Pact forged to train La.’s offshore oil, gas workforce

Associated Press file photo -- The Gulf of Mexico remains one of the main drilling areas for major oil companies. Industry executives expect nearly a doubling of the number of offshore platforms within a decade, while retirement shrinks their offshore workforce by 40 percent, requiring a need to ramp up workforce training.
Associated Press file photo -- The Gulf of Mexico remains one of the main drilling areas for major oil companies. Industry executives expect nearly a doubling of the number of offshore platforms within a decade, while retirement shrinks their offshore workforce by 40 percent, requiring a need to ramp up workforce training.

Oil and gas officials and several of Louisiana’s four-year and community-college leaders said they will work together to ensure students are prepared to take advantage of huge growth in deepwater ventures.

The move comes at a time when industry executives expect nearly a doubling of the number of offshore platforms within a decade, while retirement shrinks their offshore workforce by 40 percent, said Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Those job openings are expected to total between 30,000 and 40,000 over the 10-year period, and the number of offshore platforms is projected to grow to 70, John added.

Earl Meador, chancellor at Fletcher Technical Community College, said two-year degrees for students trained for offshore work will enable those graduates to step into jobs paying $60,000 per year.

“Today’s oil and gas industry is not your mom and pop’s oil and gas industry,” John added. “Today, it’s very high-tech.”

“Who are we going to hire … who will be able to run these billion-dollar installations?” asked John, before referring to the next decade as “the big crew change.”

“You’re going to need some of the basic sciences and math and technology,” John said.

Added John: “It is our vision that together we will develop a field-oriented, practical curriculum and certification program that will become the preferred model for offshore education training.”

It is hoped, John said, that a network of Louisiana schools will become “a global training center,” capable of training people for work in the North Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

The group signed a non-binding agreement Thursday at LMOGA headquarters in Baton Rouge to work together to hire a director/vice president for deepwater/offshore initiatives to help develop and administer that statewide curriculum.

Entities involved in the effort include the LMOGA, Louisiana Community and Technical College System, University of Louisiana System, Fletcher Technical Community College, Nicholls State University, South Central Louisiana Technical Community College, Louisiana Workforce Commission and Louisiana Department of Economic Development.

“The oil and gas industry has been a staple in Louisiana’s economy for generations and a foundational partner for Louisiana’s community and technical colleges,” said LCTCS President Monty Sullivan. “The signing of the agreement today extends our partnership at a time when the industry is experiencing dramatic expansion.”

“This partnership is a prime example of how Louisiana higher education is coming together with business and industry to meet workforce needs,” said University of Louisiana System President Sandra K. Woodley.

“Leveraging the power of existing programs at Nicholls State, Fletcher and SCLTC with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association will yield a multi-faceted approach to growing the employee pipeline for the fastest-growing offshore market in the world,” added Woodley, whose system includes nine universities. “It is a wise approach for the long-term economic stability of our state.”

Albert Davis, dean of University College at Nicholls State University, said the cooperative effort should prove valuable because: “Industry leaders know what they want. Educators know best how to train.”

The need for more well-trained workers for both onshore and offshore industrial development in Louisiana has been mentioned often this year by both industry and education leaders, as well as experts familiar with statewide hiring needs.

Loren C. Scott, a retired LSU economics professor who now heads the consulting firm of Loren Scott Associates, said last month that a huge boom in offshore oil and gas exploration and production has already begun in Louisiana.

There are 38 rigs in Louisiana’s coastal waters, Scott said, and he predicted that total would grow to about 60 sometime between 2015 and 2017.

“There are huge finds out there, what the industry calls ‘elephant’ finds,” Scott explained.

Earlier this year, business and education leaders called for an increased focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics to provide well-trained workers for more than $60 billion in planned industrial development across southern Louisiana.

Matching people trained in those STEM skills to the coming wave of industrial development can mean $50,000 annual salaries for graduates of two-year colleges, Sullivan said earlier this year.

Sullivan added there is tremendous demand for people trained in engineering technology, finance and accounting, computer and information science, construction crafts, welding, electrical and industrial production.

Such Tier One graduates at Louisiana’s two-year schools totaled 9,225 in 2012, explained Sullivan, but the demand at that time was about 29,200.

Sullivan called for the kind of business-education partnership that was announced Thursday.

“Employers are a part of the discussion,” Sullivan said earlier. He said employers can help educators determine the size of demand for certain jobs, help recruit students for two-year degrees and help fund scholarship programs.

A report this month by the nonprofit Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program emphasized the financial importance of STEM skills.

“In 1970, workers earned 12 percent higher earnings if they worked in an occupation that was significantly more STEM-oriented,” the Brookings analysts reported. “By 2012, that premium was up to 21 percent.”