Bismarck State College has been selected to partner with a Saudi Arabia-based institute to provide energy sector training to Saudi youth — an endeavor that could net the college several million dollars over the next five years.
The college was chosen for a five-year contract to provide curriculum and training at the National Power Academy located in Dammam, the capital of Saudi Arabia's eastern province. The academy was scheduled to open at the end of next month, but BSC officials, who are negotiating details of the contract, are hoping the start date will be extended to the fall.
BSC's National Energy Center of Excellence was picked to serve as a model for the academy, which will be run by leading Saudi power sector companies, including Saudi Aramco and Saudi Electricity Co.
BSC President Larry Skogen said he and others at the college learned about the partnership when the Kindgdom of Saudi Arabia solicited proposals from institutions around the world. The top three finalists were Germany, Great Britain and BSC.
The contract negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year. If a deal is realized, it will provide BSC with an additional revenue stream.
Last year, BSC took a $7.4 million budget cut and had to eliminate more than 30 positions. The agreement with the National Power Academy is an opportunity to increase revenue for the college, Skogen said.
"When you have a budget cut like this, you have two options: One is you can sit on the street corner with a tin cup and hope that somebody gives you money, or you can be aggressive and get out and try to raise those moneys," he said.
BSC was chosen to provide industrial, non-credit training at the National Power Academy, which will offer three "training streams." BSC was selected for the "core stream," a three-year program for Saudi high school graduates that trains them in various energy trades and crafts selected by leaders of the academy. Specialized programs include electrical, mechanical, renewable, nuclear, operations and manufacturing disciplines, according to the academy's website.
Because the college would be providing non-credit training, approval is not needed by the State Board of Higher Education, Skogen said. The program could accommodate as many as 800 students.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said the opportunity for BSC to partner with the National Power Academy is exciting for higher education institutions in the state, particularly because they already have a "huge trading footprint" in agriculture.
"It just shows that North Dakota has truly global capabilities," he said. "We’re really proud of (BSC) for showing this initiative."
The National Power Academy was formulated in 2014 after the government of Saudi Arabia and energy companies conducted a 20-year feasibility study of the country's energy sector workforce and found a gap between workforce supply and expected demand, according to Farhan Noor, a consultant with the academy.
As a result of the study, the government and other stakeholders decided to build the National Power Academy as a way to fulfill workforce needs, reduce unemployment and support the country's ongoing efforts to become energy efficient.
In April, a Saudi team visited BSC, viewed its program and visited labs at the National Energy Center for Excellence.
Zak Allen, project manager with the BSC's National Energy Center of Excellence, said the National Power Academy would replicate what's offered at BSC's National Energy Center for Excellence, including its labs and training.
"Given (BSC is) also a National Center of Excellence for the energy programs in the state, we felt that Bismarck was a good contender," Noor said.
Skogen said the college would send only a few BSC employees, including Allen, to work temporarily at the National Power Academy. Other academic staff would be native English-speaking expatriates. As per Saudi Arabia law, BSC may not hire women as trainers or administrative staff at the facility.
If approved, the new partnership would come with risks, Allen and Skogen agreed. As a result, the contract would require BSC to establish a limited liability company to operate independently of the college and handle the revenue, which would go to a BSC foundation then be distributed back to the college via a grant process.
"We're going over there and we're going to hope students show up," said Skogen, adding he is confident it would not fail, because BSC would partner with "very strong entities in Saudi Arabia."
Saudi Aramco, the largest energy company in the world, would provide employees to work with students at the National Power Academy. After completing their training, students will have jobs lined up with Saudi Aramco and other power sector companies.
BSC would be licensing its curriculum to the National Power Academy for the duration of the contract, Skogen said.
Skogen and Allen said they are hopeful that, if the agreement is finalized, there will be an opportunity to expand to other training programs at the academy, including a program for existing skilled workers and certification courses for technical management professionals working in the power industry.
"The chances of success with this are very, very good, and the chances of this opening many more doors of opportunities is very, very good," Skogen said.