North Dakota enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.7 percent, while Ramsey County’s rate is even lower, at 2.4 percent.

North Dakota enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.7 percent, while Ramsey County’s rate is even lower, at 2.4 percent.

While those numbers are certainly encouraging for those looking to work in the state and the region, Carla Higgins, who manages the local Job Service North Dakota office, says that the region presents unique challenges when it comes to placing job seekers with employers.

“We are seeing job seekers that do not have high school or GED, and that almost forces them to start at that basic entry-level job then hope that they can train within a business and move up,” Higgins said.

However, Higgins also reports that her office works with job seekers who lack educational requirements to get them the training they need.

“We can assist (job seekers) with paying for their GED test and perhaps go on then to some on-the-job training,” she said.

Much of the local job service benefits from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a federal program that helps fund classroom training, on-the-job training, and other needs.

Higgins says that the funding provided by the WIOA goes a long way toward helping the job service office reach its goal.

“We can pay for job training at the college level, vocational training; we can pay for classrooms, books, tuition,” Higgins said. “We can also work with the employer, and if the employer can’t find someone with the skills they need, we can match them to a job seeker and our funds can pay for a portion of that person’s salary.”

Working with employers is a big part of Higgins’s job, as the low local employment rate often forces businesses to provide incentives and pay rates designed to attract eligible employees.

“Salaries in Devils Lake for things like fast food and entry-level retail, motel accommodations - those salaries we have seen go up in the last two years as (employers) struggle to find people,” Higgins said. “They have chosen to raise their wages a bit.”

Higgins also pointed to one example of a local business that got creative to address employee tardiness.

“There’s one business in town that has struggled with their staff getting to work on time,” Higgins said. “They offer a dollar per hour bonus for every day that you show up on time. If their base pay was $10 an hour, they’re now making $11 an hour for that entire shift.”

Getting prospective employees matched up with jobs is becoming increasingly difficult for a good reason: ­More businesses are setting up shop in Devils Lake, ramping up demand for qualified workers.

“We had more job openings last year than in previous years (due to) the general growth in the Devils Lake area: the construction, the new housing, new businesses that have come to town,” Higgins said. “We can research the prevailing wages and tell (employers) what other people are tending to pay and give them other suggestions.”

Higgins has been with the local job service office for 18 years and notes that online job search is perhaps the biggest change that she’s seen during her time matching employers with employees.

She says that online search is how many professionals with more advanced degrees match up with jobs, while those who tend toward more entry level and labor oriented jobs often require more personal help.

“We don’t work on appointments. People can walk in Monday through Friday, eight to five, and look for work and ask questions about our services,” Higgins said. “We do an individual assessment with those folks and talk to them about their skills, previous experience, and what type of look they’re looking for.”

Health care, retail, and food service are the top three jobs in the region currently, and it’s a constant battle to keep those positions filled, according to Higgins.

Though it’s often a tall task to match employers with job seekers in a region with a low unemployment rate and challenges unique to the area, resources and funding provided by the WIOA, along with evolving training options, helps the job service office succeed.

“We do the local labor exchange between potential employees and the existing businesses,” Higgins said. “It’s our entire mission to strengthen the economy by working with employers and job seekers.”