By November 22, 2015 Read More →

Texas training youth for oil field jobs in midst of industry bust

Big gap in Texas oil and gas labour force between 20-year olds and baby boomers soon to be retiring

The oil industry is mired in its latest bust. But in Texas, education officials are working harder than ever to prepare more young people for the oilfield.

TexasTheir commitment shows the state’s unshakeable commitment to the energy sector and its willingness to gamble that good jobs that evaporated into layoffs over the last year will return.

The Houston school district is preparing to expand its first-in-the-nation Energy Institute High School from 250 students to 1,000 students by 2017, and inaugurate a new 110,000 square-foot, $37 million facility.

The program, started three years ago, is the only one in the US training high school students for oil and gas careers.

In Midland, in the oil-rich Permian Basin, two high schools have begun `”petroleum academies.”

Mike Starkey, who has a BSc. in chemical engineering and works as the directional drilling coordinator for Terra Directional Services in Midland, says training youth for future jobs is smart, but there won’t be many openings in the short-term because of the severity of the industry downturn.

“Great idea, but for most companies the cost right now has to be evaluated,” he said in an interview. “Margins for most service companies are very narrow.”

TexasOne of the reasons Texas is pursuing oil and gas training so aggressively is the make up of the state’s energy workforce. Industry has anticipated the so-called “great crew change” – the imminent retirement of baby boomers who are now in their late 50s and 60s – for years now.

“It’s already started. There is a big gap. There are engineers in their 50s and 60s, then it’s 20s and maybe early 30s,” said Starkey.

“Not very many around my age of 42.”

Texas has been hit hard by the industry’s woes, which started a year ago when global oil prices began to tumble. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says Texas lost about 28,000 oil and gas extraction jobs through a year-long period ending in September.

Even though there may not be many job openings until 2017 or later, when analysts think oil prices will begin to rise again, training in high school is a choice for students who eventually want to work in the industry.

“I don’t think it’s that different than the tech industry where there was a time a decade and a half ago where it had a big downturn,” Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which helped found the Energy Institute High School, told the Associated Press.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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