The Permian Basin’s economic boom has made for a competitive job market.
But as Odessa claims the second lowest unemployment rate in Texas, many employers are having a difficult time competing with the oil industry for workers — including the city itself.
According to the City of Odessa, more than half of the city’s 26 departments are understaffed. The two most understaffed departments are the Utilities Department, with 31 vacancies, and the Odessa Police Department, with 16 vacancies.
The primary reason, Utilities Director Matt Irvin said, was due to the oil industry and the higher wages offered.
“There’s no city that (can) compete with the oil patch. They can’t pay that kind of money,” Irvin said. “We’re not much different in that regard than other people. The labor pool just isn’t out there.”
Positions that are most difficult to fill are those that require skills that translate well to the oil and construction industries, such as CDL-licensed truck drivers, Irvin said.
However, while the Utilities Department has had problems filling field and plant positions in the past, the department is at a high point in vacancies, Irvin said.
“It’s typical to have a few positions open, but we are definitely having more trouble today than five years ago,” Irvin said.
Irvin said when comparing city and oil employers that require the same job skills, many job seekers turn to the oil industry, which offers more money in the paycheck rather than in retirement or healthcare benefits.
“Especially younger guys that you may need for field work, those guys, just because of who they are and where they are in life, they want the money up front,” Irvin said. “The younger generation are not as geared toward looking down the road as they are with what they’re getting what they want today.”
OPD Police Chief Timothy Burton said the Police Department’s staffing fluctuation in 2011 was partially due to workers seeking higher wages.
“It began with the escalation of the local economy,” Burton said. “It becomes attractive for some folks to seek employment elsewhere because of the monetary compensation they can receive.”
Of the 16 vacancies in Burton’s department, five are sworn in positions and the rest are civilian positions such as crime scene technicians, animal control and clerks.
Burton said it’s easy for sworn in officers to get recruited to the oil industry, because they have been “prescreened.”
“They’re reliable, high trained and capable personnel,” Burton said. “So if the (oil) industry can attract them away from us, they have folks prepped and quickly trained for whatever capacities they’ve hire you for.”
Burton said with the high degree of training required at the Police Department, vacancies do have an effect on services. However, he said that it’s “difficult to categorize exact impacts” in the department.
“Even fully staffed, we try to run at the most efficient level possible. Any reduction has some marginal effect,” Burton said. “But, we still continue to provide services we always provide.”
In the Utilities Department, the staffing shortages are more evident with sewer and water tap installations and some meter leaks getting less priority if a water main break were to occur, Irvin said.
“When you have a city our size, we have hundreds and hundreds of miles of water and sewer lines. Lots of things are happening out there,” Irvin said.
“It makes it hard for us to go out to every meter box (that has a leak). New houses don’t get water and sewer taps,” Irvin said. “People are slowed down. It’s more difficult for us to go out and do those. They will have to wait.”
Irvin said the Utilities Department has tried using more contractors and emphasizing its work hours to make up for the unfilled positions. Maintaining the current work force is also another way the department is trying to compensate for the staffing shortage.
Burton said the OPD does have pending hires being screened. Positions can be filled rapidly, but training periods for new staff do affect the time when they can start work, Burton said.
“As we speak, any time we have vacancies, we’re engaged in a hiring process,” Burton said. “There are several applicants for vacancies; we’re in the process of screening those applicants. Assuming they’re successful, they’re several pending hires.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Full-time employment numbers as of March 22
Positions filled/Positions budgeted (percent filled)
Billing and Collection: 32/33 (97.0 percent).
Building Inspection: 13/15 (86.7 percent).
Building Services: 13/13 filled (100 percent).
City Manager: 8/9 (88.9 percent).
City Secretary: 2/2 (100 percent).
Community Development: 13/16 (81.3 percent).
Emergency Communication: 23/30 (76.7 percent).
Engineering: 20/23 (87.0 percent).
Equipment Services: 20/23 (87.0 percent).
Finance: 9/11 (81.8 percent).
Fire: 170/171 (99.4 percent).
Golf Course: 10/10 (100 percent).
Human Resources: 6/6 (100 percent).
Information Services: 15/18 (83.3 percent).
Legal: 11/12 (91.7 percent).
Municipal Court: 20/23 (87.0 percent).
Parks: 36/40 (90 percent).
Planning: 4/4 (100 percent).
Police: 212/228 (93.0 percent).
Public Works: 2/2 (100 percent).
Purchasing: 8/8 (100 percent).
Risk Management: 15/15 (100 percent).
Solid Waste: 46/47 (97.9 percent).
Street: 33/42 (78.7 percent).
Traffic: 13/16 (81.3 percent).
Utilities: 71/102 (69.6 percent).