Several Midland oil production companies are advertising on the local radio: Help Wanted! For people willing to work, pay starts at $15 to $20 an hour, little or no experience, and goes up from there. I dropped by a Permian Basin Texas Workforce Commission office to get some statistics.
The staff is very professional, their systems very efficient, if you want to work you will find work. Unemployment is 5.2%, half the national average. This means that the unemployed are the hardcore unemployed, people whose lack of work habits, appearance or attitude keeps them out of work–usually a balance of these three.
It’s most obvious at a job fair, when employers are lined up ready to hire. They’re hoping that neat appearing, clear speaking people with standard, basic work habits will be available. Instead, they’re down to that 5.2% who arrive late wearing untucked rock concert T-shirts, speak in indiscernable mutterings and give dead fish handshakes.
Many of them show up only to satisfy the requirements of government support programs, the hard core unemployed. The representative who spoke with me told me that battling those negative habits and depression related to their unemployment are some of their main objectives.
He’d worked in heavy manufacturing for 23 years before coming to the State, is completing his first year this weekend and is wondering what will become of these folks who are totally alien to the working world. I shared some of the points that kept me motivated for years as a probation officer and teacher and he seemed encouraged, a naturally smiling person, and then we talked about employment drug testing.
Employers are desperate for qualified employees: one company could hire 60 people if only they could pass the drug test. Marijuana takes 30 days to pass out of the system but all other illegal substances, being water soluble, disappear in at most five days.
A common scenario is a lean man with callouses on his hands and a commercial driver license (CDL) applies, just what the oil producer is looking for, but fails the drug test.
The applicant spits out the usual list of excuses: the test itself is defective; somebody put something on his cigarette; he’s using pain killer for a bad tooth and that triggers the test; he used to have a problem with that drug so maybe a little bit of it hidden away in a nook or cranny released itself into his system. One thing is sure: the applicant doesn’t use drugs, doesn’t believe in them and would beat anybody up he found with drugs on him.
He’ll prove it if the employer will let him test again in five days. The employer is so desperate he agrees to retest and, sure enough, the new test shows negative, no drugs.
What’s happened, of course, is the applicant has abstained for those five days to pass the test, badly needing a few weeks’ pay, and as soon as he gets on the job he brings out that little bag or that little piece of folded paper and restores his usual chemical balance.
The employer turns a blind eye to this procedure, badly needing someone, anyone, to drive his truck. The Workforce Commission representative didn’t need to tell me this; I’ve drug tested thousands of Texans and am used to the routine. We just checked that our facts were the same.
A recent change is the hair follicle drug test, a few years old but new to the oil field. In their help wanted radio ads, many employers now state that applicants must take this test. It checks for illegal substance use over at least the past year, hair growing at 1/4″ per month. And they can clip that sample from any part of your body.
This is new, might change things a bit–interesting. One thing for sure though, a whole lot of those good working people sitting up in the Rust Belt on unemployment would find interesting, good paying work the day they arrived in West Texas–if they ever run out of unemployment and can pass a drug test.