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Valley News Dispatch

Pipeline training course in Armstrong County opens door to new careers

| Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, 5:45 p.m.

Ed Graff knew he didn’t want to go back into retail sales after leaving his job to take care of his aging parents.

At 59 and facing the prospect of a new career, you might think Graff would be nervous about his prospects, but after graduating from the Natural Gas Utility & Pipeline Field Skills Training Program on Friday, Graff said he’s ready to find a new way to make money.

“After 30 years in retail, it was time for a change,” he said.

Graff, of Lower Burrell, along with about a dozen other students, spent the last four weeks learning the ins and outs of the booming gas industry through the course, offered at no cost by the Gas Technology Institute, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization.

The course includes both classroom and hands on instruction on topics including the nature of gas, the gas industry, equipment, procedures and operations. Classes are taught by former gas industry workers, so students learn from experts with actual field experience. The course concludes with students meeting prospective employers from the gas and pipeline industry and, hopefully, a job.

Jobs can start at $40,000 to $50,000, according to Patrick Findle, a senior program manager based in Pittsburgh for the Gas Technology Institute.

What is key about the training is that it’s for pipeline work, which is a more stable profession than drilling wells or the shuttering coal industry the course hopes to draw students from, Findle said. According to Findle, the coal industry has shed 23,000 jobs since 2011.

“It goes all the way from intro to gas to OSHA, to employability skills,” he said. “There are a lot of technical pieces, too, for when you work on a pipeline — heavy equipment, safety, fieldwork — anything that is necessary for the end goal of lining folks up with a career.”

This is the fourth month-long training course held at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus in the Northpointe Industrial Park in South Buffalo since November, according to Findle, who said students from previous classes have gone on to find jobs in the industry or seek additional training.

“It’s a really good career. The reality is, they learn a lot in four weeks, but if you get hired by one of these companies they will train you forever and you will have a career forever,” he said.

The course offers the basics to get students started, according to Bill Wright, one of the retired gas workers who teaches the course.

“This course is open to everybody and it is a very high level training for people interested in going into the gas business,” he said. “This class is the basics…but they get a lot of different aspects out of it.”

Keith Nikolaevich, 18, graduated from Freeport High School this year. Nikolaevich said the course came to his attention when his grandmother saw an article in the newspaper.

“I like the course a lot,” he said. “That’s the kind of work I want to get into, utility work.”

Dakota Sapinsky, 27, from North Apollo, said he hopes this the beginning of a new career for him.

“From what I’ve learned, it kind of gave me a feel for the work, the culture, and the career opportunity in the future. I would like to land a job with one of these companies…have something I can do for a lifetime and be good at.”

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Matthew at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

Patrick Findle, a senior program manager based in Pittsburgh for the Gas Technology Institute, holds up a hat given to graduates of the Natural Gas Utility & Pipeline Field Skills Training Program in South Buffalo on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018.
Patrick Findle, a senior program manager based in Pittsburgh for the Gas Technology Institute, holds up a hat given to graduates of the Natural Gas Utility & Pipeline Field Skills Training Program in South Buffalo on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018.
Keith Nikolaevich, front, and Dakota Sapinsky applaud as their fellow classmates graduate from the Natural Gas Utility & Pipeline Field Skills Training Program in South Buffalo on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018.
Keith Nikolaevich, front, and Dakota Sapinsky applaud as their fellow classmates graduate from the Natural Gas Utility & Pipeline Field Skills Training Program in South Buffalo on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018.
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