Wells Concrete workers find new jobs

Rapid response service takes action in layoff situations.

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Job Service provides a variety of training programs in its Dislocated Workers Program. (Adam Kurtz/ Grand Forks Herald)

For Dustin Hillebrand, Workforce Center manager at Job Service North Dakota in Grand Forks, deploying a “rapid response team” to a business about to lay off workers is part of his job -- a part that was used recently when Wells Concrete announced layoffs of more than 90 workers in late October.

Job Service North Dakota is where people go when they need to file an unemployment claim after a layoff or closure, but the agency also provides a variety of job training programs, under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a program that provides federal dollars for training assistance to people who qualify. Job Service’s rapid response service is designed to help lessen the impact of layoffs on workers and businesses alike.

Most recently, in the case of Well Concrete’s announcement that it would close the concrete products part of its Grand Forks location, the rapid response service was used to help those workers begin the process of understanding their options.

“The main thing about it that we want to make sure that the folks that are affected by the layoff or the shutdown know that they’re not alone in this,” Hillebrand said. “They can come here and we’ll give them as much help as we possibly can, and, if they have questions, we help point them in the right direction.”

Mary Houdek, a business service consultant, reaches out to companies who are closing or laying off workers.


“My role was to make the initial contact to Wells, or to any business, to tell them what we have available,” she said. “Every business is different in how they want us to provide the rapid response.”

After that initial contact has been made, the process of devising a plan on how to proceed is formed.

“So my team will jump in then,” said Carla Beehler, a customer service consultant with Job Service. “We outline the different services that we have available .… We go over how to file your claim for unemployment insurance; we go over what the requirements are as far as how many job contacts they are going to have to make.”

Beehler said that losing a job to a business closure can qualify a worker for the Dislocated Worker Program.

“Basically, when they qualify for that program, they are eligible for training services,” Beehler said. “Whether it be classroom if they want to go back to school, we can pay up to three years of classroom training, we can also do on-the-job training contracts.”

The OJT contract reimburses a new employer for the cost of providing training to a worker.

Part of the rapid response to the announcement of closure at Wells Concrete was to hold a reverse job fair, organized by the company’s Human Resources manager Jill Johnson, along with Houdek. A reverse job fair is where employers are brought to job seekers, in this case, at the Grand Forks location of Wells.

“It went great; we had a wonderful turnout,” Johnson said. “I was able to find new homes for a good majority of our employees.”


Johnson said she worked with Hillebrand to set up resume-building classes for Wells employees, so they could attend the job fair ready to hand out resumes to prospective employers.

The reverse job fair saw about 35 employers set up tables to speak to Wells employees. Those employers included the city of Grand Forks, Cirrus Aircraft, American Crystal Sugar and J.R. Simplot.

“For the most part, it was awesome,” said Johnson, who also is facing a looming layoff.

Houdek said the reverse job fair is part of the rapid response service at Job Service and has been used after other large-scale layoffs.

Hillebrand said his agency also has added a mental health component to his agency’s response to layoffs.

“We’ve had Northeast Human Services come out with some of the ones that we have done recently -- this time we reached out to Wells’ (Employee Assistance Program) provider to be there to talk about what to look for mental-health wise, and just health-wise, as they are dealing with a layoff,” said Hillebrand. “At Wells, some of those guys have been there for 30 plus years .… To take away part of that identity that they have, how do you deal with that?”

Hillebrand, also a former employee at Wells Concrete, heard about the layoffs from his father who is employed by the company until Dec. 6. That date is the first wave of layoffs for the company, about 65 people. The second wave of layoffs is Dec. 31, with around 10 workers. The final wave of layoffs will be on Jan. 31, for the remaining 15 or so employees who stayed to decommission the plant.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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