New Castle News

February 25, 2013

Education Options, Part 2: Current shale boom casts new light on county’s economic future

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Welcome to the Industrial Revolution of 2013.

The Marcellus Shale phenomenon has arrived with the promise of jobs and prosperity for an area in dire need of just such a miracle.

Not since steel mill furnaces were blazing more than 50 years ago has Lawrence County’s economic future looked so bright.

Now all that remains is to get ready.

Easier said than done.

Area employers, educators and trainers are paving the way, seeking to inform and prepare job-seekers and students for a new world of opportunities.

Colleen Chamberlain of Nordson Xaloy, a manufacturer of melt delivery components, has been a leading voice in heralding the new age.

Chamberlain said business and community groups are working together to get the word out. “It takes that kind of organization to get things rolling.”

But some fear not all students are getting the whole story.

“They’re not getting the information probably because their parents and teachers aren’t fully aware either,” Chamberlain said. “We want to make sure parents know what’s available to their kids.”



CHANGING TIMES

Marcellus Shale changed not only the landscape, but also the conventional thinking about one’s future.

“We’re in the middle of this boom, but we’re not sure what to do about it,” Chamberlain said. “Manufacturing has not gone away. We have a significant number of manufacturers in Lawrence County and the population is here to supply them.”

“There are plenty of good jobs with health benefits and good pay.”

Chamberlain said high school students must be prepared for those jobs now.

“Schools need to know there are manufacturers in our back yard,” she said. “If they don’t know that, students won’t know it either.”

Chamberlain said a certain skillset is required.

“If we, as a community, aren’t ready for it and don’t have the trained personnel to fill those positions, employers would have to bring people here from other areas.”

Today’s college graduates often enter the work force with a large debt.

“You can spend $100,000 on a liberal arts degree, but that doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job,” Chamberlain said. “And college is not for everyone.”

In addition to making a good salary, Chamberlain said, there are other benefits to the emerging jobs. She said some employers, including Nordson Xaloy, will provide their workers an opportunity for more education at a reduced cost.

“We help pay for classes that relates to their jobs.”



JOB OPTIONS

Only a fraction of jobs actually would be in the gas industry; most would be in different industries related to shale gas company spending. Remaining jobs would be “indirect jobs” and “induced jobs” created through the economic spillover effects.

Some of them will include:

•Pre- and drilling phase jobs, including temporary positions, which could last 10 or more years, such as technical positions such as geological studies, IT/mapping, legal, environmental/permitting.

•There also will be on-site jobs that are labor intensive and could be transient in nature and require skilled and semi-skilled labor or on-the-job training or cetifications.

•Production phase jobs including managing and maintaining producing wells. “Wet gas” requires processing that results in addition jobs.

In a few years, when the drilling stops, some workers will have to go where the jobs move, but Chamberlain said, “There are tons of other jobs.”

More than 400 individuals within nearly 150 different occupations are needed to complete and produce gas from a Marcellus Shale well.

There were more than 230,000 employees in Marcellus and related industries as of 2012, including 87,800 hired since 2009.

The average core industry wage of $89,000 per year is more than double of the current average wage in the state.

Core industry positions include crude petroleum and natural gas extraction, drilling oil and gas wells, support activities of oil and gas operations and pipeline transportation of natural gas.

Accillary industries will provide many other jobs, including non residential site preparation contractors, trucking, commericial and industrial machine and equipment repair, water supply, sewage treatment facilities and infrastructure in engineering services.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry estimates that the average ancillary wage to be $65,000 — $17,000 above the state’s average wage.

Southwest Pennsylvania and Ohio are projected to have the highest demand for new hires.



CHANGING TIMES

January’s unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, according to the Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, was 7.9 percent. But it was 8.4 percent in Lawrence County and even higher (10.9 percent) in New Castle.

No manufacturing companies are on the newest list of Lawrence County’s largest employers, but that could soon change as the Marcellus Shale boom continues to expand.

Six of the top 10 jobs in the United States are related to manufacturing. Some require degrees, but many don’t. Skilled trades top the list, followed by engineers, IT staff, sales representatives, accounting and finances, drivers, mechanics, nurses, machinists and machine operators, and teachers.

According to Michelle Hoffman, branch manager of Manpower of Hermitage, there just over 30 well applications in Lawrence County as compared to approximately 800 in Washington County.

More than a third of employers around the world say they are having trouble filling positions due to lack of suitable talent. That is because the global demand for highly skilled labor continues to grow, and the skills distribution of available workers doesn’t match that demand.

“Companies must adjust just as much as workers and job seekers,” Chamberlain said.

Studies show that a 38-year-old in today’s workforce will have held between 10 to 14 jobs.

The workforce is aging and Hoffman and things could get worse before they get better.

According to estimates, more than 10,000 babyboomers are leaving the workforce every day, taking valuable skills and knowledge with them.



TODAY’S WORKERS

Today’s generation of workers has a different skillset, education and priorities from those they are replacing.

Hoffman said companies are struggling to fill key positions. The latest national statistics indicate there are three unemployed persons for every job that is available. That ratio rises to 4-to-1 in Lawrence County, where there are 932 jobs currently available with approximately 3600 job-seekers out there.

“In the past all you needed was a stong back and an alarm clock to maintain a sustaining job and raise a family,” Hoffman said during a recent Employer Advisory Council of Lawrence County meeting.

The number of job postings through PA CareerLink have seen a steady increase, and they have been swamped with candidates who do not have the necessary qualifications.

“There are all kind of openings, but few people to fill them,” said Eileen Borrelli, executive director of  Pennsylvania CareerLink of Lawrence County.

Danielle Book, director of human resources at Ellwood City Forge, said the company saw a spike in hiring late last year, but things have leveled off.

She said Ellwood City Forge works with schools, including Lawrence County Vo-Tech and various shop classes, to educate teachers on openings they have and the skills and training that are necessary to fill them.

Borrelli said some community colleges have been given funds for roustabout training.

 “The necessary skills can be learned on the job, but students must have the appitude and ability,” ” Book said. “We have very gainful employment through manufacutring, including electronic, maintenance and machine operaters.”

“Employers are being picky,” Hoffman said. But that can go both ways. Individuals who possess the necessary skills are in demand, and Hoffman said that may give them power to negotiate with prospective employers.

Xaloy had a position open to work with metal plating material. “We received 30 resumes, but only one had experience,” Chamberlain said. “When you are working with acids and chemicals, you can’t just put any laborer into that situation.”

There are environmental concerns with the shale industry that must be addressed, including management of wastewater, contamination of groundwater, stress on existing water supply and air-quality issues.

Chamberlain said this has to be done right.

“Everytime we’ve seen growth, it has come at the expense of the environment,” she said. “We have four super fund sites in area communities because all we worried about was growth and profit.

“We must have balance or tip it over the edge. People living in Bejing can’t go outside because the pollution is so bad.”

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)