Gas industry drove jobs, wages and workforce development here

Posted January 2, 2012

Michael Bradwell

After several years of besting quarterly production records for natural gas yields from the Marcellus shale, the gas industry began to make a strong impression on the local workforce scene, causing those who provide and help to train workers to take new approaches to workforce development here.

The gas industry proved its might as an employer by helping to push Washington County to national prominence in wage growth in the first quarter of 201l, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that it had the fastest employment gain (4.3 percent) in Pennsylvania during the first quarter of the year, giving it the third-fastest growth among the 322 largest counties nationwide.

BLS also reported that during the first quarter, the county recorded the second-highest growth rate in wages in Pennsylvania, an 8.8 percent jump that brought the average weekly wage here to $867, placing the county 11th among the country's largest counties.

The boost in employment and wages also had workforce development officials and the gas industry calling for increased emphasis on vocational education and training, and launching a youth movement with the recognition that gas industry jobs here would become generational.

"We're going to be drilling wells for 50 or 60 years," a Range Resources spokesman told a group of guidance counselors during a Marcellus Jobs Youth Forum at Western Area Career & Technology Center in October. Range, the largest leaseholder in Western Pennsylvania, reported in mid-December it had doubled its natural gas production in the Marcellus between 2010 and 2011.

In early December, more than 800 high school students attended a daylong Oil & Gas Youth Career Expo at WACTC that featured 40 companies related to drilling, production and supply.

However, the farsighted efforts of getting local students to think about a career in the oil and gas industry couldn't help area machine shops, which reported big demand for parts from both gas drillers and manufacturers, but couldn't find enough skilled workers such as machinists and welders to help them handle the extra orders.

"All of us in this industry have the same struggle for help. It's been that way for years, but now it's more acute," said Mark Vanistendael of Davan Manufacturing in South Strabane Township, who was looking to add six machinists. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.