Job seekers at energy expo hear talk of gradual recovery

April Hjelstrom wasn’t expecting too much when she attended Friday’s Energy Forum & Expo to see which companies might be hiring.

As it turned out, the ones she talked to weren’t looking for employees, but that’s no different from what she’s heard from other industries.

“I’ve been looking for a job for about six months now. Everybody’s saying the same thing, so I kind of expected it,” Hjelstrom said.

Organizers of Friday’s event at the Two Rivers Convention Center said it’s not a job fair, but rather is intended to help educate the public about the energy field. Nevertheless, it did provide the opportunity for interaction between companies and job seekers. Those with resumes in hand generally heard confirmation that the industry is making a gradual recovery from last year’s drilling slowdown, but that has meant only a limited amount of hiring so far.

Hjelstrom, 22, lost her last job about six months ago when the dry cleaner she was working at became a victim of the recession. She said that with bills to pay, she wouldn’t even rule out working on a drilling rig if it came to that. Having heard that the industry was beginning a comeback, she attended Friday’s event to see what kinds of energy jobs might be available.

“You always need energy, so it seemed like a good place to look,” she said.

At the Calfrac Well Services Corp. booth, account manager Dale Larsen said the company hired probably a few dozen people locally since energy-production activity began picking up again. However, he was telling people Friday that while it was still taking applications from qualified people, it wasn’t currently seeking to fill any more positions.

Larsen was surprised to have had only about six people come by to look for work as of early afternoon Friday. He said it might show that some unemployed people simply have tired of looking for work.

“Maybe they felt like there weren’t going to be any opportunities here, so why bother coming down?” he said.

A few employers at the expo said the recent slowdown may have caused some former energy workers to decide to pursue work in other fields instead.

“Some people don’t like the cyclical nature of oil and gas,” said Jason Mannen, production testing manager in Grand Junction for the Pure Energy Services (USA) Inc. well-completion company. “But we’re really positive. I think the future looks bright.”

Nick Wuhlar, wireline manager in Grand Junction for Pure Energy, said the company saw some lulls in business during the worst of the slowdown, but things have picked up.

“I’m not going to say we’re super busy, but we’re doing OK,” he said.

The company has been doing some hiring and currently is trying to fill some key positions. But, despite the number of people looking for work, the challenge comes in finding people with the level of experience required for those jobs, Mannen said. Some of the more experienced people locally have moved on to work in other oil and gas fields, he said.

Grand Junction resident John Hager, who attended Friday’s event with his son, Joe, said he hopes that when companies do hire, they will give jobs to more local residents, to reduce the amount of moving in and out of the community that occurs as the industry goes through its typical ups and downs.

Joe Hager has a background in construction, but with little such work available currently, he decided to take a look Friday at what the energy field has to offer.

“With the way things are right now, I think they’re going to start hiring again,” he said.

At least one exhibitor, JGMS Inc., sported a hiring sign at its booth Friday.

The company’s services include environment-related projects related to oil and gas development, with clients including federal agencies that regulate such development. David Popham, a project analyst for the company, said it’s seeing a rise in local oil and gas activity, and JGMS Inc. is looking to add employees as it expands its business in that sector.

“We’ve had probably about 20 people drop off resumes, a great pool to pull from for sure,” he said.

Anyone who spoke to Dan Seagroves of Compressor Products International on Friday could find another sign of optimism regarding the future of the local energy industry. CPI provides parts and services for natural gas compressors and engines related to energy development, and last year bought another company with locations in the Rocky Mountain region, including one in Rifle. It since has added a service facility to its Rifle location, which previously just sold parts.

Seagroves said last year’s acquisition was a good opportunity to get into the Rocky Mountain region, where it sees continuing opportunity even as emerging gas fields in other parts of the country have gotten lots of attention recently.

“We’re trying to get ourselves positioned for the rebound,” Seagroves said.

Even today, there are more than 2,000 gas compressors and engines in the region related to energy development, Seagroves said.

“That’s quite a bit of business right there, plus whatever growth potential goes with that,” he said.

David Trujillo of Grand Junction, who used to be in construction and then was a cook until getting laid off, made the rounds of energy companies Friday to see if anyone was hiring.

“I think they want to. I think probably later on they will. I think things are a little slow right now,” he said.

He said he’s not too worried about eventually finding a job, maybe in oil and gas or back in construction.

“I think something will come around,” he said.


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