A new initiative called Bakken U: Energizing through education has been developed to meet the needs of energy workers and employers on the western side of the state. It is designed to encourage workers from the Bakken oil fields and other energy sectors to take advantage of slow times to enhance their skills and education by attending a college or university in their area to make them even more marketable.
“I’ve heard about many topics during my listening sessions this summer with legislators, business and community leaders. Especially in the western part of the state, the focus was on the importance of providing energy workers the programs they want, when and where they need them,” said Chancellor Mark Hagerott, North Dakota University System. “We know that we have excellent workers in the oil field, and we want to provide increased opportunities for their growth. Our goal is to provide a bridge to employment, career enhancement, and create an ‘energy reserve’ of workers ready to meet the demands of the workforce whenever and wherever educated energy workers are needed,” he said.
Bakken U is focusing on raising awareness of existing educational opportunities within the western part of the state. The immediate goal is to provide a one-stop shop for potential students. The staffs of Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Minot State University and Williston State College will work together to ensure that students are directed to the programs and courses that are right for them. By working as a team for one specific purpose, the institutions will best be able to serve the needs of a diverse population that arrived in North Dakota over the past several years.
“I listened to business and community leaders in the western part of the state and believe a coordinated effort among the five western colleges and universities is needed to meet the educational needs of a work force that is experiencing the effects of a downturn in oil prices. Members of this work force, those who have been on the frontline of the energy boom, can begin to explore their educational future on our new website, or can be within an hour’s drive to at least one of our western campuses. The university system is here to help them begin or restart their education,” said Hagerott.
There are 11 institutions in NDUS, and the other six also provide a variety of programs ranging from certificates to graduate degrees for students who may start their education in the west, but transfer for other opportunities in the east. “The benefit of a unified system is that we all work as a team to do what’s best for the student and to meet the demands of our state.”
“As an employer and as a member of the State Board of Higher Education, I’ve seen the men and women who came to North Dakota to work toward a brighter future in the oil patch. They are dedicated and driven,” said SBHE Chair Kathleen Neset. “Our population has increased by more than 70,000 in the past five years, and towns like Williston have seen their populations nearly double in size in that time. A potential downturn in oil exploration and production shouldn’t have those same people looking elsewhere for their next opportunity to advance. Now is the time to increase their education and training, and NDUS wants to give them the opportunity to do that right here, right now,” she said.
Next steps for Bakken U will be to focus on programs tailored specifically to the needs of energy sector workers, and working with businesses that might be interested in offering scholarships and grants to this workforce.
Hagerott said, “I see this program as part of our strategy to enhance the mission of our university system and adapt to meet the needs of our workforce, develop excellent programs for our students and equip them for success, while ensuring that our programs are affordable and accessible.”