Let’s talk a little bit about this employees’ job market. I heard this sentiment a few times at the recent 2021 Groundwater Week event in Nashville. Here at The Driller, we’ve talked about it in videos, on podcasts and in our pages. Beyond the water supply industry, look at geothermal, geotechnical or just about any other area of drilling and you hear the same refrain.
Before I go on, let me level set for folks. What does it mean when we call it an “employees’ market”? Imagine a teeter-totter, with available jobs on one side and employees ready to fill them on the other. Too much on one side pulls it down, elevating the other side. In this case, we have plenty of available jobs. The weight on that side of the teeter-totter elevates the employee side, giving job candidates a lot of power. They use that power to do things like ask for raises, push for better work conditions and, yes, look for work elsewhere. Conversely, an “employers’ market,” where available employees outweigh available jobs, gives companies more power to dictate the terms of work.
(An equilibrium sounds to me like it might work out for both sides, but I got a bachelor’s in journalism, not labor economics.)
From the standpoint of the drilling and construction industry the solution to an employees’ market, of course, involves more drillers. I expect the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to increase significantly existing demand for people trained in all manner of construction, drilling included. The question then becomes, how do we get more drillers and construction workers?
The obvious first answer: Train them. I salute schools like Ontario, Canada’s Fleming College, which churns out skilled drillers each year. I salute the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association and the Apprentice and Skill Improvement Program, both of which offer excellent training. I salute people like Clinton Dunn, who runs a modest drilling trades program at Southwest Mississippi Community College. I salute mentors out there passing these skills onto assistants. Still, we can do more.
If demand rises as I expect, however, we need more than just training. As an industry, we need to recruit actively and, as columnist Jake Fletcher notes, sometimes take a calculated risk on a non-traditional candidate. Drilling is hard work. Often, you spend time away from family or end up working long hours. But it pays reasonably well and can send people to places they might not otherwise go. That fits for the right person, regardless of whether that person conforms to the “traditional” driller mold.
When it comes to recruitment I often hear, “Young people these days fear hard work.” Generations have said it about the generations that follow for, well, generations. I don’t necessarily buy it. People don’t mind working hard toward a mission they believe in.
When you recruit — for drilling, construction or anything else, for that matter — play up the mission. We provide water, which sustains life. We build the infrastructure that supports our country’s growth for the next generation. The mission is the “why.” It can inspire people to join our industry who may not know about it or may not know what it’s about. Once you find those people, train them up as quick as you can, then find another one. We need them all if we ever hope to restore balance to the workforce.
What do you think? As a drilling contractor, have you had a tough time hiring? How do you approach recruitment? Let us know. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay safe out there, drillers.
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