Lawmakers urge more education and job training for oil and gas

Jamison Cocklin, Youngstown Vindicator 

In 2013, Ohio’s oil and gas industry has two main concerns: processing its product for shipment and workforce development.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson say they have an obligation to help the state’s labor force and its students benefit from the product coming out of the ground and heading to those processing facilities.

Since 2011, or so, more than a dozen studies have been released that project the oil and gas industry will create anywhere from 80,000 jobs to more than 200,000 in Ohio.

The challenge for elected officials, the business community and educators is to find a secure place in those estimates for Ohioans.

Job training, education and public awareness of the what the industry has to offer was the topic of a forum that took place at the Choffin Career & Technical Center on East Wood Street in Youngstown on Wednesday. The event attracted educators from throughout the area to learn how to engage students from kindergarten through high school and get them thinking about jobs in the industry.

Johnson, of Marietta, R-6th, and Ryan, of Niles, D-13th, helped moderate two panels that featured industry representatives and those working to source labor for it.

Johnson said he recently visited North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play, where development is more than five years ahead of the Utica in Ohio.

“It’s like the gold rush out there; when you land, they give you a job whether you want it or not,” Johnson said. “Our young people have so much opportunity ahead of them. We need to get them prepared.”

In Northeast Ohio, hiring has picked up dramatically at manufacturing facilities such as Vallourec Star and TMK IPSCO to fulfill the demands of the industry’s supply chain. But the industry’s critics claim not enough jobs are being created in the upstream side of the business — on drilling rigs and the work that goes into surveying land and finding oil and gas.

Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute who participated in the forum, said the industry recognizes that and it makes more economical sense to hire people locally for those jobs, but first students must be educated to meet the demands of those positions.

Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, told educators Wednesday that students can choose from at least 75 positions related to the oil and gas industry, from engineering to laboring.

She said Ohio has long been a leader in workforce training and said the key now is to engage students earlier in their education.

A recent quarterly report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that tracks changes in the state’s oil and gas industry said the average annual wage for core shale-related industries such as pipeline construction and well drilling was $76,643 — more than $30,000 more than the average of all industries.

Representatives from the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, which both serve the Mahoning Valley, expect membership to soar in the coming years in order to meet demand. They called on educators Wednesday to help them meet that demand.

“Unlike the oil and gas companies, we’re not some Masonic organization where you have to know the secret of getting in,” said Don Crane, president of the trades council. “You have kids that just don’t want to go to college. This industry is opening a whole other part of the economy for them.”