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Useful Learning, Real Money: A Glimpse Into the Hydrocarbon Educational Future

The oil and gas boom has revealed a shortage of skilled labor. Some educational institutions are responding. But should the industry itself enter into the educational field and form for-profit training programs? Such would further remove the need for government (taxpayer) education, a win-win for the economy.”

Julian Simon said it first and best: the scarcest resource is human capital. His proof? The rising cost of labor relative to other inputs, even so-called depletable resources. And such is a mighty tribute to capitalism, as David Boaz noted.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle, “San Jacinto College’s fast-track pipefitting fabricator program responds to industry need (Cheryl P. Rose, June 28, 2013) made me think of Simon, the hydrocarbon-energy boom, and the purpose of education.

We will soon have the Internet capability of getting a world class education at virtually zero marginal cost. Listen to the Harvard or Princeton professors at their best, not to mention the exciting economics coming out of George Mason University. There will be a fee, but it is on its way to ubiquity.

Dear workforce to come: Self-educate yourself at night with the classics because the world needs your skills during the day. Make good money in your youth to expand your world later on, whether by hobbying, traveling, art collecting, or just buying more time to read and study.

Read Rose’s account of this community college opportunity for yourself and decide where the future of education is going.

Being able to read a blueprint for equipment and then create a final piece that fits and works in the field is a special skill set within construction and manufacturing.

“There are a lot of people working as pipefitters, but very few who are also fabricators,” said Eddie Foster, department chair of industrial technology at San Jacinto College.

Feedback from major Houston-area employers encouraged San Jacinto College to develop a fast-track 16-week program for students to earn certification as pipefitting fabricators.

“We hear from industry leaders that there’s a high demand for people who can not only provide maintenance, but who can also fabricate a new system,” said Dr. Gary Friery, San Jacinto College North, dean of business and technology, noting that pipefitters are on the Governor’s State Targeted Occupations top 25 list.

Foster described the program as very intense.

“Eighty-five percent of the class is going to be hands-on,” he said. For four nights a week from 6-10 p.m. at the North Campus location, students will learn to cut and fit pipe, learn specifications and installation techniques, and how to read blueprints.

No prior pipefitting training is necessary to register for the course, but Foster said experience in construction and manufacturing industries in any role is preferable.

“This course is for those who really want to do this as a career,” he said. “It’s for people who want a trade. These are skills you can take anywhere in the world once you’ve mastered them.”

The course also will be beneficial to experienced pipefitters who wish to learn the additional fabricating skills.

“For any pipefitter who doesn’t know how to do this, it would be a feather in the cap,” Foster said. “It would make them more employable and have better job security. In my 20-year career in maintenance, the fabricators were never laid off.”

According to national statistics, pipefitters earn in the median range of $40,000 to $50,000 a year, with Foster saying in his local experience, he has known employers to pay $28 to $35 an hour. Employers are typically construction and maintenance companies with contracts for commercial and industrial operations.

Registration for the course opens July 1 through San Jacinto College’s web page, www.sanjac.edu/apply. Foster said the initial class will be on a first-come, first-served basis with a 20-student maximum. Students can enter the program either for course credit toward a degree or without credit through the college’s Continuing and Professional Development division. Both tracks receive industry-acknowledged certifications upon completion.

The oil and gas boom has revealed a shortage of skilled labor. Some educational institutions are responding. But should the industry itself enter into the educational field and form for-profit training programs? Such would further remove the need for government (taxpayer) education, a win-win for the economy.

2 comments

1 Ray { 07.03.13 at 2:57 pm }

It’s easy to educate yourself if you have some curiosity and ambition. My local library even has some of the courses. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/greatcourses.aspx

2 Dr. James H. Rust { 07.05.13 at 7:12 pm }

This is a topic I have not seen written about.

In Georgia, we have two technical schools that have received federal grants to provide education programs for students to install solar energy systems. The demand for that type of training is created by government subsides. Thus we have two programs that waste tax dollars.

The demand for oil field workers, and I may add welders for nuclear power plants, is huge and provides productive work that adds to the nations economy. Let schools add this training to their programs.

James Rust

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