WILLISTON, N.D. – Lynda Knutson-Hill made a big career change this year – from early childhood education to the oil industry.

The Williston woman most recently worked as a Head Start teacher, but a salary of $19,000 a year became impossible in the boomtown with high living expenses.

“I used up all of my 401(k) just trying to live,” Knutson-Hill said.

In January, she left teaching and by mid-February a staffing agency had placed her to work in the office of FMC Technologies, an oilfield services company. She is now in the process of being hired permanently by the company for office administration work.

“I miss the kiddos, but I had to move on,” Knutson-Hill said.

She works for a division of FMC Technologies that inspects and refurbishes iron that companies use for hydraulic fracturing.

Even though Knutson-Hill has been around the oil industry – she’s a native of Sidney, Mont., and her father worked as a motorman on drilling rigs during a previous oil boom – she still had a learning curve when she took the job.

“When they first said they had a missile coming in, I was like missile? What do they do here?” Knutson-Hill recalled. “Then I realized it was a fracking apparatus.”

Knutson-Hill assists with whatever needs the office has, from working with customers to paying bills to tech support.

“You name it, I do it,” she said.

Knutson-Hill, who is going through a divorce, had been staying with friends in Fairview, Mont., and commuting an hour to Williston every day with her daughter, a high school junior.

Even with an oil industry job, she can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment in Williston, which typically rents for $2,500 a month. But she was able to save enough money and get help from family to get into a rent-to-own house in Williston.

The career change allows her to work primarily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., compared to the many 12-hour days she put in while teaching. She is also paid by the hour now, rather than receiving a salary, and gets overtime when she works extra.

“I’m just really fortunate that I got placed here at FMC,” she said. “I really enjoy it here. It’s a good place to work.”

Returning to teaching likely won’t be an option as long as she stays in Williston, said Knutson-Hill, who previously worked in infant development.

“Maybe if I move away and go somewhere else where I could afford to do that,” she said. “Here, no, I can’t.”

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