Filling the employee pipeline

Launched as a pilot program earlier this year, Job Experience Training (JET) lets students remain in their studies full time, while also spending one year on location at the Hess Corporation, a major player in the North Dakota oil industry since the 1950s. All photos provided by and used with permission from Hess.

Companies that have been involved in oil and gas in North Dakota for decades have been concerned with keeping their pipelines full: both with product and with future employees.  As the technology involved in petroleum production has changed, so too has the skillset required from employees.  That was the challenge faced by Hess Corporation, which has been a major player in the oil industry in North Dakota since the 1950s. The company turned to Bismarck State College to develop a high-quality pool of future hires.

Just a few years ago, the oil boom had the company racing to keep up with demand, jobs and production. But now, things have changed, and training supervisor Julie Vetter says the company is using this period of time to focus on building their bench strength in I&E, reliability operations, and mechanical maintenance.

“When I started, we had 135 employees in North Dakota. Over the course of three-and-a-half years we grew to over 500 which included both employees and embedded contractors. For us, this is an opportunity to sit back and look at what level of experience is missing. We have time to slow down and think about a long-term strategy for developing talent,” Vetter says.

One of Vetter’s first thoughts was how to deepen ties with Bismarck State College (BSC) in order to build the company’s talent pool.  Over the years, BSC students have interned and job shadowed with Hess. The company has donated more than $250,000 in equipment and money to support BSC’s energy programs. BSC has provided training to Hess’s current workforce, many of whom are BSC graduates.

“This is our fourth year working with BSC. On the journey, we’ve figured out how to be creative in partnering with BSC’s offerings to achieve what we need,” Vetter says.

Students can apply to JET after completing one semester in process plant, power plant or petroleum production technology at BSC.

The latest result of that creativity is a pilot program launched earlier this year: Job Experience Training (JET).

“JET is an internship on steroids,” Vetter says. “We’ll be the learning lab for [BSC] students. We’ll give them the hands-on experience needed to be successful, and then, if it’s the right fit, keep them on. They’ll have a career with a world-class organization.”

Students can apply after completing one semester in process plant, power plant or petroleum production technology at BSC. Those selected remain a full-time student while spending one year on location at Hess, where they engage in ongoing training and may be hired as openings arise.

Michelle Slominski of Dickinson is one of the four students hired through JET in 2017. She was a truck driver in the Bakken for several years before enrolling online at BSC to earn a degree in petroleum production technology. Her experience gives her a good sense of what’s needed in the industry.

“Employers out here want the best people who know what they’re doing,” Slominski says.

That’s BSC’s goal for students, too, according to BSC National Energy Center of Excellence department chair Alicia Uhde. “We want our students to be job-ready out of the gate. Working with Hess does that and more.”

Vetter says that Hess is in North Dakota for the long term. “We want to help support North Dakota, and we want to grow programs by embedding in the infrastructure of state. The oil is here and we have the technology to retrieve it. When we begin to ramp up again, we want qualified individuals working for Hess.”

To learn more about the energy programs at Bismarck State College or to discuss partnerships and training opportunities, call 701-224-5651, or email

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