The Midland Reporter-Telegram Job Fair brought out employers and employees alike for meetings and interviews. But if there’s one thing that was made clear, it’s an employee’s market in Midland.
“People really aren’t looking for jobs so you’re not finding a lot of people that are out putting in applications or sending in resumes,” said Kayce Hyatt, director of human resources at JW Powerline. “Instead, what you’re having to do is you’re having to go find them at other companies and steal them away. It’s become very competitive in wages and benefits packages. It’s not just, I need a job, I’m going to come work with you. It’s what can you do more for me or better for me than the current company I’m with?”
With a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, Midland has been buoyed by a rapidly growing oil industry spurred by advanced technology and hydraulic fracturing. Chains stores and restaurants such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have been known to offer $14 an hour starting wages, far above the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
Many people have come from out of the area, like Glenn Grady, a 50-year-old man from Las Vegas, Nevada. Grady, who up until six months ago was a card dealer in a Vegas casino, says a cousin in Midland sent him pictures of his pay stubs to entice him to move out to Midland. Grady is now is looking to join the trucking business, hauling oil or water.
“Jobs are plentiful,” Grady said. “I was a roustabout for the last four months, and that’s just too hard on my body. I’m an older guy, and that’s a young man’s job. I already know that I want to be a driver which will be a little bit easier on me and that’s what I enjoy doing, is driving.”
Grady, who was raised in Chicago before moving to Las Vegas, said that if a years worth of pay in Midland isn’t more than what he made in Las Vegas, he’ll probably return to Nevada.
“If it’s not comparable, then I’ll consider returning to Vegas, but I don’t want to do that,” Grady said. “I actually like Midland, it’s a small town. It’s taken some getting used to, but it’s doable.”
Adrielle Gauna, 22, drove down from Lubbock to join the boom as well. Originally from Florida, Gauna was drawn out by the promise of opportunity and growth after she graduated from community college in Fort Meyers with a degree in psychology and business.
“I moved here because the oil field is booming,” Gauna said. “My whole family is in the oil field in New Mexico, so I thought I’d come out here and see what’s going on in Midland.”
But this movement of people into Midland has come with its downsides. High demand for a small pool of workers has given employers few choices when it comes to filling desperately needed positions.
“We’ve never dealt with the level (of turnover) we’re dealing with now,” said Robert Benavides, assistant store manager at Dillard’s. “Retaining people and the quality of people, not to say anything wrong, but the people with a higher education are normally going to the oil sector, somewhere in that market.”
Benavides has worked in the Austin and San Antonio markets, but said he has never had to offer people $16 an hour as the minimum starting pay. He claimed that Dillard’s offers the most money out of the retailers in the area, and that it can go up to $25 an hour for qualified people.
“It starts between $13 or $14 (at our other stores), but out here we have to be competitive,” Benavides said “I mean I see McDonald’s starting at $14; it’s craziness.”
For Hyatt, the lack of employees has brought competition to a whole new level.
“It used to be an employer’s market. We had a choice. We had time to interview, we had time to screen, we had time to select,” Hyatt said. “Now it’s become an employee’s market. You don’t have time to think about things. If you don’t jump on somebody when you interview them, by the end of the day, they could have gone to another interview and been hired. So it’s really become to a point where the applicant has a choice. They could go to three interviews in a day and have three offers and then it becomes a bidding war and a competition between the employers about who can offer the best.”
For David Arnold, a counselor with the Palmer Drug Abuse Program sporting a cowboy hat and a button-down shirt tucked into his jeans, the oil industry has drawn many people out of professions that he considers the life blood of Midland.
“I have friends that have left the teaching profession, the police department, being a firefighter, to go to the oil fields because they can make three times what they can being a police officer, a teacher or a firefighter,” Arnold said. “I was a head counselor at Desert Springs Rehabilitation facility before it shutdown, and when it shutdown I went to the oilfield. I was making $32,000 a year as a drug and alcohol counselor, and I was making $110,000 in the oilfields as a safety coordinator.”
Arnold is going back to school at UTPB to become a counselor for primary schools. He says that he left the oil industry for safety reasons.
“I’ve worked for about six different oil field companies, and being ex-military and especially ex-navy, safety becomes second nature,” said Arnold. “There were companies that weren’t meeting DoT specifications, meaning they were not meeting OSHA requirements, and my life is not worth any amount of money. I want to live as long as I can until the good Lord takes me home.”
The biggest issue for Arnold and many of the people interviewed is that cost of living has skyrocketed as incomes have increased.
“When I moved up here, my one-bedroom apartment was running me $545 a month,” Arnold said. “That same one bedroom apartment is running $1,500. I don’t know how individuals who work at 7-Eleven or Albertsons make ends meet. I just don’t see it, and that’s unfortunate.”