Programs prepare students for employment in the energy industry
With unemployment hovering around 10 percent in late January in Mesa County, those who are considering a career change might want to take a look at programs offered at two Western Slope colleges. The programs fill a need in the energy industry and equip graduates with the knowledge and skills to get jobs when they leave college.
Western State College in Gunnison and Mesa State College in Grand Junction both offer business degrees with a special emphasis in Land and Resource Management, as it’s called at Western State College or Landman/Energy Resource Management, as it’s called at Mesa State College.
Both degree programs equip students to become landman professionals, working on the business side of energy development.
Despite, only being in existence for a few years, both programs have been successful at placing graduates in energy jobs.
“There are jobs, and they’re good-paying jobs,” said Jim Colosky, the program coordinator at Mesa State College. “I think within the next year to three, we’ll see an increase in the number of jobs.”
Landmen negotiate leases, sales, and rights-of-way, research title work, ensure compliance with government regulations and draft contracts. They need to have a basic understanding of business principles, law and management, and know about mineral rights, geographic information systems, energy production, markets and development.
“I don’t care how you produce energy, a landman will be involved,” said Colosky, who has been the program coordinator for two and a half years.
When Colosky joined Mesa State College, there were five students in the program. Now there are 24. All four of the program’s first four graduates have been able to get jobs in the energy industry. Three work on the Western Slope and one went to work for his family’s company, which does landman work in Arizona.
Although many of the graduates from either school work with typical energy producers who rely on fossil fuels, they are just as qualified to work for a company in the wind generation business or one that generates electricity using solar energy.
The program at Western State was started thanks to large private donations and continues to receive private funding from companies in the energy industry.
“The program has an industry advisory board made up of 17 working individuals,” said Ed Grauke, director of the program at Western State College. “They saw a huge need, there’s a generational gap and there were no undergraduate degreed landmen with skills in private or public land leasing for conventional resources or alternative sources. No one pursued that program for about 20 years.”
The program at Western State was started in January 2008 and graduated its first students in May 2009. Of those original 12 graduates, nine of them are working in the energy industry and the remaining three have chosen to pursue other opportunities. Another 29 students have graduated from the program since then, and 28 of them are working in the energy industry across Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Montana.
Because of the energy bust that lingered from the 1980s and into the 1990s, there weren’t many people seeking landman jobs in the energy industry. That means the industry currently has plenty of people who are nearing retirement and not many who are ready to take the reins.
“The entire work force in the energy industry is going to retire in the next five years,” Grauke said. “Somebody’s going to have to do what they’ve done for the last 35 years. The companies will be scrambling to try and find qualified people to do the work.”
Both colleges try to connect upper classmen with companies for summer internship positions, giving students valuable experience that often helps them find a job at graduation.
The program at Western State College also allows students who graduate from another college with a business degree to take the core courses in land and resource management and obtain a second degree within a year, provided they complete all the coursework.
Western State College’s program is accredited with the American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL). Mesa State College is working on the accreditation process and hopes to be able to prove its program has the necessary industry support required for accreditation. A $100,000 donation from EnCana and a $150,000 scholarship program established by Williams help the validate the program under AAPL standards.
Both colleges will have booths at the upcoming Energy Forum & Expo and welcome the opportunity to talk to prospective students and others interested in their programs.