Several education institutions in the Coastal Bend are responding to the region’s growing need for educated and skilled workers by providing a variety of pathways to careers in the oil and gas industry.
By: Dr. Janet Cunningham
The Coastal Bend region is rapidly changing before our eyes. As new Eagle Ford Shale companies move to the area, the need for educated and skilled workers increases. Education institutions are responding to this need through innovative programs created specifically for the oil and gas industry, dual credit and certification programs for high school students and changes to traditional classes that have led to expanding educational opportunities.
One institution designed to alleviate manpower shortages is the Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend (CTC), a nationally recognized nonprofit education center that has been training and certifying skilled craft professionals since 1987. CTC recently celebrated the expansion of a state-of-the-art facility – now over 70,000 square feet housing some 98 welding booths, numerous labs and classroom space. With more than 400 high school and adult students enrolled year-round, CTC helps train tomorrow’s employees in the petrochemical, industrial construction and oil and gas industries.
The Eagle Ford Shale boom has played a large role in the increased enrollment and community support of the CTC, prompting a $6 million expansion of their training facility. CTC trains adults for careers in welding, pipefitting, scaffold building, industrial painting, safety, mobile crane operations and instrumentation. They also provide training to high schools students from more than 15 campuses in Nueces and San Patricio Counties, with offsite National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) programs at seven other high school locations in the area.
In partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, CTC also offers both an electrical and a plumbing apprenticeship program. Students in these programs will complete more than 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 656 hours of classroom instruction in preparation for state licensure exams. To accommodate the need for more Eagle Ford Shale personnel, CTC is adding a pipeline training and testing area that will use space both inside and outside of the new buildings to meet the increasing demand for pipeline maintenance personnel, which must by certified through USDOT.
Del Mar College (DMC) in Corpus Christi serves as a mainstay for South Texas companies needing skilled employees. Ranked in the top 2 percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students, DMC serves more than 22,000 credit and noncredit students each year. As it is a nationally recognized, locally focused community college, 90 percent of students come from and remain in the community, making DMC a primary economic catalyst for the region.
In response to the energy production boom in the Coastal Bend, DMC has ramped up credit and noncredit training. The college has long been a venue of choice for workforce preparation, training about 6,000 students in occupational and short-term training programs every year that range from commercial truck driving, welding, environmental/petrochemical lab technology and nondestructive testing to industrial machining, process technology and occupational safety and health, among other high-demand fields.
Students can complete associate’s degree and certificate plans quickly to fill positions offered by South Texas employers. Some in-demand, industry-specific programs allow potential employees to complete their studies within a few weeks or months. One such program is the Commercial Driver’s License. With six truck driving simulators, programs that can be completed by adults in as little as three weeks and another program offered to high school students, DMC is working to meet the high demand for licensed truck drivers.
“Del Mar College has always been known for our ability to adapt to meet the needs of our industry partners,” says Dr. Mark Escamilla, DMC president. “We’re a key driver in training workers in technical and occupational fields in South Texas, as well as preparing students for university transfer. The college is ready to provide the education targeting crucial skills needed by industries connected to oil and gas production and other trades.”
These partnerships include training employees for companies new to the Coastal Bend such as the Chinese seamless-steel pipe manufacturer TPCO America Corporation, Italian plastic company M&G Resin and Austria-based iron ore processing company Voestalpine.
Serving the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale with campuses in Beeville, Pleasanton, Kingsville and Alice, Coastal Bend College (CBC) is addressing the need for skilled workers through a variety of programs. Last year, CBC awarded more than 800 credentials, marking the fifth year in a row that the college has seen an increase in the number of certificates and degrees awarded. Through industry-specific programs and opportunities for students to work and earn college credit in the Weekend College program, CBC is providing pathways to industry careers.
The Oil and Gas Technology program, which began in 2007, has grown tremendously and recently was awarded a grant to purchase a drilling simulator that will be housed at the Beeville campus. The state-of-the-art simulator will give students hands-on experience with operating full-sized drilling, production and workover equipment and situations they might encounter in the field.
CBC is also working with area school districts to implement an oil and gas technology program that will begin when students are in the ninth grade and conclude with students receiving an Oil & Gas Specialist certificate. With additional classes, students can receive an Oil & Gas Technology Level I certificate, earn an Oil and Gas Technology Associate of Applied Science degree or continue their education at a university to receive a BAAS in Petroleum Technology.
In addition to the Oil and Gas Technology program, CBC offers several pathway courses, including Oil and Gas Safety Certificate, Welding Specialist Certificate and Commercial Driver’s License Certificate. The pathway preparation programs are available for the general public, GED students (for free) and high school students. They are designed to provide the public with workforce skills and/or to introduce a career field.
Workers with certificates are needed for the petroleum industry, but graduates with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees are needed, as well. With nearly 11,000 students, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, offers more than 60 of the most popular degree programs in the state.
One field that has experienced tremendous growth is the accredited mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree program, whose graduates understand the complex and evolving mechanics of the Eagle Ford Shale developments. Students are well grounded in the fundamentals of engineering, mathematics, science, communications and problem-solving, while learning both the applications and the theories of engineering methods and processes.
Announced only a few years ago and receiving full accreditation this year, program enrollment has more than doubled initial projections. TAMUCC continues developing additional engineering programs as the need grows, and articulation agreements with DMC and CBC have increased the number of students preparing for future workforce demands. As advancements are made and industry evolves, TAMUCC continues to seek input from graduates, employers and an industry advisory committee so that students are prepared to meet the changing needs of the industry.
Another Coastal Bend four-year institution, Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK), has made a special place for itself in higher education when it comes to serving the needs of oil and gas industry workers. In 1937, Dr. Frank H. Dotterweich, namesake of the university’s college of engineering, founded the nation’s first degree in natural gas engineering. Thousands graduated from that program and provided the majority of workers for South Texas’ oil and natural gas industry. Today, in response to the increased need for workers, TAMUK once again offers an undergraduate degree in natural gas engineering.
TAMUK furthers continuing education opportunities for industry workers at all levels with the Eagle Ford Center for Research, Education and Outreach (EFCREO). The center began in 2013 with the purpose of uniting industries and communities affected by the Eagle Ford Shale to address a broad spectrum of issues ranging from roads and transportation to oil and gas recovery and production to educational and environmental concerns. EFCREO helps prepare students for careers in fields related to natural gas and unconventional oil and gas production.
According to Dr. Jianhong-Jennifer Ren, interim associate dean of the college of engineering, “As a public institution of higher education, we have the responsibility to produce students who will be able to fill the needs of the highly skilled workforce associated with the Eagle Ford Shale.” With 10 engineering disciplines and social science and business programs, TAMUK is poised to provide support for the Coastal Bend area.
Advisors from all of these local institutions have relocated to the Coastal Compass Education & Career Resource Center at La Palmera Mall in Corpus Christi. Information is provided on all types of education and career programs, and advisors help connect people with skills necessary for in-demand jobs, with no charge for services.
The landscape is changing in the Coastal Bend – and so are the education and the training required for growing workforce needs. With the innovative ways Coastal Bend institutions are responding, it’s evident that the area is preparing for jobs today and jobs tomorrow.
The article is a compilation of information provided by Craft Training Center, Del Mar College, Coastal Bend College, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University-Kingsville.