By Andrew Orient
On Friday January 24th a group of local business and government representatives attended a morning program at Butler County Community College called Think About Energy Briefing. The event was energized by State Representative Marci Mustello and was co-sponsored by the Community Development Corporation of Butler County. According to the program hand out, “Since 2013 this event series has been held across the Commonwealth and region. It is hoped the meeting is informative and helps increase attendee’s understanding of the many economic and environmental opportunities afforded by Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Region’s abundant natural gas reserves”. Representatives from business, state government and the college formed a panel to discuss education and job opportunities in the coming decade and beyond with the focus on the development of the Marcellus and Utica natural gas formations. The panel members included George Stark, Director of External Affairs for Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, Joe McGinn VP of Public Affairs & Govt Relations for the pipeline company Energy Transfer, Dave Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Gas Coalition, Lisa Campbell, Dean of Workforce Development at BC3 and Keynote Speaker State Representative Marci Mustello (11th Legislative District in Butler County). They reviewed the initial rapid development of the gas play and the importing of experienced workers from the southern states. But as the gas exploration and production matured it is clear there is now a salient need for the education and training of Pennsylvania’s younger and motivated skilled employees. Local community colleges throughout the state are attempting to address and meet the needs of the expanding industry. The Lackawanna Community College was on example of having a 96% placement rate into jobs that pay $60,000 to $70,000 per year. The main point of the panel was reinforced by all who spoke. The energy sector has multiple jobs opportunities, skills needed range from welders, pipeline workers, electricians, computer integration, engine repair, industrial mechanics etc. They cited how the Shell Cracker plant has created over 7,200 construction jobs and supports a job multiplier of an additional seventeen related jobs to every job created. The panel members also praised the gas industry for their diligence to adhering to environmental constraints and providing choice good jobs under tight regulations. George Stark from Cabot amplified their attention to the extraordinary scrutiny they receive in the field, of their last 616 wells they have had 19,600 inspections with a 98.3 % compliance rate. There are jobs in the environmental sector as well. Our young people have multiple employment paths coming out of high school with some additional training. These various jobs once mastered can spill over into other trades such as heat, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, electricians and equipment operators. All of which are in increasing demand and have higher base wages. For those with the entrepreneurial spirit starting one’s own business is within the range of possibilities. Further these opportunities are not just for younger age individuals retraining can be an attractive alternative for forty- and fifty-year old’s too, seeking to take advantage of this expanded job arena. The community college experience can also serve as a launch point into expanded 4-year programs of Instrumentation Process Control, Robotics, Environmental Compliance and Worker Safety to name a few. The panel members see this as thirty-year window as the country moves to using cleaner domestic fossil fuels such as natural gas. The panel members optimism was somewhat contagious, as they were in a sense inspiring the audience to assist in sharing the word on employment opportunities. Become recruiters. BC3 as well as other schools are reaching out to high school vo-tech classes, high school guidance counselors, and parents, sharing that there are good and sensible education alternatives that lead to higher paying and satisfying jobs. Perhaps the most important message conveyed was an intangible, hope. The job market in the more rural areas of western Pennsylvania had become stale and mediocre. The panel was hopeful that their message of changing employment opportunity can be and will be shared with the students and as importantly with parents. Parents are the first messengers of hope and encouragement, sharing a vision of a positive and bright future. Our sons and daughters can seek worthwhile endeavors, that ultimately in time provide a good living income, and a sense of well-being and prosperity. Our sons and daughters can have more and be more. They can move beyond a minimum wage job to get by and video game diversion. They can move from the play space to the control room space if they seek it. May we as parents, educators and the larger community, resolve in 2020 and beyond to support this meaningful effort.