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Students prep for jobs in energy industry

Higher education institutions such as Lone Star College are rising to meet demand in the oil and gas industry with new facilities and programs available to prepare students to enter the workforce.

In 2012, 43,000 new jobs were added to the oil and gas industry in Texas, according to the Greater Houston Partnership, but there has also been an exodus of workers because of retiring baby boomers.

“There hasn’t been a lot of succession planning done in the oil and gas industry, so we have this huge [skill] gap,” said Christina Robinson Grochett, chief strategist for innovation and research at LSC–University Park. “We’re working to build that succession plan with them so they can hire employees we can develop as future leaders so we don’t run into this situation again.”

Filling a void

In the oil and gas industry, there has been a resurgence of retired employees who are being asked to come back to mentor students coming directly out of school, Grochett said.

“Industry is hiring them but they don’t have the skills, so they need somebody who knows the job to train them,” she said. “We’re trying to fill the gap in between so when our students go into industry they have the skills already.”

To keep up with industry demand, LSC–University Park will open a 75,000-square-foot Energy and Manufacturing Institute on campus this fall to serve 1,400 students.

“There’s a huge need right now for skilled workers, and the creation of the Energy and Manufacturing Institute was to fulfill that demand and put workers that have the right skills into the workforce immediately,” Grochett said.

Students can follow a number of pathways to the oil and gas industry at LSCS, said Kelly Gernhart, dean of social science and advanced technology at LSC–CyFair.

“We have certification programs, which are great for someone changing careers or just starting out,” he said. “Someone can earn a certificate in welding or machining that gives them a skill set to do an entry level position. Then they can build on that and work toward an associates degree while they are already employed.”

Preparing the workforce

Programs offered range from engineering technology to welding to petroleum data technology—a new program that will be offered this fall. The majority of programs give students hands-on opportunities in the classroom.

LSC–Tomball will begin offering the Petroleum Data Technology Level 1 Certificate in fall 2014, said Cynthia Casparis, dean of health, kinesiology, natural sciences and technology at the Tomball campus. Once the Creekside Center in The Woodlands is completed, which is projected for spring 2016, the Petroleum Data Technology program will be relocated to that campus.

“Feasibility studies and labor market analysis conducted determined the need for programs such as the Petroleum Data Technology certificate and degree,” Casparis said. “We are located in the energy sector and programs such as these provide avenues for people who like computers and can be involved in the oil and gas industry. ”

Petroleum Data Technology is an information technology field of study, she said. The program specializes in recording, measuring, or evaluating geological data by using sonic, electronic, seismic or gravity-measuring instruments to prospect for oil or gas.

“Several local industries such as Conoco Phillips, British Petroleum, Devon, and Anadarko were all a part of industry focus groups and Performance Criteria Analysis List to verify the needs, job titles and the specific technical skills, soft skills, employment screenings and equipment needs for such a program,” Casparis said. “Graduates of this program as well as the associate degree program offered by LSC-Cy-Fair may be employed in positions such as process design, data management, well operations and completions, environmental control, offshore and onshore rig operations, reservoir engineering, geological surveys, engineering sales, R&D, and drilling equipment manufacturing data management.”

Receipt of a certificate in the program spans three semesters with a co-op experience at the end of the certificate. The associates degree in the program offered by LSC–Cy-Fair takes six semesters and offers an internship experience at the end, she said.

LSC–Tomball will also begin offering Electrical Technology certificates and associates degrees. That program will be moved to the Creekside Campus once it opens, Casparis said. The campus has been offering level 1 certificates in solar photovoltaic systems, fuel cell systems and wind turbine systems.

“With regard to electrical technology-the courses in these programs increase the skills of those who wish to work in energy or manufacturing areas other than oil and gas,” she said. “Electrical technology was a part of several focus groups for energy and manufacturing industries and there is a need for workers who have electrical knowledge beyond the basics. Therefore, we developed the additional certificates and the degree to meet these growing needs.”

In late March, Lone Star College–University Park began offering an Oil and Gas Drilling/Floor-Hand program to prepare students to enter the workforce in eight weeks.

“We’re having folks hired right out of class,” program director James Ward said. “This is a workforce program designed to put people to work.”

Ward said the program has about an 85 percent placement rate with starting salaries between $40,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on what job avenue its students pursue.

An oil and gas drilling floor-hand performs general duties of all types on an oil rig, which is becoming more common in the industry, said John Galiotos, dean of the Energy and Manufacturing Institute.

“In the past you had specializations, but now you have to do more than that,” he said. “You have to be an operator, and you have to be an instrument technician. The more skills you have, the better it is.”

Working with industry

LSCS students have started their careers with numerous oil and gas companies in the Houston area, ranging from GE Oil and Gas to Cameron to ExxonMobil, Gernhart said.

David Eglinton, upstream media relations manager for ExxonMobil, said the company has invested $1.5 million in its Community College Petrochemical Initiative, a training program available at nine community colleges throughout the Texas Gulf Coast, including LSCS.

“This program is about preparing area residents to fill those jobs and launch satisfying careers in a critical industry,” said Lynne Lachenmyer, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company.

In addition to job opportunities, LSCS partners with companies to help students find internships, co-ops and apprentice programs.

Additional reporting by David Pollan and Brian Walzel