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Wayne Christian crafts plan for college students heading to the oil and gas industry

TEXAS (YourBasin) – The lucrative oil and gas industry is slowly rising out of the depths of a collapse at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic that saw thousands lose their jobs.

According to Bloomberg, the West Texas Intermediate is currently hovering at more than $40 dollars a barrel. Experts in the Basin remain cautiously optimistic for a boom to return as the demand for crude slowly starts to raise.

After getting sworn into office over three years ago, Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian was faced with a problem. A lack of employees in the oil and gas industry. So, he assembled a task force of industry associations, educators, and different agencies across the state.

“I am looking with the task force on that and found that we had a local community college, in Center, Texas, they graduate about 2,000 young people into the energy business and those would go to work in the energy industry but found they could not advance in the company in the executive round because they didn’t have their four-year diploma,” said Christian.

Panola College, in Center, Texas, has made a contract with Stephen F. Austin, which students transfer to. SFA accepts 100% of the hours while the student finishes their bachelors online while simultaneously working in the oil patch.

This will be the pilot for the program. Christian continues to work with the Department of Energy and the Small Business Administration to target rural America and opportunity zones.

“It’s a four-year program when you put the two and the four-year project together. It’s a four-year degree that ends with six-figure potential income and no debt by the student. And, we took that to the Department of Energy and thought this would work great,” says Christian. “Especially in rural America.”

Christian has visited with officials here in the Basin, particularly the Permian Basin Association of Pipeliners, regarding the program. PBAP Chairman of the Board Jason Wolf and the rest of the crew were fond of the idea.

“We want to continue to attract great talent to our industry and of course during a period of downturn like we are in right now it’s challenging,” says Wolf.

For the second year in a row the PBAP has granted scholarship awards to local colleges.

This year, the association contributed $10,000 to Odessa College, $20,000 to Midland College, and $30,000 to UTPB to provide scholarships for STEM and oil and gas programs.

“That’d be anything from mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, construction management, project management. It’s not just four-year degrees it could be two-year certificates or associate degrees,” says Wolf.

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the industry was facing an employment gap.

Though thousands have lost their jobs have been lost to the pandemic, the slow increase in demand of crude has slowly risen as the world adapts to the pandemic life.

“I think more we can get students interested the better because there is a gap. An employment gap,” said Silver Vasquez, Permian Basin Association of Pipeliners.

“The traditional oil and gas folks are sort of aging out and we are looking to get folks in. It really is a high tech industry. So, the more we can do to support that and get folks in the better.”

Odessa College officials are seeing the effects.

Officials say they have reached student capacity in some areas.

Dean of Business and Industry Jennifer Myers believes the industry is starting to pick back up due to local industry leaders emailing about job openings for potential graduates.

“The fact that these companies want and need employees, a lot of them have developed and donated scholarship funds to our foundation office,” says Myers.

Vice President of Instruction Dr. Tramaine Anderson mentions how Odessa College has had an “influx of transfer students.”

Odessa College is also a step ahead of the game by offering a B.A.A.S, Bachelors of Applied Arts and Sciences, which allows students who are “workforce focused to take the skills they have learned from their associates of applied arts and sciences” to receive their bachelors.

“Many of our B.A.A.S students are students who are already working and they want to come back and get that B.A.A.S so they can go into leadership within their organization,” said Myers.

Anderson states if students chose not to go the B.A.A.S route that students can also transfer to UTPB with their associates and complete their degree within two years at the university, the original plan entailed from Wayne Christian.

“You get your 60 credit hours, to get your bachelors or baccalaureate you already have half of it done. You complete here you get your associates and transfer that in to finish up your bachelors and you only have two years left,” said Anderson.

Christian and task force quickly got the program started this year.

Though this is not a great time in the industry, it is in recovery mode which will lead to more jobs in the future.

“It’s totally open. You know, you’re talking about, I think you if look at just the statistics of young people or any age group that attends community colleges or technical training schools the vast majority decide to go and complete their four-year diploma in some direction,” said Christian.

“So, it’s the introduction of putting people in this system where they don’t have to worry about accumulating debt over time because there’s going to be employment there to pay the debt and were going to have a lot of scholarships. These companies that are needing the employment, will hopefully step for with scholarships and trust dollars that will come to take care of the cost.”

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