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North Hills Monthly

Schools Gearing Up to Provide Training for Marcellus Shale Jobs

Dec 30, 2014 12:06PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch
Most folks living in western Pennsylvania have heard of Marcellus shale—extracting long-buried sedimentary rock from the ground and converting it into both gas and oil via a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The term derived from a large deposit in Marcellus, New York, but more than 50,000 square miles of shale runs through Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia as well.

Though the industry has its opponents, one thing is certain: Marcellus shale is not going away anytime soon. According to recent statistics, Allegheny County experienced the second largest employment increase in the industry for all Pennsylvania counties, growing 287 percent between 2007 and 2012. For that reason, many higher educational institutions in the area have responded to the increased demand for jobs, both for current and anticipated markets. 

One such college is Pittsburgh Technical Institute (PTI) in Oakdale, whose philosophy has always been to offer programs that have a viable job market, explained Executive Vice President George Pry. “There will literally be thousands and thousands of jobs that ultimately will be created,” he said of the industry, which is expected to produce jobs for 100 to 150 years.

With the help of an advisory board made up of industry experts, PTI has tweaked classes and added new ones to make sure that they match the needs of the industry.  For example, PTI students can obtain an Electronics Engineering Technology degree with an oil and gas electronics concentration as well as an oil and gas electronics certificate.

Pry said that the school’s computer aided drafting program, an offshoot of a similar program in place since 1947, fits readily into this area because of the “underlying structure and designing pipe layout” that is needed. The college has also developed a state-of-the-industry welding program that saw its first class graduate in October. Future students will be able to emerge with an associate degree and advanced pipe certifications, an asset in this sector.

Specific jobs for graduates, as recorded through PTI’s Career Services Department, have included an instrumentation specialist, field technicians and engineers, electronic technicians, a measurement technician, a distribution systems analyst, fabrication specialists, and a civil draftsperson, to name a few. And the jobs, overall, are paying anywhere between $30,000 and $65,000 upon graduation.

In early 2012, Butler County Community College (BC3) began offering a 120-hour, three-week course called Shale Net Roustabout Training as part of the Shale Net grant, benefiting 14 community colleges in Pennsylvania. A roustabout is an oil field technician and also generally refers to workers in the natural gas and oil industry.

After meeting with industry consultants, the college has also expanded its natural gas/energy course load, explained Karen Zapp, project manager for TAACCCT (Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training) and director of the Carl D. Perkins Grant. Two new offerings are a noncredit certification, which includes the roustabout class as well as Industrial Mechanics and Introduction to Petroleum and Gas; and a two semester, 24-credit course load that includes detailed technical classes as well as math and English. Graduates are awarded an Energy Production Technology certificate. Zapp added that BC3 also offers help with resume writing and job leads.

According to Zapp, this program appeals to a wide variety of students from diverse backgrounds. Anyone from recent high school graduates to older, displaced workers who have successfully completed any one of BC3’s three programs has found employment in jobs commensurate with life experience and education. “Those who want to work in the energy industry are working in the energy industry,” said Zapp.

And the pay rate isn’t bad either—many labor jobs start at $12-14 per hour, but Zapp said that with time-and-a-half, it can add up quickly. In addition, she is finding that responsible industry workers with good work habits tend to move up rather quickly, both in job duties and in pay scale.

Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has also responded to the needs of the growing natural gas industry.  Like BC3, a grant funded through ShaleNet allowed the college to offer an introductory roustabout course, preparing grads for entry-level positions in the industry. While this course is no longer offered due to a lack of appropriate space, Brian Hannon, account executive with CCAC, said that there are many other opportunities for students, including in process control programs. 

“We are really trying to focus on higher-skilled positions; we believe that there are people employed in the natural gas industry who are ready to be promoted to higher, skilled positions, which the process control program would address,” said Hannon. Some short-term training includes classes in heavy equipment, mechatronics and supervision.

CCAC also offers both credit and noncredit courses to meet the growing needs of the job market, including a course on geographic information systems and SafeLand PEC Basic Orientation for contractors and drilling operators, the latter of which offers certification. This class teaches safety behaviors, hazard communications and fire safety.  Other relevant training and certifications at CCAC that directly relate to energy training include a welding degree/certificate. 

According to Hannon, the curriculum will continue to adapt to meet the needs of the current and projected job market. “CCAC will continue to offer classes as the industry matures and changes,” he said. “We want to address the workforce needs of the region and will pinpoint what will be most beneficial.”