Gas Jobs Await Trained Work Force
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
by Laura Legere, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
The list of want ads is long.
Project engineer, gas marketing administrator, landman, heavy equipment operator, compressor technician, business development director, regulatory clerk, petrophysicist.
In late March, the member companies of the Marcellus Shale Coalition advertised hundreds of open positions they want to fill in Pennsylvania or just over the border in New York. Three years into the gas-drilling boom, the job listings testify to the continued need for workers with a variety of skills to propel the growing industry.
Researchers with the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center estimate shale drilling will require between 3,700 and 15,000 direct jobs in central and northern Pennsylvania by 2013 and an additional 8,100 to 13,500 direct jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania by 2014.
About 75 percent of the jobs will be blue-collar work, said the study's author, James Ladlee, director of Penn State Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. A significant amount, 20 percent, of the jobs can be characterized as general office work -- everything from information technology to receptionists.
"People think about the workers on the drilling rig and they think those are the only jobs out there," he said. "There are a whole bunch of people that are backing them up in a variety of ways to make sure that they are able to do their jobs out in the field."
The Education and Training Center, based at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, has continued to adapt to the industry's work force needs, but the basic framework for many of the skills necessary for industry jobs are already available in general skills courses at most technical schools.
For example, many of the skills learned in a diesel mechanics course will apply to the diesel compressors used to push gas from wells into pipelines, Mr. Ladlee said.
Some higher-paying jobs will require more education. Engineers, a real need for the industry, will need four or more years of college education to acquire the necessary skills.
Larry Milliken, director of energy programs at Lackawanna College, said a certified pipeline welder can make more than $100,000 anywhere in the country because they are in such high demand.
"You can't get that skill in a year, but you can develop that skill in four years," he said. "And most of that is paid, on-the-job training after you get a two-year technical degree."
Prospective employees will need to accept a demanding schedule if they want to work in the gas industry, Mr. Milliken said. It is a hard truth he reiterates to the 50 students in the college's natural-gas technology program.
"A lot of people want to work an eight-hour day, go home, not work holidays or weekends and never be interrupted on their personal schedule. That's not the oil and gas business," he said.
"It's a 24-hours-a-day business. It is demanding. You've got to be available when the job calls."