Oil industry needs fill-up of skilled labor

Marketplace Staff Feb 26, 2008

Oil industry needs fill-up of skilled labor

Marketplace Staff Feb 26, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: You can add the weak dollar back to the list of reasons oil bumped up against its record high today. The greenback dropped on speculation that interest rates here are going to keep on falling.

Most of the world pays for its crude in dollars, which means countries that have it raise their prices when the dollar’s worth less.

Supply concerns and rising demand are the usual suspects when oil goes up. The U.S. oil industry is working overtime to meet that demand. Companies have gone begging for skilled workers — everything from geologists to rig operators — so after almost 20 years in the doldrums, there’s a boom in petroleum education.

From Red River Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kate Archer Kent reports.

Kate Archer Kent: Louisiana oilman John Hyatt has spent 31 years drilling wells all over America. He points at his gray hair and says these days almost everyone in the oil business is just like him.

John Hyatt: That’s what you see is a bunch of old fat guys like me in their 50s. Ha! We’ve been in it. We survived the exodus. There aren’t that many young guys coming in.

Hyatt recently hired a new crop of college graduates, but he needs more people.

Across the border in Texas, Kilgore College recently revived a major that trains oil and gas well technicians. The program was mothballed more than 15 years ago.

Jerome Edinger runs the program at Kilgore. He says pressure from industry persuaded the college to bring it back.

Jerome Edinger: Definitely the cost of oil going up will do this, so as long as those prices stay up — and they will, it looks like — those jobs are going to continue to grow.

The college says nearly 100 percent of the program’s graduates get jobs.

David West doesn’t graduate until May. He’s confident that he’ll get work — and that it will pay well. He’ll move anywhere for the kind of salaries the oil companies are paying.

David West: The two-year degree, the average pay is anywhere from $20-$32 an hour starting off and I mean, I know a lot of people that have four-year degrees not making that type of money.

Schools are struggling to graduate enough technicians like West. Companies like Halliburton, Shell and Texaco are stepping up with scholarships and lab equipment donations.

Kilgore’s Edinger says money’s no problem now, but finding teachers is.

Edinger: We used to be able to get part-time teachers easily, but when it comes to oil and gas, they are telling us now “Oh, we’re too busy; we can’t do a night class or we can’t become a part-time teacher.”

Colleges in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas will pump out 302 oil and gas technicians this month. The Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance says that’s 18 percent more than last year, but the region’s oil, gas and chemical industries say they’ll need 10,000 new technicians by 2010.

I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace.

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