NEPA Schools Preparing Workers for Jobs in Gas-Drilling Industry [Times-Tribune Scranton,PA]
With the boom in Marcellus Shale natural gas development throughout the region, area educational institutions are growing to keep up with work force demands.
New training, certification and degree programs are being created at local schools to ensure local job skills are tailored to white- and blue-collared job needs related to the natural gas drilling industry.
Already, Lackawanna College and Johnson College in Scranton, Keystone College in LaPlume and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport represent the growing trend of educational institutions offering course work and the hands-on training needed to become employable in one of Pennsylvania's growing industries.
And, college administrators agree the reason for the trend is simple: There's a demand for it by both the industry and potential workers who want the training and the jobs that come with it.
An industry-financed study conducted by Penn State's department of energy and mineral engineering, which offers an undergraduate degree in natural gas engineering, expected Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction efforts to create more than 200,000 jobs in the state and have an overall $18 billion economic impact by this year.
"Marcellus Shale is going to be big business," said Christopher Kucharski, Lackawanna College spokesman. "Problem is there is just nobody trained to handle the positions they want filled."
It appears a change is under way.
Larry Milliken, director of Lackawanna College's energy program and a natural gas instructor, just finished guiding the first class of 18 students through its first year of study to earn an associate degree in natural gas technology.
Based at the college's New Milford campus in the center of the action near gas fields in Susquehanna County, the program is preparing students for well tender jobs - a position that requires monitoring and maintaining natural gas wells during their lengthy production phase.
There is generally one well tender employed for every 20 to 40 natural gas wells, Mr. Milliken said, and the entry-level annual salary is $36,000. Sixteen students have paid internships with natural gas drilling companies this summer in western Pennsylvania, he added.
"The industry has been very supportive of wanting to get (our students) on board," he said. The college also is hiring three additional instructors this year to accommodate the increase in students who have enrolled in the natural gas technology degree program for the 2010-11 school year.
At Lackawanna College's new campus in Hawley, college administrators recently announced a new certificate course for fall centered on training accounting assistants, accounting clerks and administrative assistants specifically for the oil and gas industry.
Tracy Brundage, managing director of work force development at Pennsylvania College of Technology, said administrators decided to take the leap into offering natural gas drilling-related courses this year. The decision followed an in-house study that determined growing employment opportunities because of the prevalence of natural gas development under way in the region.
"The jobs are going to be around for a long time," Ms. Brundage said. "We're just getting started â€¦ to get our arms around what is happening â€¦ and how we need to respond."
Pennsylvania College of Technology has just begun offering training and certification classes in welding specialized for the industry's infrastructure and commercial driver's license classes, and has tweaked some of its academic majors - including diesel and electrical technology - to include natural gas drilling-related coursework.
So far, about 350 students have enrolled in the non-degree programs.
The college plans to expand its offerings, perhaps to include training for natural gas well operators and emergency response technicians, Ms. Brundage said.
Keystone College, known for its focus on the liberal arts, is also jumping on board.
Robert Cook, Ph.D., the college's environmental resource management program coordinator, said the college will be offering a handful of new courses early next year that include mapping underground natural resources tied specifically to natural gas.
The environmental resource management degree, a four-year Bachelor of Science, has had its "highest level of interest this year" in part because of the Marcellus Shale boom and an expectation that jobs will be available for graduates, Dr. Cook said. The degree, which includes environmental law courses, can also prepare a would-be environmental regulator, he added.
"It's clear energy is going to be an important subject for decades," said Dr. Cook, a professional geologist. "It's thrilling to see our discipline become an important skill set."
Keystone is also hiring a new instructor to teach undergraduate courses within a new natural gas and petroleum resource curriculum that is now under development.
Marie Allison, director of continuing education at Johnson College, said the college will be offering its first class in pipe welding next week tailored to techniques needed by the natural gas industry. The college also will offer a class for advanced welders to prepare for certification in a specific style of welding demanded by the industry.
The college's welding program had been defunct since 2001, because of declining enrollment, but the multitude of pipes and fittings that will be laid by the industry in the coming years yields greater demand for skilled welders, she said.
"They need welders," Ms. Allison said. "We want to give someone the fundamentals and give them the opportunity to find a job."
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