Already struggling to fill thousands of jobs, Fargo-Moorhead now must woo workers to build diversion – InForum

FARGO – In a few months, the surrounding plains will be teeming with heavy machinery moving tons of earth to protect towns from the scourge of flooding.

But it will take more than machines. It will take people. Lots of people to study, design and manage the country’s first flood mitigation project. More people to operate the heavy equipment, build the bridges that will span the 30-mile Diversion Canal, and the enclosed structures that will regulate the flow of the raging waters.

The Red River Valley Alliance, the international consortium of companies that will build the canal, bridges and aqueducts, will need to hire 800 workers when construction peaks in 2024. Work on the diversion control structures will continue, as well as work on a 22-mile embankment.

Finding all these qualified people will not be easy. Fargo-dominated Southeastern North Dakota had 6,569 job openings in November. Fargo’s unemployment rate in October, the most recent available, was 1.8%.

The hiring push, which will start to escalate in the spring, comes after Amazon opened its new Fargo warehouse, with a need for 1,000 workers, and as fast food restaurants advertise jobs. paid $ 17 or $ 18 an hour, as well as signs. on bonuses.

The need for so many workers comes at a time when labor markets have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. All regions of the country are in short supply and are competing for labor.

All of this worries Joel Paulsen, executive director of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority. His organization, a partnership of local governments that oversees the $ 3.2 billion flood control project, has made three unsuccessful attempts to hire a chief financial officer.

“We are in a tough spot here with the job market in Fargo due to the low unemployment rate,” he said.

The Red River Valley Alliance joint construction company, ASN Constructors, will hire 200 professional positions, including a variety of engineering, management and support roles. This is in addition to the approximately 800 skilled workers in the construction trades.

To fill these highly qualified positions, a large recruitment net will have to be built.

“Fargo-Moorhead is no longer competing for labor at the regional level,” said Paulsen. “We are competing for the workforce at the national level. “

It will take a huge sales and marketing effort to attract people to the project and to fill all the openings that employers have been desperately trying to fill for months.

“We need to publicize the opportunities here in Fargo and North Dakota,” said Paulsen. “We need to recruit more people.

Already, some employers fear that an already difficult recruiting environment will be exacerbated once ASN steps up its recruiting efforts, said Carey Fry, director of the Fargo Workforce Center at Job Service North Dakota.

Job Service North Dakota will be involved statewide to help provide apprenticeships and other on-the-job training opportunities that the diversion project will create, she said.

Fry saw posters in restaurants offering to pay workers $ 17 an hour. Paulsen said he saw signs at fast food restaurants offering $ 18 an hour.

“These salaries have increased just since the outbreak,” said Fry.

The urgent need for workers is reminiscent of the demand for labor in North Dakota’s oilfield during the boom – but without the magnet of national advertising that helped draw people in, she said.

During the boom, the state launched a “Find the Good Life in North Dakota” advertising campaign.

“You can bet we’ll be doing more in the coming months,” Fry said.

Work on the Red River inlet structure south of Horace, North Dakota continues on June 18, 2021, as part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

David Samson / The Forum

ASN uses the Internet to publish job offers, with current lists comprising public service engineer, survey manager, document control manager, road engineer, quality assurance manager, construction planner , safety manager, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer and computer-aided design operator.

“The recruitment needs that we have today are very specific, mainly in the engineering field”, declared Alan Gemmel, interim human resources manager at ASN.

Given the tight labor market environment that exists in the country, ASN will have to be flexible and innovative, he declared.

“We’re going to have to adapt as we go,” Gemmel said. “It’s not an easy time for anyone in HR,” short for human resources.

ASN is required to offer apprenticeships to 20% of its workforce, so that workers can be trained on the job.

“These are job opportunities for people to learn a new trade and take it with them when they are gone,” Gemmel said, adding that the construction is expected to take five years.

Fortunately, he added, “there is a tremendous amount of technical and vocational education in the Fargo-Moorhead area. ASN is also working with universities in North Dakota and Minnesota to build up a pool of talent.

“We are still building our strategy,” and working with Flint Group on a marketing campaign, Gemmell said, adding that the effort would involve a tremendous amount of face-to-face interactions with schools in the area. .

The hiring process will follow a “bell curve” trajectory, gradually increasing until it reaches a peak and then decreasing, Gemmell said. “April is really the time when we are going to prepare for a utility move,” he said. Survey work has started.

ASN – a partnership between ACCIONA, Shikun & Binui and North American Construction Group – does not aim to poach workers from employers in the region, Gemmell said. Once construction is complete, the Red River Valley Alliance will operate the flood control system for at least 30 years, so that takes a long-term view, he said.

“We are part of the community,” Gemmell said.

Although Gemmell declined to say what salary levels ASN offers, he said the salary and benefits will reflect the harsh environment.

“The market is what it is,” he said. “We are all fighting for people right now. This will lead the conversation on wages.

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Concrete is poured for a dam wall on July 27, 2020, at the Red River inlet structure south of Horace, North Dakota, as part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

David Samson / The Forum

The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and its partners, including Greater Fargo / Moorhead Economic Development Corp., have been actively working for several years to recruit workers – an effort that is being spurred by diversion.

Given the need to fill so many professional positions, the Chamber created a concierge service to help runaway managers and spouses relocate with “personalized introductions” into the community.

Ambassadors will introduce newcomers to the community. Ads portraying Fargo as an inviting place to live and work target the Twin Cities and will later expand to other markets and host parties that are ‘almost a community tour’ will ensure newcomers are aware of the strengths of community, said Shannon Full, president and CEO of the House.

The chamber is not only working to attract talent, but also to develop a pool of “hidden talent,” she said. “It will take several facets to address. “

Failure to fill the necessary positions would not only hamper the diversion, but also constitute the biggest obstacle to the growth of the economy of the metropolitan area.

“It’s really imperative that organizations like ours and EDC do this right,” Full said.

In October, the House launched Ignite FMWF, a workforce recruitment initiative to help match job seekers with employers. The effort’s website contains a job board of vacancies and more than 1,200 videos to help students and job seekers explore opportunities as well as a library of educational materials and training program developed by the industry.

“It’s a really dynamic system,” Full said.

One of the challenges will be making Fargo-Moorhead stand out as so many regions compete for workers. A greater effort to attract talent is to come.

“This will be the next big hunk,” Full said. “We plan to launch this in some markets in a few months.”

In January or February, business leaders will bring back investors to continue funding the $ 4 million “Fueling Our Future” campaign, with the mission of stimulating the talent pool, prosperity and quality enrichment. life of the region.

“It’s not cheap to do this job, but it’s desperately needed,” Full said. North Dakota has $ 15 million for regional labor grants, of which about $ 4 million may be available for the Fargo region.

Equipment and quality of life considerations are increasingly important factors in recruiting workers, said Joe Raso, president and CEO of Greater Fargo / Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

Fargo has a “Why Live in Fargo-Moorhead” website to showcase the area’s employment opportunities and quality of life, including recreation, arts and entertainment, housing, education and health care. health.

Local employers are well aware of the need to increase wages and benefits, Raso said. “They are doing it,” he said, adding as an example that a few local manufacturers have increased their base pay by 30%.

The current recruitment and promotion efforts are an extension of the work that has been done for years, Raso said.

“This conversation started years ago,” he said. “What’s different now is the pressure felt holistically. I think the next six months, as we move into next summer, the things we worked on last year will come to fruition.

But Raso agreed with Full that successfully tackling workforce challenges will require significant investment, with collaboration from the public and private sectors. “We are realistically talking about hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year,” he said.

The future is bright and Fargo has no shortage of selling points, Raso added.

“The good news is that we don’t sell smoke and mirrors,” he said. “It’s a great place.

072820.N.FF.INLETCONCRETE.02.jpg

Concrete is poured for a dam wall on July 27, 2020, at the Red River inlet structure south of Horace, North Dakota, as part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

David Samson / The Forum

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