Burgum announces workforce survey

A survey is being distributed amid 2.6 percent unemployment statewide, a recorded 14,400 open jobs in the state and a tighter jobs market nationwide, Gov. Doug Burgum announced Friday.

All of North Dakota’s 31,000 registered businesses are being asked about their workforce needs as part of a statewide survey announced Friday by the governor and state Workforce Development Council.

“Every community we’ve been in has needed workers,” said Gov. Doug Burgum, adding this survey is an effort to develop state policy that could help companies in filling those needs.

The survey is being distributed amid 2.6 percent unemployment statewide, a recorded 14,400 open jobs in the state and a tighter jobs market nationwide.

“We estimate the actual number of job openings (in the state) is significantly larger and the needs in our near future could be double that figure,” Labor Commissioner Michelle Kommer said in a statement.

And the governor said he believes it will be a battle between the states to get the population needed to fill the jobs.

The 40-question survey, which cost $4,000, is being distributed to the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce’s 1,000 members, as well as its partner organizations, including local chambers of commerce and industry groups. It can be accessed online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NDWF2018Survey.

Participation will be analyzed daily in an effort to generate interest from all sectors in the state and reach as many employers as possible.

Kommer said, to her knowledge, this is the first time a survey of this nature is being conducted on a statewide basis. State chamber president Arik Spencer said local and trade organizations have done similar polling but he thinks this effort is more comprehensive.

Survey questions cover topics such as employee retention difficulties, time it takes the company to fill a job opening, whether workforce recruitment has hindered company growth, the company’s number of job openings, how many people a company hired in the past 12 months, how many they expect to need to hire through 2023, what positions are most needed and what positions are the most difficult to fill.

The survey will be open for at least two weeks, with the goal of completing data analysis and developing policy recommendations by the end of September. The analysis will be done by the North Dakota State University Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise, said Raheem Williams, a research specialist at the center.

Dave Farnsworth, manager of North Dakota power generation and engineering at Great River Energy and chairman of the Workforce Development Council, has already filled out the survey for his company.

Boilermakers, mechanics, welders and electricians are among the positions the utility cooperative expects to need, he said. These positions are harder to fill because the utility finds itself competing with manufacturing and oil and gas for these workers.

Farnsworth said the companies are the best source of information on where the needs are rather than the government guessing.

“Private sector participation is key,” said Burgum, who is encouraging companies to consider alternative labor sources, such as outsourcing work to the state prison system.

He said inmates working at Rough Rider Industries are an underutilized workforce whose employment comes with the added benefit of job skills training that can be used upon their release.

Farnsworth pointed to the state’s Native American communities as another segment of the population that is historically underemployed. And Burgum is encouraging companies and communities to do a better job of engaging 18- to 21-year-olds in an effort to keep a larger portion of those recent graduates in state.

For its part, Great River Energy funds training programs, such as a power plant simulator at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, and helped the college achieve accreditation for a four-year energy management degree program, Farnsworth said.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com