Today’s Natural Gas Industry is facing a challenging problem. As the pipeline industry continues to grow and create more jobs in the U.S., it also creates a unique side effect — worker shortage.
In addition to new jobs being created, there are also vacancies created by a large number of retiring baby boomers. Many of these job openings require a diverse skill set and demanding work ethic. However, solutions are being put into place by industry associations, local community leaders, natural gas companies, educators, and Industrial Training Services (ITS) to recruit and retain the next generation of pipeline workers.
Unfortunately, there are not many people in the unemployment line that readily have the knowledge or experience to fill these job vacancies; therefore, there is a gap in qualified worker availability. Furthermore, the future potential workers are not always aware of the career opportunities available in the Natural Gas Industry as an alternative to an expensive four-year college degree.
As baby boomers retire, they take their knowledge and experience with them leaving a huge void for the industry to fill. However, many retirees are transitioning into new roles as trainers or consultants within the industry, because safety is important to them. The responsible baby boomers want to leave the pipeline industry in qualified hands with the next generation of pipeline workers. This is the first step to ensure our infrastructure is protected going forward, the sharing of knowledge passed down from one generation to the next.
Another approach to solving this problem is through shared campaigns. Associations such as the Distribution Contractors Association are launching workforce development committees and programs as a combined effort. In fact, the DCA launched a multi-industry coalition in 2015 to address the issue with their campaign, “Who Will Do the Work?”
A new innovative approach to reaching new talent is through efforts between ITS, community colleges, technical schools, and high schools. These educational institutions are beginning to develop programs using industry specific curriculum to attract and recruit younger workers into the industry. Through dual credit classes or certificates of completion, these programs give students hands-on experience through classroom and laboratory settings while they are still in high school. These courses introduce them to the challenges and rewards that the industry provides to help them make an informed choice if they decide on the natural gas career path. It also gives them a leg up on the competition in the job application process.
In 2003, ITS first partnered with Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTC) to offer Natural Gas Technology classes to their students. West Kentucky Community & Technical College (WKCTC) in Paducah, KY was the first school to use ITS curriculum compliant with DOT 192 & 195 regulations. This allowed workers in the gas industry to obtain higher education credits while also receiving industry recognized task-specific training relevant to their job duties.
In 2013, ITS teamed with Pulaski County Area Technology Center (PCATC) in Somerset, Kentucky to offer the Natural Gas Technician Program at the high school level. Three Kentucky high schools currently participate in the program including Pulaski County High School, City of Somerset High School, and Southwestern High School. These programs offer basic natural gas courses to introduce high school students to the field.
Program Instructor, Chris Cross, says that the typical class size ranges from 12-15 students and is primarily male; however, the first student to complete the program was actually female.
PCATC has had 252 high school students sign up for the program during the last four years. When asked how the program began, Cross said that Jason Garland from ITS and Matt Tackett from Kentucky Gas Association (KGA) were instrumental in launching this program. Cross also mentioned support from the City of Somerset as well as a regional contracting company, Martin Contracting, in Richmond, KY. With their financial donations, the PCATC was able to acquire the curriculum to train and test the students. The mayor of Somerset had identified the need for the program when he personally found difficulty hiring qualified personnel for the City of Somerset. He has since hired students who successfully completed the program.
ITS provides approved curriculum to PCATC’s Natural Gas Technician Program and students receive ITS certification upon completion. ITS has been pioneering consistent and documented training for the pipeline industry since 1977 when ITS founder, Paul Lyons, PHD, developed the first standardized program for gas companies in Kentucky. However, this curriculum was new territory for high school students. It was no surprise when this new educational program was introduced at PCATC, it was recognized as being the first of its kind in Kentucky’s Secondary education sector and the most comprehensive program at the high school level in the nation.
Cross has personally witnessed students obtain employment in the industry immediately after completing the program. He remembers two students in particular obtaining employment through two local organizations that were vital to the success of the program during its inception. It is no surprise since the PCATC’s Lab was specifically designed to give students hands-on training combined with a high exam pass rate providing an excellent jump start for prospects obtaining employment in the industry.
With the increasing demand for qualified workers, it is important to start reaching recruits as early as high school to ensure the pipeline industry’s infrastructure is safeguarded by qualified personnel. When asked about giving advice to students thinking about a career in the natural gas industry, Cross says, “Be willing to learn and always work hard.” In an industry that is always changing to meet the latest safety regulations, this simple advice may be the most important aspect of the job. A strong work ethic is mandatory.
Cross hopes to obtain future funding at the state level to continue to see the program expand. He would like to see the students have access to the ITS online courses and exams in addition to the paper exams they currently use.
Currently, program funding limits the type of curriculum they can purchase. If you would like more information about the program or would like to offer support, contact Pulaski County Area Technology Center by phone (606) 678-2998, or by mail 3865 Old Hwy 27, STE 101, Somerset, KY 42501.
When asked about non-traditional students attending the program, Cross mentioned Somerset Community College’s Workforce Development Program. Somerset Community College is part of Kentucky’s Community & Technical College System. They also offer a Gas Service Technician Certificate through Workforce Solutions at the PCATC. According to Alesa Johnson, Chief Officer Workforce Solutions, they have yet to see much interest at the community college level. They hope to see those numbers increase with a new natural gas industry planning to locate in Somerset in the near future. If you are interested in attending a program or learning more information, please contact Johnson at 606-451-6693.
If you would like to learn more information about Natural Gas, Propane, or Hazardous Liquids training or Operator Qualifications, please contact Industrial Training Services, Inc. at 270-753-2150 or visit www.ITS-Training.com
By: Bonnie Clymer, Industrial Training Services