Unemployed in North Dakota: A welder who's been out of work since February shares his story

  • Garrett Dodd is a 22-year-old welder in the North Dakota oil fields based in Watford City, North Dakota.
  • He's been unemployed since February.
  • In the meantime, he's started doing photography and media production, but he says he's not done with welding just yet.
  • This is his story, as told to Will Meyer.
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I moved to Watford City, North Dakota, from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2017. 

I was part of a very active welding program in high school, and I had a really good teacher who got me interested in it. I started welding right out of high school. I worked for a city for a little while; I thought that's where I was going to retire at one point in time. And thankfully that didn't work out. 

I ended up working in a fab[rication] shop in Dallas making $16/hour.  I knew I could make more money, frankly, if I moved elsewhere. I worked in that fab shop for about a year, and every night when I was working there I would go home and get on social media and talk to people that are already in the oil fields, and try to make enough contacts for somebody to offer me a job. 

I finally got to the point where somebody offered me a job, and I pondered on it for about four hours or so, and called him back to tell him I wanted the job, and he said, "Oh, that job isn't available anymore." 

After that job slipped away, I knew the next opportunity I got I was taking.

And then a day or two later I got an email from a guy who is now a good friend of mine — it was a mass email that he sent out to a lot of kids that were in my position. And he said "Hey, this guy's looking for labor hands in Watford City, North Dakota, here's the pay, here's the number."

I called him, and he said, "The sooner you can be here, the sooner I can guarantee you a job."

It was a Wednesday, and I said "What if I was there Monday?" He said, "if you're here by Monday, I can offer you a job." 

So Thursday I went in and told my boss — they knew it was coming, they definitely saw it happening — "I got an opportunity here, and I'm not missing it." 

Times were tough back then; I didn't have enough money to travel across the country, and so I asked for my last check a week early. They told me no, and that Thursday could be my last day instead — they didn't even want me back Friday. So Thursday I stayed up all night and packed most of my belongings, and was gone the next day. 

I took a chance and drove across the country.

Because I knew if I came up here and actually worked, and didn't fool around, I could be successful. 

After some bumps in the road and a detour to Colorado, I got up here and I was able to work consistently with a welder. I worked with him for eight months. And after eight months, I was ready to break out and become a welder myself. 

After working on my own pretty consistently for a couple years, making more than $200,000,I was laid off in November 2019 as oil prices were dropping. Layoffs for a welder are pretty common. It's nothing to freak out about or be ashamed of, it happens very regularly. 

They laid me off, and I thought "OK, that happens," especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I made what I wanted to that year, and thought, "If I'm not able to work the rest of the year, no big deal." And then I wasn't able to work the rest of the year.

At the beginning of the year I found a gas plant that needed building, and I was hired on with another contractor. We built that gas plant, but that wasn't a whole lot of work. They were pretty far along with that project, so there wasn't a whole lot to do. 

I worked there a month and they laid me off. I haven't really worked since February at all.

I just started moving onto a different hustle because I can't just not work. I have to do something. I have a lot of camera equipment, and I started doing photography and media production around town. I'm just kind of working on getting that off the ground. I don't really care to take family photos; I like to build commercials for businesses. 

I'm definitely not done with welding. I have a lot of money invested into welding and earning potential with it. I enjoy media production and it's fun — it's just a matter of getting clients to constantly shell out money. 

The oil price was also dropping before the pandemic really set in. I think there was still a crash coming, but the pandemic just really did a number on it. 

You have to try to stay as positive as you can, I guess, but it's daunting for sure. 

The day to day is kind of daunting; it puts you in survival mode, which I don't like. Just because it's hard to think beyond the tip of your nose. You're just trying to think of what the next day holds, not what the next ten years holds. 

I'm just hoping for the best.

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