Training tomorrow’s workers: Nicholls stays ahead

Chabert given top oilfield post
September 28, 2016
Keeping students ready: Fletcher program chugs along
September 28, 2016
Chabert given top oilfield post
September 28, 2016
Keeping students ready: Fletcher program chugs along
September 28, 2016

Graduating from college is more important than ever in today’s tough, competitive corporate world.

But if not properly trained to meet the demands required by one’s field of study, then let’s face it – the degree is not much more than just a glorified piece of paper.

Folks at Nicholls State University know exactly that.

That’s why the university works tirelessly to evolve with the quickly evolving changes that take place in the oil and gas industry.

Nicholls offers many programs to train future oilfield workers – a curriculum that dates all the way back to the 1970s.

Mike Gautreaux, the executive director of the school’s Petroleum Engineering Technology and Safety Management program, said the key to the university’s success is its flexibility and ability to constantly adapt to teach students the newest wrinkles within the industry.

“The technology in the industry and the way things were done in the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and even in the early 2000s has changed tremendously,” Gautreaux said. “As we go further out and deeper, we face new challenges in the industry, which lead to new technologies and new methods to keep work efficient and safe. We know that, and we try and constantly keep up with that. We take pride in knowing that once someone leaves our program, they are as well trained as they can possibly be and are as up to date with the latest trends as they can possibly be so that they can go and succeed in the workforce.”

To do that, Nicholls offers a wide variety of services to students – flexibility that aims to separate the university from others around the state.

Nicholls President Dr. Bruce Murphy said arguably the best thing about Nicholls’ Petroleum Engineering Technology and Safety Management Program is its ability to train literally everyone – even folks who have jobs and are looking to enhance their training or certifications.

“We have 7-on, 7-off programs or 14-on, 14-off programs to meet the needs of those students and those workers,” Murphy said earlier in the year. “Doing that gives us what I believe is a big advantage. It allows us to be all-inclusive and offer our services to just about everyone.”

Gautreaux agrees.

He said the flexible curriculum offerings are one of the No. 1 reasons why the program has been able to grow.

“That unique scheduling system is key,” Gautreaux said. “It’s more convenient, and it allows people to do things in their off time, and at times that are easiest to them. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do – there’s no way.”

At press-time, Gautreaux said Nicholls had close to 350 students in its oil-related programs – a number that’s down from the more than 400 students the program had just a few years ago.

But when looking back a decade, one can see exactly how much things have grown.

“Our enrollment is down a little bit, but there’s a lot that goes into that,” Gautreaux said. “Of course, the elephant in the room is the price of oil, but there are a lot of factors. We had a big graduating class last semester, which lowered our numbers, as well. I know this much, I know that when I started teaching in 2006, our total program enrollment was around 144 students. So if you flash forward 10 years, we’ve more than doubled that, and that’s even including the little dip we’ve had right now. We think that’s impressive.”

But like anything else, the university officials concede Nicholls would be better off if the price of oil got to a higher, steadier peak.

Gautreaux said one of the hardest things about the economic downturn is that more students are graduating than there are jobs available on the open market, which, of course, means some people will be left behind.

To combat that, Nicholls has been proactive in its efforts to make sure university graduates are networking and doing the proper things to set themselves apart from others in the job market.

Gautreaux said last year, the university held an open forum where industry leaders came in and met with students and recent graduates.

The school is also offering help to recent graduates in resume building and other career services training that will help students find an opportunity and be able to pounce on it.

Like most everyone else, Gautreaux said he doesn’t expect the downturn to last forever.

But while it does, the university will be there for students as they try and cope with the tough time and find a landing place.

“It’s all cyclical,” Gautreaux said. “We have confidence that this industry will rebound – like other downturns. And at that point, we have concerns about having enough workers in the oil and gas industry, because of the people who leave the industry when it’s down, but don’t come back. So we know that what we do is important, and we know that even if it’s down today, it won’t be down forever. We know we have to train our students and get them ready for what’s to come.”

“A big part of our job here is to meet the needs of our workforce,” Murphy added. “That’s why universities exist. So we know that, and we definitely do our best to meet and train students to fit the needs that go along with the oil and gas industry, because we know that industry is so important to our region. That commitment won’t change. It can’t change.” •

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