Montana Job Market Improves

Apr 10, 2019

Numbers from the Billings school district show about half of students go straight into a four-year college after graduation, but prospects may also be good for those who choose to plunge right into the job market.

The school district held a high school senior career fair at the MetraPark in Billings recently.

Through the day, around 1,000 high school seniors wandered around two rooms of booths staffed by more than 100 potential employers.

Seniors Haddy Slade and Jaxon Willett, who are both headed to college, say they feel pressure to choose a career path and pursue it through the next four years of school.

“I feel like if you end up changing, you’re all confused and you don’t know what to do,” said Willett.

“And you wasted all that money on your three years that you just studied for this one profession,” said Slade. “And then you decide all of a sudden that you want to do a different profession. It’s really stressful.”

Around a quarter of high school students in Billings chose to take a risk and pursue employment last year.

That risk may be slightly less than it was a few years ago.

That’s according to Montana Department of Labor & Industry economist Amy Watson, who said the recession led to a spike in college enrollment from 2008 to 2010.

At that point, many students were faced with fewer job opportunities and a competitive job market.

“And then as we’ve exited the recession in about 2011, 2012 we’ve seen those enrollment rates fall off, which is to be expected as the labor market becomes tighter,” said Watson. “In Montana, we have a workforce shortage, so employers are competing for a smaller and smaller number of workers.”

Watson said in 2019 there may now be more jobs open, but with fewer workers snapping up certain jobs, some industries are struggling to attract new hires.

That’s true for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, which saw representation at the career fair in Billings.

Kurt White with White Heating & Air Conditioning said companies have to do more to attract new employees.

“What has to happen is the trades have to pay a higher rate to be able to bring young people in, and so it’s very inviting for somebody who doesn’t want to go to college, doesn’t want to get a bunch of student loan debt, and can come into a career, start making money right away and has no student loan payments to make,” said White.

He said with zero training, new hires could start out at around $27,000 a year, but could work up to $50,000 or $60,000 annually after four or five years.