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Northern, Miles City to lead push for Bakken training

Montana's senior senator has announced an initiative that will help train people for energy development in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, with the university in Havre and the community college in Miles City leading the effort.

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor James Limbaugh talked about the initative Friday at a meeting to start planning for effects of the Bakken oilfield developments in Havre.

He said he had been working on a task force created last fall for energy workforce development.

He had met in Helena with university representatives earlier in the week about that issue in a meeting where plans were put in place. Then Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told him Friday morning about funding through the Eastern Montana Energy Workforce Development Initiative the senator launched, Limbaugh said.

"We are at the very beginning, " Limbaugh said. "We're developing the structures and the price points and dealing with requests to bring people on campus and house them while we do it.

"So it has gone from 0 to 60, " Limbaugh added. "Have you ever ridden the rocket roller coaster at Disney World? That's what just happened in the last 48 hours, from 0 to 60. "

Baucus created the initiative to help fill the estimated 18,000 jobs that need to be filled in the Bakken region, to streamline, promote and focus on training Montanans in-state so they can land energy-related jobs in the Bakken region. Currently, many energy companies operating in Montana rely on workers trained at out-of-state facilities.

The initiative will provide $9,500 in the initial phase to start a catalog of what training is available in the university system that could be used for workers in the Bakken. It will be led by Northern and Miles Community College.

"This is truly a Montana solution for Montana jobs — there's no reason why energy companies and related industries should not be hiring workers trained and educated right here in the state, " Baucus said. "This initiative sends the message far and wide that Montana is proactively working to rewrite the cycle of boom and bust.

"I'm pleased to see our community colleges and our state's higher education system working together to answer our call to action in the Bakken, " he added.

John Cech, deputy commissioner for two-year and community college education in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, said this morning that Baucus' help is greatly appreciated.

The university system is looking to work together, as a system, as a consortium. The plan is to find ways to fill positions in the oil fields as well as support positions such as teachers, nurses, civil engineers and petroleum engineers, both in the Bakken and places where people have left their jobs to go the Bakken, Cech said.

"There's not a silver bullet out there to deal with this, " he said. "It's going to take multiple players bringing talent and resources to bear to address this, so that's where we really appreciate what the senator is doing. "

Northern's Director of University Outreach and Economic Development Tony Preite said the funding will be used to create a catalog of the programs at the campuses of the university and the tribal and community colleges, which will be compiled in an easy-to-use format so energy companies and others can quickly see what is available.

He envisions having a central coordinator in Miles City who will be the first point of contact.

Darren Pitcher, vice president for student success at Miles Community College, said in an interview before Baucus announced the initiative that that college has already done some work in the energy workforce development, such as developing a short class to help people earn commercial driver's licences.

Limbaugh said the planning that is being done, while it has been enacted at some of the two-year colleges, is a new animal for most of the university system. The courses might be only 10-hours long taught by Northern or Miles Community College instructors in North Dakota.

"It's completely different than bringing somebody in, training them for a year to do welding, " Limbaugh said. "It's 10 hours … you now know how to lay a bead of welding go to work. It's that kind of thing that we're now going to have to get into. "


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