April 21, 2011

Community colleges to train for oil, gas jobs

The 250,000-square-mile Niobrara formation that spans from Wyoming through Northern Colorado has primed the oil and gas industry for an uptick in jobs, but exactly when these jobs will pop up and what they’ll look like is still uncertain.

Tisha Schuller, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said it will be at least another year to two years before the scope of the Niobrara play is realized, but added that every new job within the industry creates three spinoff jobs in other sectors.

In 2010, the state issued the third-highest number of oil and gas drilling permits on record, 2,132 of which were issued in Weld County.

John Dill, Chesapeake Energy’s director of Corporate Development and Government Relations for the Rockies, said Chesapeake plans to have 10 exploratory rigs up and running by the end of 2011; 20 by the end of 2012; 30 by the end of 2013; and up to 40 by 2014. He estimates that each rig the company operates will create 100 jobs: 50 direct and indirect jobs and 50 jobs within the community.

“Obviously as this develops there’s a real opportunity for us to build our employment base and put employees in the field where the majority of production is occurring,” Dill said. “The difficulty in predicting where that’s going to occur is currently tied to the fact that we are just now getting to drill our first exploratory wells.”

Though timelines are hard to peg, some oil and gas companies are cautiously releasing employment estimates and are working with community colleges to prepare workers for jobs in the industry. Noble Energy plans to add 45 jobs in Northern Colorado by the end of the year. Noble has approximately 750 employees in the state, 300 of which are in Northern Colorado.

“We’re hiring across disciplines right now and need jobs with a wide variety of pay grades, ranging in salary from the mid-30s all the way up to $100,000 per year,´ said Noble Energy Public Relations Representative Jonathan Ekstrom.

Oil and gas jobs encompass many specializations including field technicians, contractors, geologists and financial analysts, but the initial job surge will likely occur in the field.

“If it (the exploratory drilling) proves to be as successful as we hope it will be we will put a premium on field-level employees, people that have a high school diploma or GED,” Dill said. “Most have to have a valid driver’s license and in general no criminal record. We value a lot of familiarity with mechanical aptitude and people who enjoy working with their hands and working outside.”

Beyond OJT

On-the-job training is an industry standard, but Front Range Community College’s Larimer Campus and Aims Community College in Greeley are working with the industry to better prepare students for job openings.

FRCC has a two-year clean-energy technology program that can be applied to many industries including oil and gas. The Energy Boost program, on the other hand, is a short-term program that was created two years ago specifically to fill job vacancies in the energy sector. FRCC, Vestas Blades America and regional utilities developed the program when Vestas announced plans to build its first North American factory in Windsor in 2007.

“We deliver this program when it’s needed and we take a look at the audience that we’re delivering to,´ said FRCC Director of Workforce Development Lynn Vosler. “If it’s for folks that are unemployed, we can deliver the classes Monday through Friday for about two and a half weeks. If people who are currently working need to take the program, we can do nights and weekends.”

Vosler said the 92 content hours that make up the Energy Boost program change depending on industry need.

“We only do this when a company is looking to hire a lot of people,” Vosler said.

Front Range is currently working with oil and gas companies to facilitate the next Energy Boost session in Brighton.

“We plan on doing information sessions first so people really understand what jobs are in the oil and gas industry,” Vosler said. “We try to get a lot of companies involved so folks going through the training will have a variety of options based on what works best for them.”

Aims also has a history of helping large employers create a regional workforce. Several months ago, Anadarko Petroleum Co. approached the school about hosting a 10-hour Safeland course, which is an industry environmental health and safety program.

Now Aims is looking at creating curriculum specifically designed to train those interested in working in the oil and gas industry.

“Because Aims Community College is aware of the enormous growth that’s expected in the oil and gas industry because of the Niobrara oil and gas deposit, we are in communications with oil and gas producers so we can help develop education and training programs for a career pathway in oil and gas,´ said Associate Dean for Corporate Education Don Sosnowski.

In mid-April, Aims hosted an oil and gas summit and the college is continuing to work on developing an oil and gas-related curriculum.

“We’re working and talking and dialoging with the companies because we just know there’s going to be so much growth and demand,” Sosnowski said. “We just don’t know how much.”

The 250,000-square-mile Niobrara formation that spans from Wyoming through Northern Colorado has primed the oil and gas industry for an uptick in jobs, but exactly when these jobs will pop up and what they’ll look like is still uncertain.

Tisha Schuller, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said it will be at least another year to two years before the scope of the Niobrara play is realized, but added that every new job within the industry creates three spinoff jobs in other sectors.

In 2010, the state issued the third-highest number of oil and…

Related Content