Expansion of Initiative to Prepare West Texas Students for Careers in the Oil and Gas Sector

In a technical education program offered by the Midland school district, students like Giovanni Parra are being prepared for work in the oil-rich Permian Basin. Unlike other classes, Parra feels a connection to his family’s legacy in the oil fields.

Currently, only four school districts in the Permian Basin offer classes that directly prepare students for work in the oil industry, and two of those programs are already fully enrolled. In Odessa, there is a long waitlist of students hoping to take oil and gas classes.

Midland College assistant professor Anthony Cummins instructs area high school students during an Oil and Gas Production II class. (Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune)

An effort led by energy companies is underway to expand access to oil and gas production courses to other high schools in Texas and New Mexico. The Permian Strategic Partnership, comprised of leading energy companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil, is working with education leaders to introduce similar coursework in more schools.

These efforts to prepare high school students for the oil fields are part of a broader shift in public education to provide students with employable skills in collaboration with local business leaders.

Midland College assistant professor Anthony Cummins, right, directs a group of high school students during their Oil and Gas Production II class period on electrical circuits Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Midland. The Education Partnership of the Permian Basin in collaboration with the Permian Strategic Partnership, which represents local oil and gas companies, designed a curriculum that will introduce vocational oil and gas studies to high school students. Classes will begin to roll out in one area school district starting January of 2024.A group of high school students create an electrical circuit using two lightbulbs and a set of cables on a specialized electronic training board during their Oil and Gas Production II class. The class was designed by the Midland Independent School District to teach students vocational oil and gas studies. (Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune)

The Permian Strategic Partnership, which represents local oil and gas companies, is supporting the schools by covering the costs of classroom supplies, teacher training, and marketing. The partnership recognizes the importance of developing the next generation of workers for the energy industry.

Despite West Texas’ long-standing dependence on the extraction industry, this is one of the first attempts to prepare high school students for the fields before they graduate.

Midland College assistant professor Anthony Cummins, right, instructs a group of area high school students in a lesson on electrical circuits during their Oil and Gas Production II class Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Midland. The Oil and Gas Production class was designed by the Midland Independent School District to teach students vocational oil and gas studies.Midland College assistant professor Anthony Cummins instructs a group of high school students in a lesson on electrical circuits. (Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune)

The Permian Basin’s oil and gas industry is expected to continue for decades, and the program aims to ensure that local talent is not overlooked. The Permian partnership understands the potential in their region and wants to support its success.

As the industry works to expand vocational instruction in the Permian Basin, there is a statewide debate in Texas over how to teach climate change in schools. The State Board of Education recently voted to reject science books that contained policy solutions for climate change and were published by companies advocating for specific policies.

While the Permian partnership declined to address how climate change is taught in Texas classrooms, the curriculum in New Mexico specifically covers “energy efficiency and renewable energy, in addition to oil and natural gas.”

From left, high school juniors Kimberly Arredondo, 17, Elyse Alvarez, 16, and Frannevic Alcala, 16, take part in an electrical circuit activity during their Oil and Gas Production II class Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Midland. The Oil and Gas Production class was designed by the Midland Independent School District to teach students vocational oil and gas studies.High school juniors Kimberly Arredondo, Elyse Alvarez and Frannevic Alcala take part in an electrical circuit activity during their Oil and Gas Production II class. (Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune)

Industry-specific classes like the oil and gas production course are being taught in many Texas classrooms to provide students with the necessary skills for various jobs. Establishing and maintaining these courses can be challenging due to administrative requirements and limited resources.

In Midland, classes are outsourced to the local college and taught by two instructors. However, hiring qualified instructors can be difficult due to the higher salaries offered in the oil fields.

From left, high school juniors Kimberly Arredondo, 17, Elyse Alvarez, 16, and Frannevic Alcala, 16, take part in an electrical circuit activity during their Oil and Gas Production II class Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Midland. The Oil and Gas Production class was designed by the Midland Independent School District to teach students vocational oil and gas studies.High school juniors Kimberly Arredondo, Elyse Alvarez and Frannevic Alcala take part in an electrical circuit activity during their Oil and Gas Production II class. (Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune)

The Texas Tribune is supported by ExxonMobil Corporation but their financial support does not impact the Tribune’s journalism.

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