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2015-05-01 / Front Page

Community colleges narrow “skills gap” with shale gas training

BY R. BROCK PRONKO
MBC Regional Business Analyst

U.S. economists estimate that two million jobs go unfilled each year be­cause employers can’t find enough qualified candidates with the proper training, experience or skills -- a phe­nomenon known as the “skills gap.”

On a smaller scale, the same ap­plies to employers in the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Until recently, shale gas companies had to bring in skilled gas workers from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico in absence of local work­ers.

In 2012, the federal ShaleNET pro­gram provided funding for underem­ployed and unemployed people to enter the oil & gas industry by taking short-term, basic gas worker training courses at community colleges and technical schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The work was hard and the hours are long, but the pay is good, averag­ing $20-$22 per hour – at least twice as much as workers make in the ser­vice sector. In all, 2,481 people com­pleted training through ShaleNET partner schools, and 1,653 secured Marcellus shale industry-related jobs in Pennsylvania.

Most of the community colleges that received grant money under the original ShaleNET program continued to offer basic shale gas industry train­ing after the grant ended in June 2013, and some went on to develop more advanced training programs for techni­cal jobs in the industry.

Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) offers an 18-credit oil technology certificate program designed to prepare students for entry-level jobs in the oil gas & industry. These jobs include repair and maintenance tech­nician, field service technician, roust­about, floor hand, sales positions, and compressor technician.

As part of the ShaleNET US advanced technical gas worker training program, WCCC offers three associate degrees in mechatronics, applied industrial tech­nology and petroleum technology.

“Applied industrial technology is a unique program that offers a choice of about ten different certifications packed into one plus general electives to give the student a more rounded education, not just in oil and gas, but it allows flexi­bility to take some welding or machining courses to give the student skills he can apply to many industries,” said Lea Piz­zutelli, ShaleNET career coach at WCCC.

Since WCCC started the ShaleNET US certificate and associate degree pro­grams two years ago, 107 students have gone through the programs.

The Community College of Allegheny County still offers the industry standard PEC Safeland training for entry-level jobs in the shale industry, but it has also developed higher-skilled training pro­grams in process control technology and industrial maintenance.

“With the boom in wet gas in south­western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, processing plants, fractionation facilities and pipelines are being built, and com­panies need skilled employees to work at those sites -- and we’re training them,” said Brian Hannon, an account executive in CCAC’s workforce training division.

XTO Energy Inc, a subsidiary of Exx­onMobil, built a natural gas liquids re­covery facility in Penn Township in But­ler County. XTO donated $100,000 to the Butler County Community College to help the college build its Petroleum Technology Training Center.

The center will be used to train stu­dents for a range of jobs in the shale gas industry, from introductory positions such as roustabouts and floor hands, to high-skilled positions such as process control and instrumentation techni­cians.

"We understand the important role community colleges play in workforce training, and being identified by XTO for the development of a new petroleum technology training center reinforces our role as a leader in gas and energy training,” said Nick Neupauer, Ph.D., president of the Butler County Commu­nity College.

“This grant has helped provide oppor­tunities for the citizens of Butler County and all of western Pennsylvania to work in the gas and energy industry." .

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