Automation is writing big changes in the oilfield, and that, in turn, is changing the kind of training that students need for oil and gas positions, particularly field technicians.
Enter Williston State College, which is taking a multi-disciplinary approach to rewiring its training programs, based on advice from industry advisory committees.
That has resulted in a blending of the IT and petroleum programs, to give students options to both boost and refine their skill sets for the jobs of the future.
At the same time, these skill sets are highly transferable to other sectors where automation is also coming to play. If there is a downturn, the students will remain highly employable, regardless of what their degree is called.
The blending — or cross-walking as it’s known in educational circles — is being accomplished by first-year teacher Alexey Kovalev and long-time veteran Ken Quamme.
Kovalev has been at Williston State College for about a year now, and teaches the petroleum program. Quamme, meanwhile, has 43 years of experience as an educator and teaches information technology.
As the two were talking to their advisory boards, they both learned that industry representatives wish WSC graduates had a little more of each other’s programs. That led the instructors to explore realignment, with both fresh and experienced eyes.
“It’s a changing world,” Quamme said. “And it’s a newness. But we at Williston State College want to keep up with that.”
On the IT side, students will soon have an option in their second year to focus on either cyber security, networking, or petroleum automation.
And on the petroleum side, Kovalev has carved out classes that didn’t make sense for his program, such as GIS mapping, which field techs don’t generally do, and added instead things like microcomputer hardware and programming classes from the IT program.
Kovalev also retooled some classes, removing things like site reclamation — more the purview of an environmental tech — and adding well control instead, and getting rid of redundant material, like safety orientations. Most students get company-specific training in that after employment.
Getting rid of redundancies gave him room for hydraulics and pneumatics. The latter was also aided by equipment from TrainND that wasn’t being used very much, and an NSF grant aimed at diversification of training and education for technicians.
“I will probably work on more changes as I test things out,” Kovalev added. “I’m learning as I’m teaching.”
Automation, Kovalev said, is not as bad as it sounds. It’s not necessarily eliminating jobs, so much as it is changing them.
“It’s removing people from a hazardous work environment to control processes remotely,” he said. “As I learn more and more, I see the opportunity for the application of these skills, and that is just so exciting it blows my mind. The more I learn, the broader the outlook on the opportunity it offers.”
Students taking a cross-walked program like the ones Quamme and Kovalev are developing may find the world becoming their oyster, Quamme suggested.
“Knowledge,” he said, “is how we are going to change the world. More education is a powerful weapon, that we can use to change the world.”
Kovalev agreed. While his program says petroleum in it, 70 percent is devoted to transferrable skill sets useful in a variety of industries that will make students highly employable regardless of what the future holds.
“I’m trying to encourage the 17 year olds in my program to seize the day and the opportunity,” Kovalev said. “Time goes by fast, and these areas evolve quickly. If they manage to get on top of the crest of the wave, they cannot imagine how much they can achieve.”