Two-year schools help to fill needs of growing natural gas industry

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 6:59 p.m.

Jonathan Ressler knew he didn't want to spend the money or the time required to earn a four-year college degree to add to his high school diploma.

He enrolled two years ago at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in North Fayette to study for an associate degree in the school's electronics engineering program. PTI's addition of an oil and gas electronics program in July sweetened the pot, said Ressler, 20, of Alum Bank, Bedford County.

“I really like what I've learned here…I like the hands-on aspect,” said Ressler, who is taking oil and gas classes this semester and working at an internship in gas detection metering at Industrial Scientific Corp.

PTI, which will open a $3.5 million Energy Technology Center in October, is in a growing group of two-year schools partnering with companies to create educational programs that train students to fill jobs in the booming Marcellus Shale industry.

The oil and gas industry has made significant gains in filling entry-level jobs, in part by working with community colleges and technical institutes to shape training programs to fit companies' job needs, but the number of qualified applicants in Pennsylvania for higher-skilled jobs is lacking, said Steve Forde, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

For that reason, many colleges have ramped up their offerings with help from companies. For example, Equipment & Controls Inc. donated a large amount of equipment to PTI for its labor training, Vice President Jim Neville said.

“We're doing everything we can to accelerate their program because we need people... we have not been able to serve our customers as well because we don't have the manpower,” said Neville, who said his company needs instrumentation technicians in process controls for midstream gas.

The number of jobs in Marcellus Shale core industries in Pennsylvania, including gas extraction, drilling oil and gas wells and pipeline transportation, increased 149 percent — from 12,188 to 30,369 jobs — between the fourth quarters of 2009 and 2012, according to the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board.

The average wage in core industries was $83,100, the board said.

One reason that oil and gas programs are offered in community colleges and technical schools more often than in four-year colleges is because two-year schools have the ability to react to market needs more quickly, said Greg DeFeo, PTI's president.

For example, experienced welders are changing from career paths in manufacturing and bridges to jobs in the oil and gas industry, so there are more openings for entry-level welders in all fields, said Jeff Belsky, vice president of strategic initiatives at PTI.

PTI will start a new welding technology program in October.

PTI estimates that 200 new students will enroll in welding technology and oil and gas electronics this year, spokeswoman Linda Allan said.

Community College of Allegheny County has offered a free training program for roustabouts, an entry-level job in the oil and gas industry, through a federal grant, ShaleNet, administered by Westmoreland County Community College, said Reginald Overton, an account executive for CCAC's Center for Professional Development in Oakdale.

The program, which ran until June, included non-credit, technical training in well pad construction, basic rigging and spill prevention.

CCAC also offers certified production technician and land administration programs, he said.

In October, CCAC will offer a welding 101 class at an additional location — the Mon Valley Career & Technical Center in Charleroi — through a partnership with the technical center.

In 2010, Westmoreland County Community College became the fiscal agent for the three-year ShaleNet grant, $4.96 million divided among several institutions, to provide free, four-week training sessions in jobs such as roustabouts and welders' helpers at the college, said Douglas J. Jensen, associate vice president of workforce education and economic development there.

Since 2010, more than 20 short-term certificate programs in advanced manufacturing and energy, including oil and gas, have been added at the college.

“The word that I use is ‘agility.' WCCC is really making sure that it has the agility to respond to industry needs,” Jensen said.

In June 2012, the college added a natural gas technologies certificate. Since then, other programs to train workers that oil and gas businesses need have been added, he said.

New this fall are occupational health and safety and mechatronics — a mix of mechanical, electrical and automation systems education. A petroleum instrumentation and process operations technology certificate will be added in January.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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