Marcellus Shale Job Program Turns Unskilled Into Shale Workers

Marcellus Shale Job Program Turns Unskilled Into Shale Workers

PITTSBURGH--Professor Byron Kohut helps hundreds of low-income adults land coveted jobs in the booming shale-gas industry in Pennsylvania. But only the tough need apply, he said.

"If they are not physically capable of working outside, in bad weather, dangerous conditions, I scare them out of drilling," said Kohut, who coordinates a natural-gas job-training course at Westmoreland County Community College, about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. "It's not easy work," Kohut said, adding that people with backgrounds in agriculture, construction and mechanics have a better shot at getting in.

The community college's course, part of a workforce-development program funded by a $4.6 million federal grant, prepares residents in Pennsylvania and neighboring states to compete for the torrent of jobs being generated by natural-gas companies tapping the prolific Marcellus Shale. The multi-state program, called ShaleNET, is trying to fix a mismatch between the rising number of jobs emerging with the shale-gas business in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York, and the many unemployed, or low-paid, workers who can't be hired by the shale industry due to their lack of basic skills.

Labor demand in the Marcellus Shale, a deeply buried layer of tight rock containing vast amounts of natural gas, has continued to grow despite recent rock-bottom prices for the commodity, in part because the area's highly productive wells, and their proximity to huge markets in the Northeast, allow drilling there to remain profitable.

Almost half of the 400 people needed to drill a single well do jobs that don't require four-year college degrees, including general labor, heavy-equipment operators, and truck drivers. In about four weeks of training, the ShareNET program turns young farmers, construction workers, veterans and carpenters, among others, into certified gas-field workers who know the basics about drilling and controlling a well.

The program's standards are high because, otherwise, students wouldn't be able to compete with more-experienced workers coming from Texas and Louisiana who have a long relationship with the energy industry, said Laura Fisher, senior vice president at Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a non-profit organization that created ShaleNET. The non-profit entity has a long list of applicants, but there are only a few dozen spots available.

While the shale-gas industry has already helped the Pittsburgh region's March unemployment rate of 7.1% to best the nationwide rate of 8.4%, many of the higher-paid occupations--such as tool pushers or pump operators--were going to the newcomers from out of state, Fisher said. Many companies preferred the out-of-state workers because they already knew the basics about safety and were accustomed to working the 12-hour-per-day shifts that are common in the drilling industry, Fisher said.

The ShaleNET program, which has graduated 250 students, along with new industry-community partnerships, is helping to increase the rate of local hires. About 180 students have been hired by 56 companies. The program has also helped about 1,000 people to find jobs in the shale industry through its website or through various partnership it has with federal job-placement agencies, Kohut said. In addition, 13 community colleges, one university and six vocational high schools in the region are starting the same training program.

Labor demand in the Marcellus Shale area is expected to continue to surge in coming years, said Sue Mukherjee, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

For instance, jobs for drill operators are expected to grow 84.9% to 2,674 this year from 1,446 in 2010. This compares to 2.6% estimated growth for all type of jobs state-wide in the same period, Mukherjee said.

Mark Madonna, a 24-year-old who until last year worked in construction, was hired in February by Falcon Drilling, a service provider based in Indiana, Pa. He is now a rig ground worker.

Madonna, a single father who didn't attend college, said the training provided by Westmoreland County Community College was "extremely vital" in his getting his new job.

He tried for nine months to apply directly to companies he knew were hiring, but nobody took him seriously until he was admitted to the course. Madonna, like most of his classmates, received a job offer from Falcon Drilling the day after he graduated. "I love physical labor, I love machinery and I love to be working outdoors," Madonna said. "I'm not afraid to work."

His new job pays $12.56 per hour, about the same as he was making when he was building counter tops and cabinets. But the big difference, he said, is that his take-home pay will jump, thanks to overtime, and, in a few months, can almost triple if he gets promoted.

Kohut, who has a doctorate in education, said many of his former students are making significantly more money than he does. The average annual income of a roughneck--a member of the oil rig in charge of handling pipelines and maintaining the rig--is $100,000. That includes overtime, daily stipends and room and board.

"It's a dangerous job, but it pays well," Kohut said.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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Scott Campbell | May. 29, 2012
There's a lot of talent out there that's going to waste. I'm 65 yrs old with 40 yrs experience in all aspects of the Drilling industry. After taking off 3 yrs to be a full time caregiver to my bedridden wife, I find that new technology has passed me by. When you already have the skills, all you need is someone who will take the time to bring you up to speed. Left behind in Tx.

Gary Ogden | May. 29, 2012
Not related to this subject but is part of Marcellus and Utica Drilling Regions. How can Oil companies sell off land leases when they have not "Yet" paid the land owner??? After all my reviews regarding oil drilling, now would be a great time to jump in, as CHK stock now around $15.00- If they get financing straighten out, this would be a great investment. I think in the long term, TBPickens will be sorry he sold his shares.

allen | May. 28, 2012
That story cannot be right $12.50hr, Come on some one taking an advantage from this program. My neighbor just finished a course in Wind Farming. After taking a Gov. Student Loan for thirteen thousand dollars, Finished the course of study. His first job paid $13.50 an hr. His Student Loan Payments is $50.00 per month forever. These have to be some type of scams from these so called schools? When ever the GOV. is involved you are in a mess, that usually does not turn out for the person, trying to land a job.

Juan Gonzalez proud American | May. 28, 2012
Really ? This is crap! why train people that dont want to work ? Ive drilled in NE PA. And folks up there thought we were crazy for working in the cold winter most folks up there would rather claim unemployment checks than work.Send these funds to th Ark-La- Tex area to train solid hands that dont mind breaking a sweat for the trade!! Texas Tea Baby!! Drill Daddy!

Md. Hanif | May. 28, 2012
Rigging sector is the root of engineering. It is very danger but it only the scope to apply full effort and knowledge. If I get a chance I am 100% ready to joint with this sector.

michael Debono | May. 26, 2012
A great applause goes to the Federal Goverment for putting in 4.6 million dollars to support schooling and the SHALENET schooling of oil and gas workers.If only Canada would get on board and duplicate this wisdom. Also thanks to professor Byron Cohut for his contributions.

michael Debono | May. 26, 2012
Now that the government and most of society depends on oil and gas, the u.s.a. needs 20 million barrels per day, it is very important to train people to fill these positions in the oil and gas industry. Most community colleges just specialize in business management, computers, accounting and secretarial. North America wants to be free from importing oil and gas from Saudi Arabia. I really want to see the day when they will set up colleges in Canada and the u.s.a that will specialize in oil and gas and offer courses that are 6 months or 1 year, funded by student loans or even paid for by the goverment if the student can pass initial qualifications of standards of grade 12. For an Adult not living at home it is financially impossible to take 12 months off work, go to school and pay 1500 per month for basic living expenses. Everyone wants to succeed!!!Let the government support us now , because they will certainly Tax us later. Good Luck Everyone.

Chris | May. 26, 2012
Departing PA in 1977 looking for a summer job I traveled South to Louisiana / Texas. It was a very difficult period of time for PA industry wise. I joined the oil and gas industry as a helper pushing a broom. I worked my way from broom pusher to craftman to supervisor and onto company manager in the industry. It is tough and demanding industry that has a history of biting back from time to time. After 33 years of traveling around the world making a good living and collecting a locker of stories and experances I would suggest it to any one with a bit of back bone and desire. Good luck guys

Isaka Yacoubou | May. 26, 2012
Its true its a dangerous job but i like it that the kind of job i realy like to do physical job not office job i have an experience back home in Africa not in oilfield but others like farming, construction contractors. In 1999 i worked for Arab Contractor in Benin my country so any company is interested on me will never regret i have more skills.

Jurgen Gottschalk | May. 26, 2012
ShaleNET sounds like a great program! Star Inspection, Inc. is a Louisiana based Inspection company, a service company to the oil and gas industry. We have operations in PA, WV and few other states. It was a challenge, to say the least, to find local workers in the NE. In my opinion this 4.6M federal grant is a good start. However, as we all know this is an rapidly emerging market in the NE with enormous potential. Great reading material this morning! Jurgen Gottschalk

ta thiel | May. 26, 2012
Thats funny when we are laying all the rigs over or shipping them out.

turnitup | May. 25, 2012
$12.56 hr is chump change ,,dude you are getting ripped off. should be no less than $18 a hr.


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