Bakken U looks to retain oil workers in region with new educational opportunities.
Warren Logan is getting the opportunity to finish his college degree thanks to a new university program in North Dakota designed to keep current and former oilfield workers in the state.
Logan attends Bakken U, a new collaborative program that brings together five postsecondary institutions in western North Dakota. He’s working toward his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Dickinson University while still working in the oil industry.
“This degree will bring me more financial stability,” the 28-year-old Wyoming native says. “I started college, but left and then started working in construction and now in the oil industry.
As I’ve gotten older, I realized the importance of having a degree and it will serve me well whether I stay in the oil industry or something happens and I end up in another field.”
STAYING IN THE STATE
Bakken U’s goal is to help current and former oilfield workers and their spouses receive training and education to help fill the many open jobs in the state, says Bakken U Director Jerry Rostad. Even though the oil industry is feeling the pain from falling prices, North Dakota continues to have the lowest unemployment level in the nation, he says.
“Workers are still in demand. There are nearly 35,000 jobs across North Dakota waiting to be filled,” Rostad says. “Employers are looking for well-trained, educated workers, and our university system is working to help fill that gap.”
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott came up with the idea for Bakken U after holding listening tours around the state. The program’s name pays tribute to the region’s shale formation and the oil within.
“One theme that kept coming up was that we needed to find a way to keep some of the talent who moved here for the oil boom,” Rostad says. “People came here for one opportunity and while that industry is still here and providing jobs, there are many other opportunities available and it would be great to retain those people.”
He adds that many oilfield workers, including Logan, moved to North Dakota and enjoy living in the state.
“They want to stay. We need to just give them a reason and having a job is one,” Rostad says. “It’s a win for the workers and a win for the state since these workers help power our economy.”
Bakken U is a collaboration of five universities in the region — Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineu, Dickinson State University, Minot State University and Williston State College. Rostad says that one of those five campuses is within an hour of most oilfield sites and offers a mix of bachelor’s and associate degrees and certificates.
“By having the schools come together in this program, we’ve become a one-stop shop for workers looking to start, continue or finish their education,” he says.
Bakken U also offers online programs from other state colleges.
Logan was looking at different options to earn his degree when he came upon the Bakken U website. From there, he found a story in the Dickinson, North Dakota, newspaper about it and learned of a $5,000 scholarship funded by the North Dakota Petroleum Council to help a current or former oilfield worker pay tuition for the spring semester.
“On a whim, I applied and won. I was so humbled to be the first winner. It’s great the council partnered with the school on this,” he says. “We really enjoy living in Dickinson and want to keep our home here, which is why getting a degree is so important. It will provide other opportunities if I experience an unexpected job loss.”
Rostad says Logan fit the demographic that Bakken U is trying to reach — people that moved from elsewhere for a job in the oil industry and now that they’re living in North Dakota, they’re looking for ways to stay. “Education — and the jobs that follow — are a great reason to stay,” he says.
While there are still jobs in the oil industry, Logan says other sectors looking for educated workers include health care, energy-related programs, welding, construction and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“Bakken U is great for those oilfield workers looking to move up the ladder and need a degree to do that or for those looking to start over in a new career,” he says.
Rostad says Bakken U plans to offer additional scholarships in the future.