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Tight labor market keeps help wanted signs posted in Oklahoma

Oklahoma's low level of jobless workers has challenged some firms' ability to find skilled employees.
BY BRIANNA BAILEY Modified: February 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm •  Published: February 13, 2013

“In western Oklahoma, the need for truck drivers has been tremendous,” said Paula Bowles, chief communications officer for Oklahoma CareerTech. “We've partnered with energy companies in the state to develop statewide programs in those areas.”

CareerTech's aviation maintenance technology programs are offered at several CareerTech centers in the state in response to growing demand.

Statewide, the Oklahoma economy added 35,200 jobs in 2012, a 2.2 percent gain over the previous year.

In December 2012, Garfield County had an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, according to data from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. To the west in Woodward County, the unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in December.

Offering incentives

Oil and gas activity in western Oklahoma has left Woodward-based Diamond Services Co. with an increased need for workers for pipeline construction, excavation for well sites and compressor stations, as well as truck drivers and general laborers, said Mark Campbell, Diamond Services vice president.

The company employs about 110 people, but “we're always looking for people — it never really stops,” Campbell said.

A shortage of rental housing in Woodward also has made it hard for Diamond to hire people from outside the area, he said.

“We've hired people from out of town who have had to live in an RV,” Campbell said. “We've helped out with housing assistance, but 60 to 90 days later they're still not finding available housing.”

Diamond and other companies in Woodward are boosting wages and benefits to become more competitive for workers, Campbell said, including paying 100 percent of employees' health insurance coverage.

Diamond Co. has had a difficult time finding enough workers in the Woodward area to meet its needs and moved in 2011 to open a satellite yard in the El Reno area in hopes of attracting workers from the Oklahoma City metro area.

“The main reason we did that is because we needed people and we didn't have them available in Woodward,” Campbell said.

Enid has also seen an increase in companies offering additional benefits and housing assistance to help attract out-of-town workers, said Brent Kisling, director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance.

“We are seeing some unusual benefits that employers are offering starting to creep in over the past few years,” he said.

The city has formed a partnership with the job-listing website to ensure posts for jobs in Enid are seen by out-of-state job seekers. The Enid Regional Development Alliance helps subsidize local companies' costs for posting job listings on the site.

“It is a challenge when we have a 3 percent unemployment rate, but it's a problem that you love to have,” he said.