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ShaleNet Project Hopes To Place 3,000 Locals In Gas Related Jobs

By Staff | Nov 23, 2011

The recurring subject of local workers finding jobs in the area’s Marcellus Shale operations was addressed by Northern Panhandle Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Rosemary Guida at Tuesday’s Wetzel County Commission meeting.

Guida said her organization is one of 15 Workforce Investment areas (representing 69 counties in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) involved in the ShaleNET Project. The purpose of the project, funded by a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, is to place 3,000 Workforce Investment Area eligible individuals into jobs with the natural gas industry during the next two-and-a-half years.

Right now the training curriculum is being developed by Westmoreland County Community College, the fiscal agent and lead for the grant. West Virginia Northern Community College is a partner and will be doing the program’s training locally.

“Supposedly in January the curriculum is going to be ready. We’re about a year behind,” said Guida.

But for now those seeking jobs in that industry are encouraged to attend a job fair sponsored by the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia that will be held Nov. 30, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Alan Mollohan Training Center, 818 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville. The advertisement for the event (on page 8B) says IOGA member companies will “recruit, hire, and train good employees for positions with long-term security and some of the best pay in the state.”

However, Guida expressed some frustration that she does not expect the human resources departments to be at the fair. “Most of the people who hire are not here, they’re back in their headquarter offices,” said Guida. Instead, there will be computers at the fair with people there to walk potential hires through the application process.

Frustration is also present for the companies in the industry as they have a hard time finding employees who can pass drug testing. A hair sample test is generally used and testees must be clean from marijuana for at least two months. Indications of prescription pill abuse is also often present. “This problem is all over the place, not just in West Virginia,” noted Guida. “They are finding it really difficult to get people to pass the drug test.”

She said in Pennsylvania they were testing people after the training, which was wasteful because often those who went through the training were ineligible for employment based on the drug tests. Plans are for WVNCC to do the drug testing first.

Also, once hired, the companies do sampling drug testing, so employees must remain clean.

After the curriculum is developed and local residents are trained, Guida said Workforce will do a talent match with available gas industry jobs. A Web site, www.shalenet.org, is being developed that will help with the job search. Users will have to sign in and have access to job openings on that site. “That’s the ultimate goal,” said Guida. Computers dedicated to shalenet.org will be installed in the region’s Workforce offices.

“It’s a start. You may be behind, but it’s a start,” said Commission President Don Mason. “We all know that this isn’t an overnight thing.”

Even without the fully functioning ShaleNET project, Mason said he thinks people need to realize how many resources are available at the Workforce Centers. He is encouraged that it looks like more people are taking advantage of the center’s assistance.

“The (user) numbers have been pretty good, pretty high (at the New Martinsville location). I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” said Guida, referring to the high unemployment rate in Wetzel County.

Guida added that she has made contact with the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce who have talked about their desire to do what they can to help increase the percentage of local workers used in the Marcellus Shale development. “We want to help. We have a lot of avenues that we can go to that maybe they can’t.” According to information handed out by Guida, currently 70 percent of the regional well workforce comes from other areas, which has proven to be expensive for drilling companies.

Also, Guida gave out high praise for the Wetzel County Board of Education’s cooperation with the Training 4 Our Future Program funded by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services.

“The school system is always cooperative-always,” said Guida. “They are just really, really helpful and we appreciate that.”

The class of 11 youth at Magnolia High School learned how to complete job applications, write resumes, conduct mock job interviews, and operate computers. At the end of the class they all got a free laptop.

“What a great class we have in Wetzel County,” said Guida. “They just loved it. It was like Christmas almost. I’m getting calls from parents, thanking us for providing the program and how much it meant to them and their kids.”

She is trying to get more money to be able to put more students in the program.

On a final note, the NPWIB has room for more participation in the Employment Subsidy Program. This provides full reimbursement for an additional employee for up to 12 months on a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families eligible employee. The participating employer is not obligated to hire anyone after the program ends. For more information contact Guida at 304-231-1170.