HCC Energy Institute filling Oil & Gas Labor Shortage Gap with Trained Technicians

cover6As Texas continues to be a top producer of crude oil, the demand for skilled workers in the industry increasingly grows.  The Houston Community College Northeast Energy Institute and other workforce programs play a vital role in delivering trained technicians to oil and gas and energy industries. The Energy Institute (EI) is a part of the Division of Science and Engineering Technologies (DSET) and is a premier center for high-tech training designed to address the critical shortages of qualifying personnel in energy and related fields. Located on the Northeast Campus, the division is also known for having the most engineers on staff, with many having more than 25 years of industry experience. EI trained students are landing high-wage jobs in upstream, downstream and midstream sectors of the petroleum industry.

Former students like Lamine Ganame, a petroleum engineering technology graduate was hired by Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation with a starting salary of over $70,000 in the upstream sector. This sector includes oil and gas exploration and operating wells that bring natural products to the surface. The petroleum program’s core curriculum focuses on geology, drilling, hydrocarbon safety and exploration. Ganame works in the office using computer and software skills gained in the program to set up databases and monitor more than 700 wells. He also keeps track of drilling costs and completion.

“There is a high demand in the field and if you learn what you need to know in the program, you have a good chance of getting a job. Working in this field offers a good salary, travel and you meet people from around the world,” says Ganame.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statics Occupational Outlook, petroleum engineering technicians are projected to see a 15 percent increase through the year 2022 due to high prices for oil and increased demand for natural gas. Because of the high demand from industry and success of students, the HCC petroleum program has seen a significant increase in enrollments, growing by 66 percent in the last year. Top oil and gas companies are recruiting and hiring EI students each semester as they near the end of their program. Industry leaders like Shell Oil, Marathon Oil, BASF and Occidental Oil and Gas often attend information sessions to expose EI students to career opportunities.

“Houston’s top employers know that they can rely on the Energy Institute and Northeast College to produce skilled workers in the oil and gas industry.  We are delighted to make such a significant contribution to the workforce,” says Dr. Margaret Ford Fisher, president of HCC Northeast.

There is also increased demand for technicians in the downstream sector of the industry that involves converting crude oil into other products at refineries and petrochemical manufacturing plants. The EI offers training in process technology where students learn how to monitor, control and troubleshoot various industrial processes in a production environment. Through strong partnerships and corporate donations, HCC students have access to industry software, equipment and internships that expose them to the practices and standards required at a job site. Much like the petroleum program, enrollment increases are being driven by the workforce demand for process technicians. Since spring 2013, the program’s enrollment has doubled, growing by 108 percent.

The oil and gas boom and planned expansion of several petrochemical plants in Texas is also creating employment opportunities in the midstream sector that involves transportation by pipeline, rail, barge or truck. Career areas not ordinarily associated with the oil and gas industry, like drafting and design are also being touched by the upswing.  A number of trained architects are returning to Northeast College for additional training in piping design; training that focuses on process plant based mechanical design.

The DSET has also seen increased demand from the industry for electronics and fiber optic technicians who can work in equipment maintenance, testing, production and manufacturing. Leading scientists from Halliburton recently visited the College to discuss the challenges they face due to a shortage of trained technicians. In the near future, the College plans to expand its capability to train technicians in the area of photonics education.

Transportation of crude oil and processed byproducts is generating an increased demand for tanker truck drivers in the oil and gas midstream sector as well. HCC Transportation program director Martin Garsee states that most of the demand is for tanker drivers in the west Texas area.

“The pay for many of the drivers transporting crude oil products can be as high as $30 an hour and even more when paid by the load,” says Garsee.  The HCC Truck Driving Academy, also located at the Northeast Campus is led by Garsee. “We are seeing this increase in demand for drivers create opportunities in two ways. HCC partnering tanker companies are looking for drivers to haul chemicals that are being locally processed in plants; and we also know, as experienced drivers take crude oil transportation jobs out in west Texas, it is leaving a void in the freight industry, so our trained drivers are finding employment in that sector as well.”

The Northeast College is a comprehensive instructional center with multiple locations that includes the flagship Northeast Campus located near Houston’s transportation corridor and numerous chemical processing plants. The College offers academic programs as well as workforce training that lead to high-wage careers. As the Northeast College continues to create pathways for highly skilled labor in oil and gas, energy and related industries, it is also committed to serving as a leading resource for the industry and Center of Excellence for science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) and academics.  For more information on programs and services offered by Northeast College, visit northeast.hccs.edu or call 713.718.8300.

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