Astronauts. Ballerinas. Doctors. Firefighters. Oilfield workers? One of these things is not like the others.
When children daydream about what they want to be when they grow up, oil and gas jobs rarely make the list — even in Texas, the country’s top energy-producing state. That needs to change for sake of the future of our state and for our nation’s energy independence.
Fortunately, improvements to Texas’ career and technical education(CTE) offerings signal a bright future for our state’s energy workforce. But our educators, energy leaders, and elected officials should do more to prioritize energy education.
Texas public high schools offer students a variety of “career clusters,” specialized classes to equip them with practical, marketable skills that lead to good-paying jobs, with or without a college degree. Until just two years ago, students interested in energy had to sign up for the agriculture career cluster, where they might also take classes on animal husbandry, fishery management, or greenhouse operations. This career path mismatch did little to incentivize students to consider energy careers. It’s likely that few students knew an energy specialization was available at all — and that often left businesses without a well-trained local workforce.
In Port Arthur, for example, 21% of students in career clusters took courses from the agriculture cluster, but agriculture makes up less than 1% of the region’s jobs. The community needs more skilled workers in manufacturing and energy.
The creation of the energy career cluster in 2019 means more students will be given the opportunity to learn about our energy resources and the variety of fulfilling, good-paying jobs available to them, including blue-collar and white-collar positions. The average oil and gas job pays more than double the private-sector average, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The oil and gas industry might not sound glamorous, but it’s a lucrative career path.
Energy education is critical not just because of the noteworthy role of oil and gas in our economy — employing nearly 200,000 Texans in direct jobs alone — but because energy makes every part of our lives possible.
Texas energy producers, and the myriad businesses that support them, need a talented workforce to provide gas to power our cars, delivery trucks, farm equipment, fire engines, and ambulances. Workers are needed to provide the electricity running our schools, data centers, hospitals, banks, and dispatch centers. These workers make refrigeration for food and lifesaving vaccines possible, and they protect us against the harsh cold of winter. They even produce the plastics that make up nearly all the products we use every day.
Affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels — the source of 80% of our energy — is the reason this is the best time in human history to be alive, and the data on everything from life expectancy to child labor show it.
Texans should be proud of our state’s outsized role in powering America to prosperity. The energy career cluster is an important step forward, but more should be done to ensure Texas stays the nation’s leader in oil and gas.
Part of instilling pride in young Texans is keeping energy curriculum fact- and science-based, carefully examining the pros and cons of each energy source without veering into environmental alarmism. The most rigorous science shows not only that climate change — which progressive activists will fixate on almost exclusively — is not the threat it’s made out to be. Every energy choice comes with consequences, including renewable energy, and educators should strive to arm students with the knowledge and confidence to tackle those challenges, rather than perpetuating to the alarmism afflicting so many young people with “eco-anxiety.”
The future of Texas’ energy leadership is bright. With the continued efforts of principled leaders across our state, from classrooms to the state Capitol, we can help more young Texans discover their dream careers and keep the Lone Star State’s vibrant energy industry the envy of the nation.
This commentary originally appeared in The Cannon Online on February 23, 2021.