Witness Testimony of Mr. Wesley Carr, President, PEC Safety
I. What is B2O?
Battlefields to Oilfields (B2O) is an initiative by PEC/Premier Safety Management that helps veterans get the skills and training needed to obtain successful, rewarding careers in the oil and gas industry. B2O is the brainchild of PEC founder, Charlie Carr.
Mr. Carr recognized that with over 50% of the oil and gas workforce reaching retirement age within the next 10 years, the industry is on the verge of a major labor crisis. At the same time, dismayed by the inordinately high unemployment rate for our returning veterans, Mr. Carr saw an opportunity to help our returning service men and women while simultaneously addressing the imminent worker shortage in the oil and gas industry.
Through the vehicle of B2O, PEC could get training for our veterans in essential, industry-recognized courses and help place them in career driven jobs through the network of employers we have cultivated over the past 20 years of industry service.
By partnering with different schools and training entities around the nation, B2O aims to reach its vision of helping any veteran, regardless of location, find a job in the oil and gas industry. B2O is working on procuring as many different funding sources as possible in order to subsidize our veterans’ training in as many different oil and gas occupations as possible. While veterans’ benefits are the most readily available funds accessible to our applicants, not all are eligible for them so other forms of funding must be procured in order for all applicants to have equal opportunity to attend.
Our plan is to have multiple approved programs in our network taught by different providers across the United States. These programs will cater to the specific needs of the veterans that attend and to the industry in their area of the country. This will allow us to pair veterans with the training required for the career path they desire and meet the needs of the employers in that geographic region and industry sector.
Upon graduation from a given program, our team of placement professionals evaluates and analyzes graduates and current job openings to connect graduates with jobs that fit their unique skillset, location and job preference. Some of our methods include B2O job fairs held on or near the training location, on-line interview facilitation, and email notifications to graduates and employers.
II. How does B2O Work?
B2O is a service that helps veterans obtain the training needed to secure careers in the oil and gas industry. We are not a VA approved program nor do we operate a VA approved program. Our model is to partner with schools and training providers who already perform industry-relevant training that meets the needs of one or more sector of the oil and gas industry. VA approval is not a requirement for partnership with B2O but it does often simplify the enrollment process for applicants; students can pay the individual training providers with any funds available to them. During the application process, applicants are informed of the funding options available for the programs in our network. If VA funding is not available for a given program, other funding must be obtained. B2O is contracted to schools and training providers to deliver administrative support in the form of recruitment, enrollment, and placement. While our model focuses on helping veterans find employment, anyone can apply to B2O and attend any program to which they are accepted.
Our process helps the veteran step-by-step from application to graduation. When we receive an application, the applicant is contacted by one of our enrollment specialists to evaluate the applicant’s situation in order to help match them with the program that will best fit their needs. Some factors we consider are:
- Current employment status: Will the applicant be able to take off work to train? If so, for how long?
- Type of work desired: In what region and sector does the applicant want to work?
- Willingness to relocate: Is the applicant willing to move to another region to find work?
- Funding: Does the applicant have veteran’s benefits? If so, how much? If not, what other funding is available?
Any one of these factors can lead to more questions which will ultimately give us the ability to recommend a training program that we believe will suit the applicant and provide them with the best opportunity to obtain the job they want.
III. What is the current status of B2O?
We are not a VA approved training provider and as such receive no money from the VA. We instead partner with schools to provide administrative support for their training programs we have determined to be industry-relevant to one or more sectors of the oil and gas industry. B2O has found much success in finding veterans that need work and facilitating the training and placement of those veterans within the Oil & Gas Industry.
The single most important aspect of Battlefields to Oilfields’ success is our placement. Without our high placement rate of 95% (2013), B2O would not be able to fulfill its mission of servicing our returning veterans. The high placement rate over the past year for our primary program has largely been due to supplying the Oil and Gas Industry with potential employees that have been trained in the areas companies need most. B2O assesses the demands for training in the industry and helps enroll applicants into programs that train in those areas. This pairing is the key to successful placement of veterans in long-term oil and gas careers.
We have found that the industry is in need of training in the following areas: HAZWOPER, H2S, OSHA General Industry, First Aid, Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, PEC Core Compliance, Personal Survival with Helicopter Underwater Egression Training, SafeGulf, Security Awareness, SafeLandUSA, Confined Space Rescuer, Safety Environmental Management Systems, and Safety Tech.
B2O provides this service to South Central Louisiana Technical College (SCLTC) to facilitate veteran training for their Marine Operations Program for Safety and Skills Training. We are also developing relationships with technical colleges, community colleges, training providers, and nonprofit organizations in order to meet the increasing demand by veterans for oilfield training and demand by employers for trained and skilled workers.
Currently SCLTC’s Marine Operations Program for Safety and Skills Training is undergoing a VA audit. VA funding has been temporarily suspended until the audit findings are fully resolved. The VA has found five (5) items that must be addressed and SCLTC is working tirelessly to a resolution. When all the items are addressed, the VA will allow funding to continue.
IV. What does B2O hope to do?
Battlefields to Oilfields’ goals are to enhance veteran employability by providing them with the means to earn a fulfilling career in the oil and gas industry. Through thorough research on our industry and the relationships we have formed with major oil and gas companies as well as their contractor workforce, we have been able to determine the training and qualifications oilfield employers require of their employees. We use this knowledge to determine what training programs to include in our approved program network. Vetting training programs based off of this data allows us to choose programs that directly relate to specific oilfield jobs while giving employers the assurance that the graduates of that program are ready for work.
The success of students that have completed B2O approved programs has led to increased demand not only for training but for the graduates of these programs. Employers want to hire them. The 2013 placement rate for SCLTC’s 28-day program is 95% and we have already placed over 80% of students trained this year (2014). Most of the employers hiring these students operate on or around the Gulf Coast, but several students have been hired to work in the Bakken Shale play in North Dakota and other areas around the United States. Anywhere that oil and gas operations are being conducted, students with this kind of training are in demand.
B2O wants to meet the needs of these employers wherever they are by connecting them with a trained and qualified veteran workforce. To do this we will expand our efforts to areas where these employers operate. We will establish partnerships with schools and training providers who have developed training programs that meet the needs of employers in their region and are VA approved or have access to other forms of funding. We will provide administrative support (enrollment, placement, customer care, etc.) to these providers’ operations across the country. Additionally, we will form new relationships, or cultivate existing relationships, with employers in the individual providers’ areas of operation; this will help facilitate hiring events and further increase graduate placement.
VA funding is not an approval requirement for programs in our network. We are constantly researching other forms of funding, public and private, that will help veterans get the training they need to obtain a career. Programs that are funded by the VA simplify the process, but for those veterans who do not have or have exhausted their veteran’s benefits, we must find other no-cost and low-cost options. We envision these possibilities taking the form of private scholarships, student sponsorships, and as yet undiscovered sources. Wherever possible, we want to be able to provide this service at no cost to the student.
V. What are obstacles B2O faces?
Battlefields to Oilfields has training facilities to use, companies eager to hire graduates, curriculum guidelines, and receives nearly 600 applications a month. What we lack is multiple VA approved training providers. In order for this initiative to reach full effectiveness we need multiple VA approved programs operating in our network. We need this for several reasons: meeting the demand for training, meeting the demand for a trained workforce, and ensuring that students have options if VA approval for an individual program falls under review. The last of these is an issue we are currently experiencing.
The primary approved program in our network (SCLTC’s Marine Operations Program for Safety and Skills Training) is currently under review, during which time VA funding for the program is suspended. B2O has paid out-of-pocket for one class already and plans to pay for another if funding is not restored in time. We are doing this because we do not want to abandon those that have already enrolled, and because we believe that this training makes a tangible difference in the lives of these veterans. We do not want to jeopardize that. Unfortunately that model is not sustainable, we must find another VA approved program to which we can send applicants very soon. This is especially important if SCLTC’s funding for their program is not restored.
By securing partnerships with multiple VA approved training providers, B2O will be able to accommodate applicants by pointing them towards trainers who are VA approved even if one of the programs in our network falls under review. Thereby better meeting the needs of the veteran.
VI. What does B2O need?
The need for VA approved programs is very high. Veterans’ benefits are the main source of educational funding for most of our applicants. While we know that there is other funding available, nothing can match the scope of Veterans’ benefits. Because of this, we need additional VA approved programs available to include in our network. We also need that approval to be predictable, consistent, and compliant with VA standards.
Another possible avenue is obtaining approval for our own coursework and curriculum that B2O could directly administer. This would relieve us from having to solely rely on our partners’ approval status. While the majority of graduates will still presumably come from our network partners, approval of our own program would allow us to accommodate more students and more employers in more locations.
This would require an exemption to the VA regulation that requires all VA approved entities to be operating as a school in that state for at least two (2) years. Allowing B2O to receive direct VA funding for training would allow us to reach and place hundreds more veterans than we can currently. It would allow us to set up permanent training facilities across the country and directly control the quality of training students would receive. We would be able to establish roots in local communities and form lasting relationships with employers in that region. This kind of exemption is not without precedent.