Oilfield Jobs: Do You Want Some Training to Go with That?

By Sid Pranke

Those who want oilfield job training that could give them an edge when they jump into the job-seeking fray have educational choices, but the familiar refrain of “no place to live” can present a challenge in the area.

Some area training centers, keenly aware of the housing shortage, have shifted more coursework to short-term or online program options.

Though the western half of North Dakota has been hit hardest by the demand for housing, it’s getting tight around Bismarck-Mandan as well, said Bruce Emmil, associate vice president of Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence (NECE).

“It’s definitely coming down the interstate toward us. There’s 40 houses for sale in Bismarck-Mandan on any given day, where a year ago it was closer to 100, so we’re not sitting here with a bunch of space, either,” Emmil said. “It’s hard to get apartments; the dorms are all full on campus.” The college is trying to fund additional dorms, but in the meantime, the NECE tries to steer students toward the online program.

“There are some who would just as soon be in the classroom so they’ll wait, but of the 12 programs we have some are only available on campus, some available only online, some are available both settings,” Emmil said.

NECE’s petroleum production program is offered only online, though the program requires brief on-campus labs or shadowing at an approved facility, according to the school’s website. Courses begin every three to five weeks, and is designed to provide students with a broad background to operate and maintain the equipment used in the oil extraction and services industry.

Students can choose the two-year option — an Associate in Applied Science degree in petroleum production technology (a two-year plan), a program certificate in petroleum production technology or petroleum production technology courses (college courses for professional development).

Longer-term programs are geared for students who are thinking about the future, Emmil said. “They really may not at first recognize it, but down the road they’ll get older and they’ll want to move up in the company, so having the knowledge plus the degree is really beneficial.”

Another NECE oil industry-related training option is its two-year mechanical maintenance program, which could be taken as an on- campus/online combo. Students could start online with their general courses, and then switch to the hands-on, on-campus classes as more dorms become available, Emmil said.

The mechanical maintenance option would be a good fit for would-be oilfield workers, Emmil said. “It’s basically repairing and maintaining large equipment out at a power plant or oilfield setting,” he said.

For information about Bismarck State College’s NECE program, visit www.bismarckstate.edu/energy or call 800-852-5685.

Shorter-term Training

TrainND’s Petroleum Safety and Technology Center at Williston State College has an even bigger housing crunch (see adjacent article) and that has led the group to explore shorter-term training programs in instrumentation, automation and lease operation at the Center, said TrainND Operations Manager Billy Giles.

The Center had developed a two-year lease operator program that was to begin in late summer, but Giles said they realized it wasn’t going to fly. “I’m not sure a two-year program is going to be effective up here. It costs so much to live; it’s long, there’s so much work to be done,” Giles said.

“We’re looking to put together some four- to six-month training programs in the evenings. The downside is that a lot of these major companies want their employees to have some type of degree at the level of lease operator or instrumentation. That’s one of the hurdles — we’re talking with the companies to see how they’re going to view that,” Giles said.

TrainND hopes to develop a shorter-term lease operator program that would begin in January, Giles said.

TrainND works with thousands of students every year, both through open enrollment and contracted training for area oilfield companies. “We are really busy,” Giles said. “I was really surprised, coming from Texas, a lot larger school, we didn’t do near this much training.” Giles relocated to North Dakota last January.

TrainND also offers short-term training and certification in Well Control for Drillers and Workover Rigs; Floorhand for Well Servicing Training Program; and a Commercial Driver’s License Training Program, which includes preparation to take the state-regulated CDL test.

TrainND will hold a two-week floorhand for well servicing training program that begins Sept. 11 – the fee is $950. The program is designed to prepare students for entry-level employment on a service rig. A TrainND well control workshop that includes workover certification is scheduled beginning Sept. 24, and another drilling-only well control starts Oct. 16.

The Williston State College facility has three classrooms for training, along with a high-bay area for large equipment training. The hands-on training site includes an area for its oilfield-related programs.

Training programs have their own set of requirements, which can differ depending on the school. According to its website guidelines, the Floorhand program at the Petroleum Safety and Technology Center requires a drug test, the ability to lift 100 pounds, a statement of health, equipment purchases including coveralls, steel-toe safety boots, multiple gloves.

A pre-training questionnaire requires a yes-or-no response to the statement: “I may be required to work long days in a dirty, muddy and hazardous environment in hot/cold weather.”

For information on TrainND’s upcoming lease operator program, call 701-774-4554; For general info about TrainND’s Petroleum Safety and Technology Center at Williston State College, contact 701-572-2835 or 866-938-6963 or email: safety.training@willistonstate.edu to be added to the program’s newsletter list. For general info, visit www.trainnd.com and www.willistonstate.edu.

An OSHA safety course for the oil and gas industry recently was launched with the North Dakota Safety Council. Dubbed “Hazard Recognition and Standards,” course goals include giving contractors and service companies a foundation to help protect North Dakota oil and gas workers by teaching them to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control hazards common to U.S. onshore oil and gas exploration and production.

Rocky Mountain Education Center, an authorized OSHA training institute, piloted the program in North Dakota in late August. After the pilot phase of the OSHA 5810 is complete, the North Dakota Safety Council hopes to schedule classes on a quarterly basis — possibly starting as early as November. For more info, visit www.ndsc.org.

Sitting Bull College recently offered a 10-day oil drilling training program, which 22 participants successfully completed, said Harriet Blackhoop, workforce development coordinator with the college.

The training was a trial run, but plans could include  workshops that reach out to tribal members across North and South Dakota, Blackhoop said.

“People were calling left and right; they wanted to get into the oil trainings,” she said.

On-the-Job Training

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, formal training for oil industry jobs is becoming more important as more technologically advanced machinery and methods are used.

Most workers, the Handbook reports, start out as helpers to experienced workers and learn skills on the job. Important qualities for oil and gas workers the Handbook cites include: depth perception, physical strength, eye-hand coordination, attention to detail and interpersonal skills.

Some companies prefer to train their employees from scratch, teaching them their in-house methods and grooming the employees over time.

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