By John Hageman (Forum News Service)
The numbers can be daunting. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.6 percent. There were 23,000 online job openings in March, according to the Job Service North Dakota, and only 11,000 active resumes.
The numbers help paint a picture of what many business and political leaders see as a workforce shortage in North Dakota. But at least one business here is focusing on taking a personal approach to the problem.
“If you treat your employees as a number, you’ll probably be treated like a number back,” said T.J. Stewart, a principal and director of North Dakota operations for Braun Intertec, a geotechnical engineering firm based in Minneapolis with offices in North Dakota. He participated in a workshop during the Governor’s Business Forum Tuesday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, an event organized by the Greater North Dakota Chamber.
Stewart added that while Braun offers competitive salaries, the feeling that an employee is valued and being challenged will go a long way toward getting them to stay.
That workshop also highlighted the experience of Jennifer McKinnon, a staff engineer for Braun Intertec in West Fargo, N.D. Originally from North Dakota, she attended college in Mankato, Minn., before moving to the Twin Cities for work.
She said she was impressed with how Braun marketed themselves during three face-to-face interviews.
“They made me feel like they really wanted me,” McKinnon said. “They made me feel like I’d be a great asset to their company.”
Andy Peterson, president and CEO of the North Dakota Chamber, said he hears from businesses from every corner of the state facing workforce problems. He said forums like the one held in Grand Forks Tuesday provide an opportunity for businesspeople to exchange ideas on how to recruit and retain workers.
“We want people to interact with people who are having success,” he said. “Every once in a while an idea comes up and you say, ‘Wow, why didn’t I think of that?’”
Another event in March also solicited ideas from local business leaders for recruiting and retaining workers.
Peterson said workforce challenges come with a variety of related issues, including finding affordable housing and daycare services.
Another workshop Tuesday highlighted the connections between higher education and the private sector.
John Richman, president of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, touted the benefits of corporate partnerships in higher education. He said more companies are investing in training students ahead of time instead of recruiting them once they’ve graduated.
He cited one example in which a vendor provides NDSCS with $250,000 in new technology every year to train students in land surveying.
“So our students have the latest, greatest technology to learn on,” Richman said.
“We’re adding partners on a regular basis,” he added. “Because they’re starting to understand the value of partnering with us, that they need the workforce in order to expand their companies.”
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