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BOOMTOWN: Schools prepare students for oil industry

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Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2012 12:00 am

Qualified oil industry employees are in high demand in the Permian Basin and area educational institutions have added some classes and programs to keep up.

At Odessa College, students are able to take a number of classes, which feed directly into the oil industry such as; basic oil field safety training and drilling fluids through the college’s continuing education side as well as welding, machining and business management.

Gary Gay, who teaches the drilling fluids class in Pecos for OC said the students in his month-long class learn how to test drilling fluids and run reports to identify any fluid problems that may arise on a rig.

“I teach them how to check the fluids on rigs,” Gay said.

Gay said he started the class last August at Midland College to serve as an introductory course in “mud engineering” or drilling fluids technology. He said he started the class because he had taken other advanced drilling fluids courses, but had never heard of an introductory course.

He said the class went over so well at Midland College he took it to Odessa College, where he used to be the director of petroleum technology.

“The student success has exceeded my wildest dreams,” Gay said.

Gay said he tells the students about job opportunities as he hears about them and he has had head hunters contact him with interest in his Odessa College students.

“They’re sharp as tacks,” Gay said. “It’s looking good for them.”

Gay said he broke into the oil industry in 1959 in Crane, where his father had also worked in the drilling industry.

“I roughnecked my way through Odessa College,” Gay said.

Gay said he has learned a lot over the years and hopes to share some of his insight and experience with his students. He said he even worked at drilling rigs offshore, which he compared to Huckleberry Finn riding down the river.

“For me it was just an adventure,” Gay said.

Gay said the class costs students $2,650 for 80 hours of lab and lecture time. He said he will also be doing another course through the college in March 19 in Andrews. He said the oil industry is up right now, meaning more companies will higher wages for his student’s expertise.

“When its good it’s good, but when it’s not it’s not,” Gay said.

The University of Texas at the Permian Basin is also looking to capitalize on the upward trend in the current oil boom.

Jack Ladd, dean of the school of business at UTPB, said the oil industry drives everything in the Permian Basin. He said everyday at least one employer reaches out to him because they want to hire UTPB students.

“I get calls from everything,” Ladd said.

Ladd said business school administrators and professors are constantly revaluating the program and are in communication with area employers to discuss what qualities they need from their graduates. He said the students in the business program are often in high demand.

“All of our business students get jobs after they graduate,” Ladd said.

Ladd said it’s important to work with area employers because most of the students who go to school at UTPB don’t go far for when looking for jobs. And jobs in the area are becoming easier to find in every job sector

“Eighty-five percent of our graduates stay in the Permian Basin,” Ladd said. “No matter what you do, you’re in the oil industry in the Permian Basin.”

Ladd said students who take the management route could still go into the industry because they all take six energy courses. Additionally, the college offers an online Masters of Business Administration program for those wishing to continue their higher education but wish to do so at their own schedule. He said the engineering students and industrial technology students are in especially high demand due to the oil boom.

“Our industrial technology program was specifically designed with oil and gas in mind,” Ladd said.

Ladd said industrial technology program was added seven years ago, and now it is currently available totally online.

“This is the first year to have it totally online to meet the needs of people working in the fields (and for convenience),” Ladd said.

He said the college has already had a successful mechanical engineering program that has been growing rapidly. In August UTPB added a petroleum engineering program which was added for several reasons, but Ladd said there was a big demand for that major in the area.

“Obviously that was a big motivating force,” Ladd said.

Willie Taylor, chief executive officer for the Workforce Solutions Permian Basin, said after 40 years of working in Odessa he has seen the ups and downs of living in an oil area, but believes this one will be longer lasting.

“This trend is totally different,” Taylor said.

In response, Taylor said educational entities need to capitalize on the positive market and prepare students as best as they can for the job market in the area.

“Education is the key and the heart of the community and everyone should take a special interest in it,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he is in discussions with Odessa College, Ector County Independent School District and various oil companies about the qualifications needed from students and how institutions could better train their students with their needs.

“There are tremendous opportunities, I’m talking good-paying jobs,” Taylor said. “It would be a mistake not to get a move on the needs and look at ways to be more efficient.”



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