candidates remains strong, Conine has become an exceptional note taker. After a networking session, Conine will organize everything he learned into a database so he can track potential candidate work experience and interests. “A lot of times we are building a relationship for months or even years before something lines up perfectly for a candidate to move to a company,” he says. Many of his successful job placements have been for office-based positions in Denver or Houston. His company client list includes Continental Resources Inc., Murex Petroleum Corp. and others.

In-house Staffing Teams
Toni Poston, human resource recruiter for Acme Tools, says her biggest challenge in staffing new or existing Williston Basin-based stores is housing. “We can’t just assume that they have a place to live,” she says of potential hires. “One of the first questions we ask applicants is if they have housing. If they don’t, there is a good chance they will leave for an employer who offers them a place to live or money to afford a place to live on their own.”

Along with workforce housing, Poston also deals constantly with oilfield wages. “We want to remain competitive, but we can’t compete with the oilfield wages,” she says. Fortunately, Poston has found success at regional job fairs. “We have had tremendous success. Many people have shown up, tired of the schedule and hours they’ve been working in the oilfield.” During the events, Poston prioritizes explaining the work hours at Acme Tools, which don’t include evenings or Sundays, an aspect she is finding goes a long way for people searching for a more typical lifestyle.

Maintaining company culture is a priority for Poston and her team, so many new hires are placed in existing stores outside of the Williston Basin region to learn the standard operating procedures and general business approaches championed by the company. And, although new hires do need to have an understanding of the oil and gas industry, Poston doesn’t make it a priority. “Our primary business is more focused on supplying the contractors building the infrastructure in the area,” she says.

Both Conine and Poston note the role weather plays in hiring. “Weather always adds another wrinkle,” Conine says. Finding candidates within or familiar to the region is also a priority for both. For future staffing needs, Poston will continue looking to job fair events and referrals, and according to Conine, there will always be a job for his job-finding service because most don’t have the same database or personnel tracking skill set that Conine and his team can offer.

However difficult staffing and employee retention in the Bakken might be, it isn’t stopping companies from adding new divisions. Rick Siebels, general manager for North Dakota-based linens, garments and bathroom supplies provider AmeriPride Services, says his main challenge in maintaining staff and a consistent level of service to the region is all about the ever-changing business climate. Siebels cites the turnover of employees at current Bakken-based accounts as the main difficulty. But, even with a revolving business climate, AmeriPride has added routes and additional facilities. The company has also added a direct sales position specifically hired to meet Bakken demands.