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Tools to meet workforce challenges

A number of resources are available to help North Dakota job seekers.

Job Service ND.jpg
Job Service North Dakota is one resource to help individuals find employment. Specifically through the federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, Job Service offers training for youth, adult, and dislocated workers.
File photo by Andrew Weeks/Prairie Business
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Before Alex Lowery graduated from high school, he knew what he wanted to do careerwise, but to get there he needed some help.

Before long he was introduced to a statewide program called ND Career Builds, which helps students with both their college tuition and finding a job, and so he decided to pursue the program further to see how it might benefit him.

He is glad he did.

Lowery, 20, graduated from Lake Region State College and now works as a technician at Bergstrom Automotive in Devils Lake, N.D. Formerly he was part time, but within the last several months he went full time. Per Career Builders requirements, he is committed to staying for the next couple of years, but possibly longer.

One thing is for sure, he is grateful for the opportunity that ND Career Builders provided him, and says it can do much the same for other people looking to start or enhance their careers.

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Meeting Workforce Challenges

ND Career Builders is one of several programs in the state that help people find work and tackle workforce challenges of businesses.

According to Dustin Hillebrand, manager of the Workforce Center of Job Service North Dakota in Grand Forks, those challenges are all too real for a number of companies across the Peace Garden State.

“When we look at the unemployment numbers in the state, I think right now, just a ballpark figure, we've got about 18,000 openings in our system alone,” he said in November. “And we only have about 12,000 statewide folks that are unemployed.”

North Dakota’s unemployment rate was 3.3% for October, the latest numbers available at the time.

Hillebrand said: “A lot of people ask, ‘Well, why can't you just take those folks and put them into the openings?’ The reality is, a lot of those folks might not have the skills to fill those openings. That's the number one thing we hear from employers, that the job seekers they have coming to them don't have the skills they're looking for.”

Programs such as Career Builders, TrainND and North Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation help businesses find talent and enhance employment opportunities for individuals, and according to Hillebrand, they are under-utilized by individuals and businesses.

Targeted Training

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TrainND has several offices that serve four regions of the state. David Steffen, executive director of the organization’s Northeast region, said the program’s primary focus is to serve the specific needs of business and industry. It does this by offering various types of training geared to clients’ needs.

“We seek out clients’ problems that can be solved, in part or in whole, with training,” he said. “We meet with the client and listen to their challenges, assess whether or not training would be of value, and provide training proposals for consideration. Typically, our customized solutions consist of pulling together learning materials, instructors, equipment, supplies, facilities and then scheduling and execution to deliver the training.”

He gives a couple of examples:

• A small business wants to implement an annual review process for all employees. The client chooses an annual review form and TrainND implements it into customized performance development training. Supervisors and managers are then trained how to conduct annual reviews using their chosen annual review form.

• A client has unacceptable incident reports generated within their security department. TrainND assesses the needs and carves out a six-hour report writing module from for-credit programming within the university system, further customizing it to meet the needs of the client. Training was instructed by a retired ND Highway patrolman who is a part-time instructor for TrainND. The result is that now 50-plus security guards improved their report writing skills and the client noted improved incident reports after the training.

TrainND also offers computer and technical classes, essential skills courses, health training and LPN certification. But there’s more, Steffen said, all which can be found on the agency’s website . Those interested in tapping the resources of TrainND, he said, should reach out to the offices in their respective regions.

“We deliver training at our client’s location, we deliver training virtually for multiple client sites simultaneously, and we hold classes within TrainND classrooms and labs where participants come to us,” Steffen said.

Rehabilitating a Career

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For displaced workers with disabilities, one tool to tap is North Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation .

“It encompasses people with any type of business disability, whether it's something you can see or not,” said state Director Damian Schlinger. “But it can also be for people with learning disabilities, things like dyslexia or people with autism. From physical disabilities to mental disabilities, it runs the whole gamut, even behavioral health situations, such as somebody who has anxiety or depression. We're basically like an employment agency for anybody with a disability.”

VR also helps businesses find solutions to their disability-related issues through consultation.

North Dakota is first in the nation for employing people with disabilities, Schlinger said. “Thirty-seven percent of people with disabilities are employed in North Dakota,” he said. “That’s outstanding.”

VR, which has eight offices across North Dakota, is funded by federal and state monies. Among its offerings is individualized training, he said.

“It could be the shift supervisor. It could be the HR person, it could be a manager, whoever, depending on what the situation is,” he said. “Sometimes when we're working on specific skills with a person, they might have what's called a job coach. It's basically like a trainer that might be with them for the first week, or for several weeks, something like that. It just kind of helps ease them into the job. There are different ways we work with businesses to try to help them make it easier for everybody.”

Building a Future

ND Career Builders , a scholarship and loan repayment program, helps businesses recruit and retain talent in high-need and emerging occupations.

Career Builders came out of the 2019 Legislative session as a workforce development tool. It was built specifically for business, according to Brenda Zastoupil, director of financial aid at the North Dakota University System, which manages the program.

The partnership provides $1 of state funds for each $1 of private-sector matching funds up to $17,000 per recipient.

“There was part of the Legislature that was interested in scholarships, and another part in loan repayment. In the end, we had a hybrid,” she said. “Half of that money would come from the state, half would come from the private sector.”

Zastoupil said more individuals are funded under the scholarship portion, but loan repayment is picking up. “It's been a really unique partnership with businesses,” she said, noting “there is no general appropriation funding for this. It comes from the Bank of North Dakota profits.”

The Workforce Development Council and Job Service North Dakota also are highly involved, releasing updates of the high-need occupations on an annual basis.

“We work with those entities very closely,” she said. Chambers of commerce and economic development corporations also are good partners.

Where the pavement hits the road, however, is when an individual is served.

As part of the program, individuals commit to stay with a company for at least three years, with the option after that to stay longer.

Lowery, who took advantage of the Career Builders program, is considering staying longer at his current place of employment in Devils Lake.

Brad Barth, executive director of Forward Devils Lake Corp., introduced Lowery to Career Builders.

The state doesn’t have enough critical skilled workers to help companies and communities grow, he said, noting that Career Builders makes the student/business connections possible.

“Career Builders is a huge tool,” Barth said, and part of its future success will be educating businesses.

That’s something Barth does “every day” in his role with Forward Devils Lake, he said. Something he tells them is that companies shouldn’t wait until someone quits to think about filling a role.

“Every business has got that entry-level problem,” he said, noting he doesn’t worry about them as much as those with long-term needs. How does a company keep them working? “You've got to look at the high school student who hasn't graduated yet. You’ve got to get them to agree that they want to be an industrial automation electrician or a plumber. And then you've got to get them to come back (after graduation), and in order to do that you're going to have to sponsor them. And we're going to use a Career Builder program to do that.”

Utilizing Resources

Hillebrand said another resource is Job Service North Dakota , which also has several offices across the state, each with statewide programs and local offerings to help individuals navigate workforce challenges and find employment.

Specifically through the federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, Job Service offers training for youth, adult and dislocated workers.

“In a nutshell, there are different ways individuals can qualify, whether it be adult, dislocated worker, in-school youth or out-of-school youth. Each one has different eligibility requirements,” said Carla Beehler, customer service consultant at the Grand Forks office. “Once they're eligible, then we can look at either on-the-job training, classroom training, and in some cases, work experience. There's different eligibility parts and there's different training.”

Beehler said Job Service can train in the classroom or on the job.

Perhaps the agency’s best resource is its staff. The best way to find out about eligibility requirements and to learn more is to call or visit a Job Service office. There are nine offices across the state.

Besides their own offices, several of them visit their community’s public library on the second Monday of every month to connect with job seekers. It provides a more relaxed environment for some people and another way for the agency to be noticed.

“We hear that people need training,” Hillebrand said. “Well, there's really great training opportunities here in the state. We just need employers and job seekers to take advantage of them.”

Related Topics: ALL-ACCESSNORTH DAKOTA
Andrew Weeks is an award-winning journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers and magazines. He currently is the editor of Prairie Business, the premier business magazine of the northern plains. The magazine covers various industries and business topics in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
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