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Chamber Supports Gas Industry Classes

By Staff | Aug 17, 2011

Pictured from left: Mike Koon of WVNCC Economic and Workforce Development and New Martinsville WVNCC Dean Larry Tackett met on Aug. 9 to thank Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce President Don Riggenbach, and Mindy Mall, West Virginia University Extension Agent and WCCC Board of Directors secretary, for the $2,000 contribution which will be used to fund the new floorhand training program and to develop course materials.

Opportunity is knocking for those who might be interested in getting an entry level job in Marcellus Shale development, and the training program to get the job is free. On Aug. 9, 10, and 11 at the New Martinsville campus of West Virginia Northern Community College, Mike Koon, vice president for Economic and Workforce Development at WVNCC, gave five informational presentations about the upcoming classes to be offered at the local campus. The tuition-free floorhand training program is being sponsored through a partnership with the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce and the West Virginia Regional Economic Development Partnership.

Through surveys or interviews with oil and gas industry representatives, it was determined there were several entry level areas in which applicants were most needed: commercial drivers or those who hold a CDL license, floorhand, deckhand or roustabout, and welders.

To address this need, WVNCC, in conjunction with Northern Panhandle Workforce Investment Board, Inc. (NPWIB), will conduct the classes in “floorhand training which prepares individuals for entry level jobs on drilling rigs and basic welding,” says informational literature. Various types of courses will be offered:  a one-week Floorhand (also known as roughneck or roustabout) Training course; a two-week Basic Welding course; and a three-week Expanded Floorhand Training program. No present plans exist to offer CDL training at WVNCC, but the program can assist with finding an accredited driving school. WorkForce will also, at no cost, assist with resume writing and interview techniques, according to Christine Smith, administrative coordinator.

The Floorhand Training class meets eight hours per day for one week with the objectives of educating enrollees on “safety and operational requirements for working on a drill rig and basic safety practices” and Rig Pass Certification will be obtained. During the course students will also visit an operating Marcellus Shale well site.

Koon says entry level jobs are the necessary first step in obtaining higher level jobs. “The jobs are physically demanding,” Koon explained, and workers must adjust to outdoor fluctuating temperatures. Jobs are usually 12-hour shifts, with real potential for overtime, which pays “time-and-a-half” after 37-and-a-half hours. He also said the average salary for rig workers is $63,000 annually.

“Jobs are transient within the Marcellus footprint,” Koon explained, meaning workers must follow the drilling companies from site to site, most of which are in the West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio areas now. He stated there is no direct connection between any oil or gas company and the course program.

However, NPWIB Executive Director Rosemary Guida said a database is being established to connect potential workers who have completed the WVNCC course with oil and gas companies who are seeking employees. Toward this end, all participants must register with WorkForce to have their information available to potential employers, whether the job may be floorhand or welding.

The two-week Basic Welding course will instruct students in basic techniques of Shielded Metal Arc Welding, basic safety practices, and standard welds such as Fillet Weld-Lap Joint, Fillet Weld-Tee Joint, and Square Groove Butt Weld. The welding courses will be conducted at facilities in Paden City for 80 hours, with five eight-hour days per week. The cost of this course is yet to be determined.

In the three-week Expanded Floorhand Training course enrollees will receive multiple safety certifications, get hands-on experience with some heavy equipment, learn operational requirements for rig work, and enhance their employability skills. Participants in this program can expect to receive tuition assistance through the Marcellus ShaleNET coalition and its three-year $4.9 million grant from the United States Depart of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. According to the ShaleNET Web site their mission is to “design a comprehensive recruitment, training, placement, and retention program for high priority occupations in the natural gas drilling and production industry.” WVNCC is one of five schools in the ShaleNET consortium.

Koon continued that there are really only two requirements for all classes: register with WorkForce West Virginia (no cost); and pass a drug test, the cost of which must be absorbed by the participant. Koon explained that all drilling companies and their associated industries require this drug test as a standard requirement for any employment.

Koon anticipates class size will be 15 to 20 members, with preference being given to West Virginia residents if interest exceeds the number of available class positions. Koon said the anticipated start dates for the program will be in early September 2011.

Those who attended the informational sessions filled out questionnaires indicating their fields of interest. Koon said as the program develops and WVNCC gauges the interest level of area residents, programs could be expanded to include advanced welding or other gas field occupations.

Anyone interested in finding out more about these programs is invited to contact Koon at 304-233-5900, extension 8967, or e-mail him at mkoon@wvncc.edu.