Oil group urges student training

10 24, 2013 by Houma Courier

Local colleges need to work together if south Louisiana wants to make the most out of the surge in offshore drilling projects.

That was the message Brent Golleher, manager of government relations for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, gave a crowd of business leaders gathered for the Lafourche Chamber of Commerce’s Bayou Briefing in Larose Wednesday afternoon.

Golleher showed the audience two numbers. First, that the amount of oil flowing from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to increase by 28 percent over the next 10 years.

“Deep water is the new frontier for oil and gas,” Golleher said. “Technologies have made available resources that were not accessible even 10 years ago.”

Next, Golleher showed that nearly three-quarters of all offshore oil and gas projects around the world had to be delayed in 2012 because of a lack of sufficiently skilled workers. While more and more oil becomes accessible, workers needed to operate machinery and service offshore drilling operations remain scarce.

More than half of oil and gas companies surveyed hired their workforces out of high school and then offered on-the-job training, sometimes augmented by two-year professional training at one of the region’s three higher-education institutions, Nicholls State University, Fletcher Technical Community College and South Louisiana Technical College.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of Terrebonne-Lafourche students graduate high school without going on to continuing education programs.

“There are excellent engineering programs in the schools around here,” Golleher said. “But they’re not combining efforts for the greater good.”

Golleher presented a series of recommendations by experts hired to advise the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. All centered around creating a collaborative program to unify resources amongst the 10 professors specializing in oil and gas-related skills training.

The recommendations entail the creation of a regional center that would coordinate coursework and specialties between the three schools. While details on efforts to create such a program are still in development, Golleher emphasized the urgent need to improve education programs.

“We are approaching what is being called the big crew change,” he said. “Forty percent of experienced workers are expected to retire this decade, and replacing them means educating a new workforce. Our job is to make this as seamless as possible so that students can jump from one school to another and pick up the credentials they need.”

Jane Arnett, president of the South Central Louisiana Industrial Association, says she has made addressing shortages in skilled labor her top priority in 2014.

“We need to develop a center for education,” Arnett said. “We are having a serious problem with getting qualified workers, and when I say qualified I also mean drug free.”

Arnett said a local shipbuilder recently had more than half of one pool of job applicants fail pre-employment drug tests.