With a new industry bringing truckloads of gas workers from other areas, Pennsylvania College of Technology has begun offering a number of programs to help area residents learn the basic skills needed for employment in the Marcellus Shale region.
The process of forging a partnership with industry companies and contractors began about a year ago when a Penn College team, in partnership with the Penn State Cooperative Extension, launched the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center to act as a central resource for workforce training.
"We wanted to understand the industry because there wasn't a lot of history on it here locally," said Jeffrey F. Lorson, industrial technology specialist for the center.
"The industry was very involved with helping us," he added. "They've been very interactive from the beginning ... (to help give us an) understanding of what the workforce is and what the needs are."
According to Lorson, it takes more than 410 people working within nearly 150 occupations to drill a single well in the Marcellus Shale region.
In a workforce needs assessment report written to examine the growing needs of the industry, the center states: "These jobs depend heavily on the experience-driven skills and knowledge unique to the natural gas industry."
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Information session
WHEN: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, April 30
WHERE: Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Marcellus Shale Career Expo
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 1
WHERE: Pennsylvania College of Technology Field House
The report also notes that the lack of "unique skill sets (and) knowledge ... remains a significant barrier to finding adequate local workforces."
To meet those demands, Lorson said the college began designing credit and noncredit courses that cover the requirements of the work force.
While initially a large portion of the workers are expected to consist of "non-local workers," the report acknowledges "nearly all these jobs could potentially be filled by local workers" through programs such as those at Penn College.
Depending on the job, courses provide either "short, concise training for entry-level positions, or people could look at degree programs already in place at the college to match the skills needed to support the industry," Lorson said.
The college's noncredit programs include Class "A" Commercial Driver Training and American Petroleum Institute 1104 Down-Hand Welding training for pipeline welders, as well as other certifications.
"At this point, we're not necessarily starting an oil and gas degree program," Lorson conceded. "Generally speaking, we already have a number of majors and degree programs that already fit with this industry. We have a significant capacity of degrees that speak to what the gas industry looks to."
Those seeking the traditional associate or bachelor degrees related to the field will find anything from diesel technology to welding, which equip students with the upper-level skill sets to enhance their marketability for the natural gas and oil industries, Lorson said.
The college also partners with the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp. and the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission.
One of the functions of the the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp. is to provide funding for and oversee seven PA CareerLink locations in the central part of the state.
FIT 4 Natural Gas
The three-pronged partnership spawned the initiation of the FIT 4 Natural Gas program, a component hosted at CareerLink offices in Lycoming, Tioga, Clinton and Bradford counties.
The program is offered under the umbrella of the organization's FIT 4 Careers series offered throughout the central portion of the state.
FIT 4 Natural Gas provides "the pre-industry training segment, which introduces people to the rigors, rewards and realities of entry-level positions in the natural gas industry," according to officials at the corporation.
It offers a series of pre-employment training sessions that teach foundational skills and knowledge needed for entry-level positions in the natural gas industry.
They already have successfully offered two of these sessions. The first was offered in Wellsboro, and the second one was completed in the Towanda area. A third session is taking place in the city.
'Asset to our area'
Mary Wolf, government relations adviser for Anadarko Petroleum Corp., described Penn College's efforts as being an "absolute asset to our area," as the Marcellus Shale is the "foundation for our future."
Recently, the company demonstrated its support of the programs by making a $15,000 donation to the college's training initiative.
"We hope it enhances the education and workforce development program that Penn College provides for our industry," Wolf said. "This is just a perfect fit for that program to increase the available skills for a qualified labor force that this industry needs."
"The donation is going to help us out in many ways," Lorson said. "The focus will be equipping our labs with industry-specific equipment ... to benefit short- and long-term programs."
"I think it's important for those who are (interested in industry jobs) to reach out to CareerLink and Penn College to learn what's available," Wolf said.
Lorson said more than 60 people have gone through various oil and gas related programs thus far, with more than 30 people in other programs under way.
With the national unemployment rate at its highest level in 26 years, and with the natural gas industry primed to expand in the region, individuals are interested in the industry, as it can offer employment opportunities that provide family-sustaining wages, officials at the workforce development agency said.
"The PA CareerLinks are receiving inquiries from very diverse age groups - from individuals with no previous work experience to those with years of experience in other related and unrelated industries," the agency added.
The agency believes employer demand will continue to grow as the industry swells, and plans to continue working with its local partners to provide a broad range of services so employers have a qualified applicant pool of local job seekers.
"I think it's been very beneficial for both parties, so that the industry can understand what our local capacity is," Lorson said of the programs. "As educators, we can understand what the need is. (The industry has) been opening doors to discuss the skills they need, so that we are not training for something they don't desire."