Demand Grows For Comprehensive Natural Gas Education Programs

July 2012, Vol. 239 No. 7

Brandon Steinert

Barton Community College’s Natural Gas programs have grown by leaps and bounds since the first curriculum was introduced in August 2008, but the roots go back to almost three decades ago when MidWest Energy began working with Barton, based in Great Bend, KS, to build a gas field on college grounds to train their workers.

The gas field has been used as a primary location for national NACE Corrosion Control seminars for 27 years, and a steel building was constructed over it in 2004. Now the facility, known as the Midwest Utility & Pipeline Training Center (MUPTC), is the central hub for Barton’s state-of-the-art Natural Gas Technician and Measurement programs.

Responsive To Industry Demands
Mike Baugh, Barton’s Natural Gas Technician Instructor and Coordinator, said the coursework was developed in 2007 by the Southern Gas Association in response to a predicted exodus of experienced and skilled workers from the natural gas industry due to a large number of employees reaching retirement age.

Though the economic downswing in 2008 delayed the inevitable, retirees are now beginning to exit the workforce, leaving a void for newly trained workers to fill.

The current disposition of the natural gas industry is attractive enough that Barton reached its enrollment capacity for Natural Gas education four months prior to the first class’ start date.

As a committed industry partner, Barton has seized every opportunity to grow and expand its programming to meet this demand for skilled labor. Most recently, Barton secured a $795,000 grant to further enhance the program. The college also recently launched a certificate program specifically for Natural Gas Measurement, as opposed to the programs for Natural Gas Technician (Transmission and Distribution), which have been in place since 2008.

Another recent improvement includes the addition of a stationary pipeline lab for natural gas measurement training, along with an identical mobile lab. The new equipment will be fully equipped with all the most commonly used metering devices, and will provide hands-on resources for line location, leak detection and valve training.

The equipment list continues to grow, as the acquired assets have opened the door to additional resources.

“The whole thing became a snowball effect,” Baugh said.

Programs Grow In Popularity
Baugh said the programs’ success and popularity, beyond the availability of jobs, is the nature of the curriculum.

“It’s industry-developed, industry-maintained and industry-owned,” he said, explaining the Gas Measurement Training Council, a part of the Southern Gas Association, developed the coursework. “It also follows the industrial format style of training. It’s very similar to if a company brought in a trainer to work through a class for eight hours a day, five days a week.”

Baugh said a three-credit-hour class is outlined in exactly that style. More than 30-credit hours are accumulated during the training program, which can be completed in a year. Each course is taught by industry experts, and all the classes are sequential and build upon one another.

The attractive salaries, Baugh added, certainly do not hurt anything either. An established technician can earn up to $60,000 a year after a few years of experience.

The availability of jobs, quality fast-paced coursework and attractive salaries has contributed to significant demand for training.

Real Results
Natural Gas Technician Blake Wornkey served his country in the military for seven years before he started looking for a change of pace in 2010. That’s when he began his transition into the natural gas industry by starting coursework in Barton’s Natural Gas Technician program.

He is now gainfully employed working for his hometown’s natural gas service.

“I didn’t want to spend four years in college. I just wanted to get training and get a job,” he said. “The pace of classes was excellent and I really enjoyed it. It was amazing the amount I was able to learn in a short amount of time. They taught us a lot and got us out into the workforce, which is nice.”

He said despite the fast-paced nature of Barton’s programs, he was impressed by the quality of the education and its relevance to his new career.

“The courses were spot-on with the equipment I’m using now,” he said. “I use a lot of the skills I learned every day.”

Barton’s Dean of Workforce Training Elaine Simmons said the situation is a win-win for all involved.

“Every industry requires a skilled and trained workforce. The natural gas industry shared with us this need and, in partnership, the college and industry leaders have created a variety of options for potential employees,” she said. “For individuals, they have the opportunity to train and find a job. For the industry, their result is a trained workforce. For consumers, it ensures the quality of services we expect every day and we know they’re performed in a safe and efficient manner.”

Fred Taylor, Vice President of Operations at Midwest Energy, Inc., praised Barton for its contributions to, and cooperation with, Midwest Energy.

“Midwest Energy has had a long-standing relationship with Barton Community College, dating back more than 25 years, and our employees have benefited from this relationship with affordable technical training provided by industry experts,” he said. “Our consumers have benefited from lower cost energy delivery without sacrificing safety.”

For more information: Mike Baugh, baughm @bartonccc .edu, (620) 792-9325; Julie Kramp, krampj @bartonccc .edu, (620) 792-9278.

Find articles with similar topics