Aaron Stump walked into the Ramkota Hotel in Casper Tuesday morning looking for a job. A slim manila folder held copies of his resume. A single page showed the 46-year-old’s life in boiler plate: a college degree, posts in various industries, most recently bentonite.
Thanks to a bachelor’s degree, Stump landed work in the lab of a local mine until March 9, when he was laid off. He had recently bought a new house.
He’s feeling desperate, hoping for a good paying job. An oilfield services firm, Stallion, had seemed promising.
“I’m thinking energy,” he said.
He walked passed the empty bar and the quiet indoor swimming pool to an open room in the back of the Ramkota, where dozens of men and women like Stump came with the same goal in mind: find work.
Tuesday was the largest job fair that the Casper Workforce Center, an arm of the state’s Department of Workforce Services, has ever hosted. More than 70 employers from the U.S. Marine Corp. to Chesapeake Energy held booths, and by 11 a.m. nearly every booth had someone picking up a flyers and or dropping a resume.
About 15 energy-related businesses were hiring, mostly service firms from the oil and gas sector — trucking, water haulers and drilling services.
Scott Dumas is the shop manager in Casper for Stallion Oilfield Services, a national firm present in a number of oil and gas regions across the country. A big part of Dumas’ work is in repairs, fixing the portable homes that serve as so called “man camps” for the oil fields. During the downturn, his staff of more than a dozen fell to two.
Now they’re hiring for his shop, and looking to swell their ranks to a little over 20, he said.
They aren’t the only ones. Demand for energy jobs is large enough now that a few months ago the Department of Workforce Services broke tradition on their annual job fair and held an extra fair just for energy folks. On Tuesday, energy came again.
“A couple years ago when the economy wasn’t doing too well, we had the flip flop,” said Mary Orr, an employment specialist with the state. “There were so many job seekers, not as many openings. Now we’ve got a good atmosphere, a lot of good work out there.”
Things are picking up for the service firms that have shops in central Wyoming thanks to an oil price hovering around $60 a barrel. Firms are drilling again or setting up to drill, and that means demand for mechanics, drivers and machinists.
This isn’t a boom. The price of oil hasn’t shot skyward. And everyone notes, with a shrug of resignation, that all good things depend on the price of oil remaining steady.
A lot of companies are having trouble finding eligible workers, said Laura Berry, HR manager for the Fluid Management Division of A&W Water Services, which is hiring.
Wyoming’s economy is still fairly weak. A triple bust in gas, oil and coal knocked out a significant portion of the workforce over the last three years. In a fossil fuel state, when the jobs go, so do the workers. The state’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in February. It’s low for a reason — many people looking for jobs left.
“You do end up losing people, because you can’t find enough work to keep them going,” said Marcie Klein, manager of safety services for Bar-S Services Inc. “When the downturn hit around this area, everybody fled.”
The family-owned company serves a number of needs in the oilfields from roustabout crews to rig movers. It’s headquartered in Cheyenne.
A backlog of applications to drill has some anticipating significant activity in the years to come if the price of oil is stable. But Klein said her company isn’t staffing for the future. They are staffing for now.
Service companies like A&W Water Services say the same. They started to see a turnaround in demand for oil field services last year, with a surge around January.
The firm can offer positions where making $80,000 a year is do-able, but they have to find the people.
The humid scent of chlorine from the Ramkota pool lay over the room as dozens of people milled from table to table or sat off to the side filling out applications.
The notice for the job fair printed in the Star-Tribune said to come dressed and prepared for an interview. For many that meant a nice shirt above jeans. Others wore their dusty work boots. Some donned sports coats and ties.
Stump came in clean shaven, a zip-up hoodie over his broad shoulders. He hopes his bachelor’s degree will give him an edge, as it did in the bentonite industry. He’s coming up on a month out of work and money is thin. This isn’t his first job fair.
His family can help with the house payments. They can’t be expected to support him from one day to the next, he said.
“To tell you the truth, I’m just looking for anything,” Stump said. “You hate to go to fast food. But, if I have to, I have to.”
He’s not alone. The room was full of Wyomingites that don’t have a job, or have one but can’t make ends meet. They were there looking for something else, something better, or just something.
A man who had wanted to be a police officer looked for a plan B after failing to qualify for the force. An older man dressed in camouflage had once been a truck driver in the military. Life is simply better behind the wheel, he told the director of Sage Truck Driving Schools. A young man fresh out of high school looked for his first shot at joining the workforce. Stump looked for his way back in.
On Tuesday, the workforce had open arms.