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Marcellus shale growth, retirements will drive need for STEM workers, RAND report says

Stephen Huba
| Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, 5:12 p.m.

The continuing development of the Marcellus shale play, plus the expected retirement of skilled oil and gas tradesmen, will drive the need for STEM workers in Southwestern Pennsylvania into the next decade, a study said.

A steady supply of workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is needed to offset predicted shortages in skilled labor in the energy and advanced manufacturing industries, the RAND Corp. study said.

The study was an analysis of the first two years of the Appalachia Partnership Initiative formed in 2014 by Chevron Appalachia, the Allegheny Conference and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

The API's goals are to increase awareness of STEM careers, improve STEM-related education from K-12, and expand workforce development opportunities for people working in STEM fields in 27 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

The RAND interim report said the API is making progress toward improving STEM education in the three states. Interim assessments will be conducted annually through 2019, with a final evaluation due in 2020.

Despite a drop in oil and gas prices in recent years, the number of jobs supported by the shale gas industry is projected to increase by 1.8 million between 2012 and 2025, the RAND study said.

“The need for workers is expected to resume over the medium and longer term once oil and gas prices recover, particularly in middle-skilled jobs,” the report said. “Middle-skilled positions typically require a high school education, with some additional post-secondary training or occupational certification.”

The report noted that oil and gas companies in the three states are having increasing difficulty in filling middle-skilled jobs that require STEM skills.

“The growing need for a STEM-skilled workforce is likely to further intensify given impending retirements of larger numbers of older workers,” the study said.

Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO of World Consumer, recently told the 2017 GeekWire Summit that a focus on STEM education will be a big factor in which city becomes Amazon's second headquarters. Pittsburgh is preparing a bid for the contest.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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