Living in her car for nearly three and a half months was pretty scary for Reign McEwen.
The military veteran arrived in Williston on June 8 from Washington state and quickly found full-time work at Walmart. By mid-September McEwen had a second job as well as housing.
On Thursday, she attended the Williston Job Fair hoping to land a permanent administrative position with benefits along with hundreds of others at the Grand Williston Hotel & Conference Center.
The stories differed, but each fairgoer had an objective: to find a job.
“I’ve been unemployed for three months. I’ve got to take care of my family. All I need is a chance,” said Jermaine Crockett, 34, of Johnson City, Tenn.
He said he had been working construction for the past six to seven years and had “topped out” at $11.50 per hour. Crockett’s wife and five children are currently staying in Helena, Mont., while he tries to find an entry-level position in the oilfield.
Targa Resources Recruiter John Coin explained the difference between upstream (exploration and production) vs. midstream (transportation) sectors of the oil and gas industry, after Crockett asked about being a roustabout.
Coin, who said about 250 people had visited his booth by 1 p.m., suggested going to companies like Enbridge and Halliburton and “work there for a couple of years,” before coming to Targa, a provider of midstream natural gas and NGL services.
It was one of many teachable moments throughout the day where some job seekers from around the globe learned firsthand about the intricacies of oil and gas as well the variety of opportunities in construction and service areas like schools, hospitality and city government from the 110 participating employers.
Jenny Rose of St. Luke’s Hospital in Crosby said it was the first year the facility participated in the job fair. The “constant, steady stream” helped to get the word out about available positions including nurses and a dietary aide.
“We came to check out prospective employees and let people know where Crosby is. … It’s a very close-knit family-oriented community. It’s not as busy with the hustle and bustle of Williston,” Rose said.
Cindy Sanford, customer service office manager for Williston Job Service, said the job fair in March had 1,300 job seekers. By 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 1,200 attendees had already descended on the conference center, many talking to participating employers while others sat in the lobby and every available chair to fill out applications.
“Right now, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 1 we’ve had 19,731 people in our office and an average of 120,000 hits a week on our website,” she said.
The boom is now morphing into something more stable with more housing and a more permanent workforce, Sanford said, adding that companies are seeking long-term employees and are being more selective. And women are part of the equation as well, with a 25 percent increase in job fair attendance Thursday.
More and more people from countries in South America, Africa and Latin America seeking employment in the Bakken are creating “very diversified groups,” said Fran Zerr, customer service consultant with business services at Job Service North Dakota.
Sanford said the influx of international and national media on Williston has also played a role in the increasing number of job seekers. African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo offer citizens a lottery for a chance to come to the U.S. to obtain citizenship.
Solaman Halid, 37, of Ghana has lived in the U.S. for four years. About a month ago he arrived in Williston from Los Angeles to “find a job, because I heard there’s a lot of jobs, a lot of opportunities,” he said.
Although his wife and three children are back in Los Angeles, Halid submitted applications to MRC Global and McJunkin Red Man Corporation in hopes of finding work in the oilfield.
His friend, Kobby Sowah, also 37 and from Ghana, traveled from Florida to Williston seeking an oilfield job as well to earn enough money to go back to school.
“It’s kind of hard back home; the economy is tough so I decided to come here,” he said.
When jobs are booming, both young and older prospective workers are drawn by the opportunities and higher wages, like Alan Horner, 62, of Powell, Wyo., who has a Class C CDL and drives a van full time for a company in Williston.
Horner said he took early retirement last December. He hopes that his experience in logistics and facility management coupled with his wife’s “fabulous, institutional commercial” cooking, would be considered a “package deal” for work at a crew camp.
“We want to work,” he said. “I’m not too old. I need to work. This is where the money’s at.”