After four layoffs in three years, Dan Serna was looking for steady work. His wife encouraged him to become a truck driver and put that skill to use in North Dakota's oil patch.
Serna is enrolled in Sage Truck Driving Schools in Coeur d'Alene. He'll graduate with a commercial driver's license and hopes to land a job soon afterward. But Serna plans to get employment and housing lined up before he heads to North Dakota.
"I'm not going to go until I have a job, because I'm not going to be the guy living in a van with no income," said the 37-year-old Spokane resident.
North Dakota's oil fields have become a magnet for Inland Northwest residents looking for work.
Spokane County lost about 5,000 construction jobs during the economic downturn. Labor economists don't track how many local residents are working in North Dakota, but they said the migration appears strongest among construction laborers, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and people in building trades.
Even with the glut of jobs there, advance research can make it easier to get hired and find a place to stay.
Prerequisites: A clean driving record and ability to pass a drug test are prerequisites for most oil field jobs. Many positions have minimum age requirements of 18 or 21. For some jobs, applicants must be able to show that any felony convictions are at least five years in the past.
Local workforce training: Short-term training can pay off. Local community colleges and private schools offer four- to six-week courses for a commercial driver's license.
Sage Truck Driving Schools began offering an expedited, two- to three-week course based on demand. "I've had guys come running through the door, saying, 'I need my CDL now. I've got a job lined up in North Dakota,'" said Tina Sykes, director of the Coeur d'Alene school.
At North Idaho College, some students enrolled in the electrical and plumbing programs plan to work in the oil fields, said Marie Price, director of workforce and community education. She's had students start the coursework here and do their apprenticeships in North Dakota.
Check out job opportunities before you go: North Dakota's Job Service website -- jobsnd.com -- has the most comprehensive list of job openings.
Many employers accept online applications. Some will do interviews by phone or Skype.
Resources for veterans: North Dakota Job Service has a veterans employment team that works exclusively with veterans and their spouses. For more information, click the "veterans" tab at jobsnd.com.
Due diligence on prospective employers: At Sage Truck Driving Schools, instructors encourage their students to go to North Dakota and meet the prospective employer before accepting a job.
"You don't want to end up working for a mom-and-pop operation where your paychecks bounce," Sykes said.
She tells students to ask their own questions during interviews. If the answers are vague or raise red flags, she encourages them to keep looking.
Sage also keeps a list of oil patch companies that past students have worked for and endorse as reliable employers.
Have a cash reserve: Some people prefer to go to North Dakota and start their job search there. In that case, it's important to have enough money to live on until a job materializes. At some of the larger companies, the hiring processes can take a couple of weeks.
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