Zersha Munir
Penn College's drill-rig simulator. Photo Copyright Andrew Maykuth / Philly.com
Penn College’s drill-rig simulator. Photo Copyright Andrew Maykuth / Philly.com

Training for work in the natural gas industry just got a lot easier at one ShaleNET location, thanks to the purchase of a new drilling rig simulator.

The Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport recently unveiled the simulator, which allows students in ShaleNET’s noncredit, short-term roustabout and floor hand courses to practice skills and safety procedures needed in the field. This is one of only three rigs of its kind used for education purposes in the country and will also be used to train new short-service employees for private drilling companies.

ShaleNET is a multi-college program that has trained more than 5,000 for careers in the oil and natural gas industry, with 3,421 finding employment. Training is offered at Penn College in north-central Pennsylvania as well as at Westmoreland Community College and schools in Ohio and Texas.

“The rig simulator is a wonderful addition to the wide range of training resources offered here at the Energy Technology Education Center and reinforces our commitment to hands-on learning in real-world work environments,” said Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour,

Students will learn proper use of rig fundamentals and such live fire “props” as a wellhead, separator, pressurized production-site setup, sand separator and more.

ShaleNET was created in 2010 by a coalition of stakeholders including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the parent organization of ImaginePittsburgh.com. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training.

Learn more at ShaleNET.org.

Meredith Fahey

There’s been lots of talk – both nationally and in the Pittsburgh region – about the skills gap. There are abundant jobs that require two years (or less) of training or a certificate or associates’ degree, but too few people in the workforce have the correct skills. In the case of jobs related to the to the Marcellus Shale natural gas play, that’s meant employers have sometimes relied on workers from such traditional markets as Texas and Oklahoma.

The good news: our region has a program that is closing that gap, a program so successful that it has been expanded to other locations. Through ShaleNET, designed in 2010 to train individuals for careers in the oil and natural gas industry, nearly 5,500 people have completed training, and more than 3,500 are employed.

Daniel Schweitzer, director of the ShaleNET hub at Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio, explains how ShaleNET is closing the skills gap in the article below. The article first appeared in the April ShaleNET newsletter. Sign up here to receive future newsletters about this innovative program.

INSIGHTS: Stark State College, North Canton, Ohio

Edwin Drake’s Well, Titusville, Pa. 1859

It has been more than three generations since the oil fields in Bremen and Titusville established Ohio and Pennsylvania as the leading oil producers in the United States. A century ago, this region was the key player in the oil and natural gas industry. A century ago, the ubiquity of skilled trades was a result of indigenous factors. They were bred by families whose livelihood was the oil and natural gas, manufacturing and transportation industries.

Why then, are so many employers hiring from outside of the region? It’s the skills gap. It’s in the news. Politicians like Ohio Senator Rob Portman are talking about it. Stark State College and ShaleNET are doing something about it.

Belying the region’s rich history in oil and natural gas, the skills gap comprises three generations of atrophy to our skilled labor force. It’s been a long time since the heyday of manufacturing in the Ohio Valley. The digital age has undervalued the vocational and skilled labor populations for some time now and there is a dearth of skilled labor at this critical juncture.

There may be only 40 active unconventional drilling rigs in Ohio’s Utica Shale, but there are hundreds of Utica wells “seasoning” as you read this. Seasoning is a euphemism for “waiting to be put into production” and midstream gathering, take-away, and processing capacities are being developed at a furious pace. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines in the forecast queue for the next decade alone. Someone has to build, monitor and maintain this infrastructure and now is the time to rebuild the economic muscle of the Ohio Valley.

The first ShaleNET grant funded short-term trainings for entry-level jobs into the oil and natural gas industry. The second ShaleNET grant, which we are 18 months into, is a capacity building grant. It was designed to ramp up higher education offerings with multiple avenues of access and outlets to skilled trade jobs with a focus on the oil and natural gas industry. The backbone of ShaleNET is the stackable credential model, which starts with a three-week non-credit class wherein the student gains IADC Rig Pass, first aid, and equipment operating certifications. This is enough for many to get industry jobs and counts as college credit if a student continues into a credit-based program such as Process Operation. From there, a student can complete a one-year certificate which is largely technically focused, and proceed to an Associate’s and then to a Bachelor’s degree. Stark State College currently offers one-year certificates and two-year degrees in four ShaleNET career pathways: Instrumentation and Electronic Technician, Process Technician, Pipeline Technician, and Industrial Mechanics Technician. A fifth pathway, Production Technician is under development.

The ShaleNET grant has been instrumental in allowing Stark State College to develop its oil and natural gas programs. ShaleNET funding is used for staffing (administrative and instructors), curriculum development, and equipment procurement. The Well-Site Trainer Lab and Simtronics Simulator Software, both of which would be cost prohibitive without ShaleNET funds, are fundamental parts of our curriculum. Both Simtronics and the well-site trainer are key components that allow us to develop class exercises and hands-on activities that have value to potential employers.

We are in just our second semester of these new ShaleNET based degree offerings, and we already have over 70 declared majors with over 100 participants in our credit-based classes. In fall 2014, we are extending ShaleNET into the secondary education classroom, by offering our PET101 class in a 100% web-based format. This delivery modality was developed to allow vocational schools, high schools and career centers to incorporate PET101 into any distance learning classroom since it needs only a proctor to mediate student activities. As of now, there are several post-secondary institutions planning to offer PET101 in the fall with over 20 students registered. Students who complete the class with a passing grade will also receive college credit for the class if they enroll in a ShaleNET degree program at Stark State College.

With ShaleNET, we are off to a great start to closing the skills gap!

– Daniel Schweitzer, ShaleNET Hub Director, Stark State College

Meredith Fahey

More than 2,640 people have found jobs through ShaleNET, a comprehensive recruitment, training, placement and retention program for high-demand, hard-to-fill entry-level jobs across the Marcellus Shale footprint. That’s according to the March newsletter of the ShaleNET initiative, which was launched in July 2010.

A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Industry leaders, policy makers and educators will discuss ShaleNET at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 26 at Westmoreland County Community College, which is one of the educational institutions sponsoring the program. Individuals interested in learning more about training should check out the Resources and Training Providers tabs at ShaleNET.org.

As the first, $5 million round of ShaleNET funding for training programs in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York winds down later this year, the second round grant of $15 million is gathering steam to expand the program’s reach with additional classes this fall.

With the maturing of the industry and with the additional money, participants will be able to continue their education and training by earning certificates and two-year degrees that will help them find jobs in the midstream and downstream part of the industry – beyond the drill rigs and in the processing of oil and natural gas. The program will also expand its geographic scope, reaching further into Ohio and into Texas through partnerships with Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. The hope is that ShaleNET can be scaled into a national job training and education model.

To learn more or to sign up for the newsletter, visit ShaleNET.org.

Meredith Fahey

The success of ShaleNET – linking more than 2,000 people with Marcellus Shale industry-related jobs – was recently profiled in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a front page “Sunday Business” story.  As P-G Energy and Business Reporter Erich Schwartzel notes in the article, there is not one unique “student profile.” People come to these trainings from all walks of life and parts of the country hoping to get trained and find potentially high earning employment in the oil and gas sector. The common attribute of those who succeed is that they are hard-working folks, willing to put in long hours in outdoor conditions. Training classes now are available throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and shortly, Texas.

ShaleNET will soon be expanding its reach, both in terms of geography and skills training. Started in 2010 as an entry-level jobs training program supported by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, last fall ShaleNET was awarded an additional $14.9 million follow on grant. With the maturing of the industry and with the additional money, participants will be able to continue their education and training by earning certificates and two-year degrees that will help them find jobs in the midstream and downstream part of the industry – that is, beyond the drill rigs and in the processing of oil and natural gas.

The original founders of ShaleNET – the Allegheny Conference, Pennsylvania College of Technology and Westmoreland County Community College – partnered with Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, for this second round funding, with the hope of scaling ShaleNET to become a national job training and education model.

To learn more, visit ShaleNET.org and view the video below to learn more about how partnerships are expanding workforce training opportunities in the U.S. under the ShaleNET banner.

Dow Jones Newswires reporter Isabel Ordonez visited southwestern Pennsylvania this spring to learn more about how companies tapping into the Marcellus Shale are building their workforces. Click here to read her article on the online site of The Wall Street Journal. You can also find her text below, copyright The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires.

Marcellus Shale Job Program Turns Unskilled Into Shale Workers

By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires

The Wall Street Journal / May 25, 2012

  • Workforce-development program, ShaleNET, is funded by a $4.6 million federal grant
  • Residents in Pennsylvania, neighboring states are trained to compete for Marcellus Shale jobs
  • Average annual income for a worker handling pipelines, maintaining a rig could be $100,000

PITTSBURGH (Dow Jones)–Professor Byron Kohut helps hundreds of low-income adults land coveted jobs in the booming shale-gas industry in Pennsylvania. But only the tough need apply, he said.

“If they are not physically capable of working outside, in bad weather, dangerous conditions, I scare them out of drilling,” said Kohut, who coordinates a natural-gas job-training course at Westmoreland County Community College, about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. “It’s not easy work,” Kohut said, adding that people with backgrounds in agriculture, construction and mechanics have a better shot at getting in.

The community college’s course, part of a workforce-development program funded by a $4.6 million federal grant, prepares residents in Pennsylvania and neighboring states to compete for the torrent of jobs being generated by natural-gas companies tapping the prolific Marcellus Shale. The multi-state program, called ShaleNET, is trying to fix a mismatch between the rising number of jobs emerging with the shale-gas business in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York, and the many unemployed, or low-paid, workers who can’t be hired by the shale industry due to their lack of basic skills.

Labor demand in the Marcellus Shale, a deeply buried layer of tight rock containing vast amounts of natural gas, has continued to grow despite recent rock-bottom prices for the commodity, in part because the area’s highly productive wells, and their proximity to huge markets in the Northeast, allow drilling there to remain profitable.

Almost half of the 400 people needed to drill a single well do jobs that don’t require four-year college degrees, including general labor, heavy-equipment operators, and truck drivers. In about four weeks of training, the ShaleNET program turns young farmers, construction workers, veterans and carpenters, among others, into certified gas-field workers who know the basics about drilling and controlling a well.

The program’s standards are high because, otherwise, students wouldn’t be able to compete with more-experienced workers coming from Texas and Louisiana who have a long relationship with the energy industry, said Laura Fisher, senior vice president at Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a non-profit organization that created ShaleNET. The non-profit entity has a long list of applicants, but there are only a few dozen spots available.

While the shale-gas industry has already helped the Pittsburgh region’s March unemployment rate of 7.1% to best the nationwide rate of 8.4%, many of the higher-paid occupations–such as tool pushers or pump operators–were going to the newcomers from out of state, Fisher said. Many companies preferred the out-of-state workers because they already knew the basics about safety and were accustomed to working the 12-hour-per-day shifts that are common in the drilling industry, Fisher said.

The ShaleNET program, which has graduated 250 students, along with new industry-community partnerships, is helping to increase the rate of local hires. About 180 students have been hired by 56 companies. The program has also helped about 1,000 people to find jobs in the shale industry through its website or through various partnership it has with federal job-placement agencies, Kohut said. In addition, 13 community colleges, one university and six vocational high schools in the region are starting the same training program.

Labor demand in the Marcellus Shale area is expected to continue to surge in coming years, said Sue Mukherjee, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

For instance, jobs for drill operators are expected to grow 84.9% to 2,674 this year from 1,446 in 2010. This compares to 2.6% estimated growth for all type of jobs state-wide in the same period, Mukherjee said.

Mark Madonna, a 24-year-old who until last year worked in construction, was hired in February by Falcon Drilling, a service provider based in Indiana, Pa. He is now a rig ground worker.

Madonna, a single father who didn’t attend college, said the training provided by Westmoreland County Community College was “extremely vital” in his getting his new job.

He tried for nine months to apply directly to companies he knew were hiring, but nobody took him seriously until he was admitted to the course. Madonna, like most of his classmates, received a job offer from Falcon Drilling the day after he graduated. “I love physical labor, I love machinery and I love to be working outdoors,” Madonna said. “I’m not afraid to work.”

His new job pays $12.56 per hour, about the same as he was making when he was building counter tops and cabinets. But the big difference, he said, is that his take-home pay will jump, thanks to overtime, and, in a few months, can almost triple if he gets promoted.

Kohut, who has a doctorate in education, said many of his former students are making significantly more money than he does. The average annual income of a roughneck–a member of the oil rig in charge of handling pipelines and maintaining the rig–is $100,000. That includes overtime, daily stipends and room and board.

“It’s a dangerous job, but it pays well,” Kohut said.

-By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-314-6090; isabel.ordonez@dowjones.com

ShaleNET is a training and placement program that helps to connect workers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York with jobs in natural gas exploration and production. Among the program’s founders is the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which runs the ImaginePittsburghNow.com blog.


Amanda Sennert

ShaleNET has announced in its current newsletter that 883 local workers have landed jobs in the natural gas industry since June 2010 as a result of its training and placement efforts.

ShaleNET is a multi-state, comprehensive recruitment, training, placement and retention program for jobs in the gas industry throughout the Marcellus Shale footprint. The program plans to add three more Certified Training Providers to its program, bringing the total number to 14 across the Marcellus Shale footprint in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. ( For the entire list visit: shalenet.org/Assets/ApprovedTraining.pdf )

The newsletter also highlights the start of ShaleNET floorhand classes which were held in McKean and Indiana County. This course trains workers for positions in the entry level floor hand position, and differs from roustabout training by focusing on rig and electrical components, basic well control, and less on heavy equipment operation.

ShaleNET links industry, workforce investment boards and training providers to ensure local worker placement in six entry-level, family sustaining positions that have been identified as High Priority Occupations  by the Pennsylvania Workforce Development, a program of the state’s Department of Labor & Industry. To learn more or register for the newsletter, go to www.shalenet.org.

And watch the Our Region’s Business video below featuring ShaleNET’s  Byron Kohut,  Col. Grey Berrier II, deputy commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and CONSOL Energy’s  Gary Slagel.