Greg Christy: Can the power region afford to miss the shale revolution boat?
We are in the middle of a great American shale revolution. For the first time in decades, the United States is holding its own against OPEC and Russia, going from energy importer to energy exporter. Unlocking previously inaccessible shale reservoirs deep underground using hydraulic fracturing technology is becoming our nation’s ticket to energy dominance.
The impact of shale development has now propelled America to become the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world, with a huge supply of natural gas liquids to fuel manufacturing growth. Two decades ago, our nation was staring down a potential energy crisis, but a world energy leader emerged.
The shale revolution is entering a new stage of maturity, and we must be prepared.
Much-needed energy infrastructure is coming to the mid-Atlantic region, but more pipelines are needed. A multitude of petrochemical companies are moving to the “power region” — Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia — to capitalize on access to markets and abundant supply of valuable natural gas liquids.
In addition to infrastructure, another critical need is skilled labor. With a wave of baby-boomer retirements, workers who switched careers during the recession and a younger generation that is not considering construction as a viable career option, contractors and end users are reporting a skilled labor shortage. Such a shortage could lead to higher prices and longer construction schedules.
Regardless of contractors’ concerns about a lack of skilled labor, the building trades have always maintained a healthy supply of job-ready, skilled, safe workers. The building trades prepare safe and skilled workers through training, earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs, innovative measures to improve diversity and worker retention, and fair wages. A safe workforce reduces injuries, fatalities and costly delays, adding up to huge cost savings.
The trades cannot do it alone. To sustain a healthy supply of skilled labor, we need support from the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Trump administration. President Trump announced plans to make expansion of apprenticeship programs the center of his labor policy. We need the administration to keep that promise.
One of the biggest reasons for the construction industry’s skilled labor vacuum that resulted from baby boomers exiting the workforce is the lack of awareness and a plan to build a pipeline of workers. We need to stop telling our young people that their only path to success is a four-year college degree.
Nontraditional career paths often are not presented as viable and lucrative alternatives to college. According to the DOL, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs in the trades allow high school graduates to make a decent living while being trained for a lifelong career.
We simply need to do better at promoting vocational and technical training at the middle and high school levels
We need to retool the existing workforce. We also need more leaders like Gov. Tom Wolf who last month reaffirmed his commitment to invest in the Pennsylvania workforce.
The clock is ticking to handle this impending tsunami of workforce demand. We must be prepared to meet the demand to keep the momentum going toward U.S. energy dominance.