As a teacher and researcher at a university that is hours away from many populous parts of the state, I have the opportunity to examine the impact of this distant location on our students and to consider some of the unique experiences they have that prepare them for their adult lives.
In workforce development research I have performed for the Permian Strategic Partnership, one of our findings is related to the goals of Permian Basin students as they enter adulthood. What we found is that, in this large and diverse state, our similarities are more powerful than our differences.
The aspirations of young people appear to be the same throughout the state. In general, young people in our Permian Basin region want to obtain four-year degrees, and, more than that, seek fulfillment through education and career opportunities, not just skills and income. This is consistent with findings for teenagers across the country where 69% think a bachelor’s degree prepares them for success in today’s economy.
For young people who strive for a career that goes beyond earning a living, management roles allow them to integrate the idea of doing good…while doing well. In addition, the ability to contribute to the community is enhanced with volunteer opportunities in smaller population centers, where someone can see the impact of their efforts, up close.
We have become used to thinking of job prospects in big cities as quite different from the opportunities found in rural or more isolated areas. Over many decades, employers have perceived an “urbanization of the talent pool” and found it beneficial to establish work sites in big population centers where it may be easier to find or attract employees.
However, technology is changing that situation, and our current pandemic has resulted in new attitudes as well. Working remotely is not only more feasible than it used to be, thanks to online meetings and virtual sharing of information; it’s also more popular and accepted. These changes enable more choices for the modern workforce. Many are now considering, more than ever, putting down stakes in far-flung areas, in places where life feels less cramped, or in regions where ties to family are the primary draw.
The possibility of remote work is one factor behind the growing number of opportunities in the Permian Basin region, but there are others. The oil and gas industry has brought bounty to our part of Texas, but also uncertainty with fluctuations in oil prices and hence fluctuations in employment. We are now readying for a transition involving expansion of our energy industry. How can we leverage the success of the oil and gas industry to establish additional opportunities as renewable sources of energy become more integrated into the energy portfolio of West Texas? Fortunately for the region, the abundant sunshine and wind of West Texas means opportunities in renewable energy are quite broad. A workforce trained to take on both front-line and managerial roles with energy companies in the region will flourish as new opportunities arise.
Additionally, in West Texas, young adults find space to stretch out and opportunities to be challenged. They are needed to fill management and leadership roles here that don’t exist in larger markets. If they can take advantage of the need this region has for talent and ambition, they will have incredible experiences to build on for a lifetime.
So how can we prepare our young people for this changing and modern work environment?
We must identify skills and experiences that our young people need to grow. Job skills, yes; but also activities, networks, and experiences that will help them live broadly fulfilling lives.
At The University of Texas Permian Basin, we are laser focused on serving our students in this way. We provide opportunities to develop exceptional communication skills with activities that engage them dynamically and interpersonally. We expect students to remain flexible, creative, and open-minded. We prepare them for jobs and lives that fit into the modern workforce and modern world. There are huge benefits to being actively engaged in campus life—not just taking classes (whether remotely or in person) that add up to a university degree. The initiatives related to arts and culture, our MakerSpace, and the new Blackstone Launchpad® Powered by Techstars for young entrepreneurs are just a few examples.
Another example is our recent and current interaction with The University of Texas at Austin for the March Economic Madness student team competition. Our students who engaged in this program are growing tremendously by working on interdisciplinary teams and conducting their own research projects to identify solutions to real problems. We can and will continue to provide opportunities for our students to be prepared for a diversified economy—with entrepreneurial training, teamwork challenges, pitch and presentation skills, and integration of the creative arts.
There’s something that draws people to Texas—the spirit, the independence, and the culture of the state. And we want newcomers, as well as our Texas-born students, to pursue fulfilling and impactful lives here.