Oil industry courts veterans

With the recent announcement by the the U.S. Defense Department that major cuts to the defense budget will drastically decrease active troop numbers, a lot of veterans will be looking to transition back into civilian life into a country that still has economic troubles.

North Dakota, though, still leads the nation in employment, with only a 2.6 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2013, a full percentage point lower than number two Nebraska. Much of that can be attributed to the energy boom that took the state by storm a few years ago and continues to grow.

One veteran moved straight to North Dakota after leaving the military to take advantage of those opportunities.

Medal of Honor recipient and safety coordinator for an energy company in North Dakota Clint Romesha spoke with The Minot Daily News after the Minot Area Development Corp. meeting last week.

“Knowing now that the military is about to do a reduction in force, you’re going to have a lot of veterans out there who are going to be seperated from the military, who are going to be looking for future employment coming out and there are a lot of great companies up here that really market to veterans and the opportunities to them,” he said.

There are plenty of jobs in the state and in other energy industry states, but executives at some companies see a disconnect between the reality of the economy and world for vets coming home and the opportunities present for their transition to take advantage of the jobs they can get.

“I come from Bakken, Dakota. I represent the entire rectangle of North Dakota and right now we have about 20,000 job openings that we know of, that they’ll admit to, all of them very high paying jobs,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., to a panel of energy executives and lobbyists at a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “I think the industry is hungry enough for the worker but the question becomes, ‘Is there something on the supply side we could be doing to make that transition easier?'”

The executives on hand had some ideas, which largely became about restructuring the G.I. Bill that assists veterans to obtain an education upon coming back home. The world in 1944 when The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly called the GI Bill of Rights, became law is a far cry from the world veterans are presented to today. The executives think that the Bill just isn’t adequate for funding the training necessary for a technical skill as opposed to a college education.

“One of the challenges that we have right now in the skilled trade arena is how the GI Bill is calculated and utilized for payment,” said Douglas Smith, the President and CEO of Little Red Services, an oilfield specialist company in Alaska, at the hearing.

“It’s pretty complicated. When you’re attending a university it’s pretty clear cut, (but) when you go to an 8-week course for skilled trade you consume your monthly benefits based on a value versus a time. So, for about every $1,500 of expendiature you use 1 month of your G.I. Bill benefits.

“So, if you go through a 16-week course, as some of the courses are for skilled trade development, you’ve used and consumed a lot of your G.I. benefits available to you because these courses are expensive. You might spend $10,000 at an 8-week course which is going to prepare you for a really great job but it’s going to consume a lot of your benefit. At the same time you’re also losing some housing benefits while you’re going through that process,” Smith added. “So we’re not lending ourselves to help the transition in the skilled trade arena as much as we could.”

Another testimony provided by Michael Nasche, the Chairman of the Veteran’s Resources Group at Baker Hughes, an energy company, said that if the Army offered what he termed “some type of reverse boot camp” that provided soldiers being processed out some kind of technical training, such as a commercial driver’s license with hazmat and tanker endorsements, he would hire 500 of the soldiers.

There are features that would separate a qualified and skilled veteran from an equally qualified and skilled non-veteran, as Romesha explained in the interview.

“When you’re hiring veterans, you’re really hiring a full package employee. What they bring to the table with hard work and dedication and ability to execute a mission with minimal orders or guidance,” he said. “Like my H.R. guy used to tell me, he loved hiring military guys because they would actually wake up on time and show up to work, simple little things like that.”

While the future of the G.I. Bill or other changes in law that could allow better training to veterans transitioning back into the civilian world have yet to be seen, the industry interest is there and the industry won’t be leaving anytime soon.

“Growing up in the neck of the woods I did, actually my Ag. teacher tought me, there’s only two things in life that produce and everything comes from these two things. That’s renewable resources such as farming, lumber and agriculture. And drilling and mining. Everything down the pipeline from that has to come from those two things,” Romesha said. “So, whenever you restrict or minimize the ability to do those things you screw everything else down the line.”