7:40am

Fri September 6, 2013
Education

From Desk To The Drill, Aims Preps New Oil And Gas Workers

In Colorado, the oil and gas industry employees nearly 30,000 people in the field – and they’re looking for more.

KUNC's Nathan Heffel reports on a new oil and gas program at Aims Community College.

Aims Community College has been working in collaboration with some of the industry’s biggest players like Ensign, Halliburton and Anadarko to develop its oil and gas program. Oil and gas production broke a 50 year record in 2012, and it’s on pace to do so again. Aims is hoping to create a pipeline of qualified workers to meet those production needs.

“From the oil operators, to people like us, the drilling contractors, to support service contractors, we are in a desperate strait for new employees, new workers,” said Cliff Roberts, an engineer with the Canadian-based drilling company Ensign. “A lot of workers are retiring, some people leave, so it’s almost an unlimited demand with a short and limited supply.”

That’s where Aims’ oil and gas program director Bruce Beardsley comes in. Now in its second year, the program is taking advantage of a new, $10 million facility complete with hydraulic pipe trainers and hands-on rigging equipment.

He says with in-depth help from energy companies in the region, Aims developed the program’s curriculum after it secured a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. “They’re the experts; they know what they want to see in their new hires,” said Beardsley. “So we want to give them what they want.”

Hydraulic instrumentation training module
Credit Jim Hill / KUNC

The funding is part of a $17 million federal grant distributed to 15 colleges across Colorado. The Colorado Community College System has taken the lead on the grant. Casey Sacks, the grant’s project manager, says the goal of the programs is to help people who lost jobs in the great recession.

“The Department of Labor’s trying to facilitate partnerships between energy related businesses, colleges and work force centers so that we can train unemployed and underemployed workers,” said Sacks.

That’s music to the ears of new student Michelle Brumagin of Loveland.

“I’ve been teaching in public school for 20 years so I’m doing a career re-evaluation,” said Brumagin. Her interest in joining the growing industry is purely economic. After struggling to make ends meet, she’s hoping to join an industry with a proven track record of steady wages.

“I think because what’s happening in the area and it’s something that’s always gonna be there,” said Brumagin. “And then I think just the whole thing that oil and gas takes care of their people and they actually get paid for what they do. Their money is more reflective of what they put into it.”

Program director Bruce Beardsley demonstrates equipment in the new oil & gas lab to new students.
Credit Jim Hill / KUNC

Money is also a factor for 19 year old Wyatt Herbert from Berthoud.

“Because it’s a growing industry and there’s gonna be a lot of money going on in it and yeah,” Herbert says, “I just wanna get into it.”

Wages vary by company, but workers in the field can make between $22 and $28 an hour.

While Herbert and Brumagin are banking on the future of the oil and gas industry, there is some immediate uncertainty. Voters in at least four Front Range communities will decide the fate of moratoriums or bans of hydraulic fracturing at the ballot box.

Program director Bruce Beardsley says he’s not focused on the politics of the industry; he’s intent on giving students the tools they need to work in the industry safely. “You know we’re not here to argue the good points and bad points of the oil and gas industry,” said Beardsley. “We’re here to teach them the proper skills so they can put them to work the right way.”

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