ST. MARYS - As the oil and gas boom continues to grow in the Mid-Ohio Valley area, education officials are working to partner with the industry to train a local workforce.
Many of the area's hotels and RV parks are full of out-of-state workers employed in the surrounding oil and gas fields. Educators have been trying to develop education and training programs to fill the still-increasing need for workers.
Mike Winland, director of secondary schools for Wood County Schools, said the topic is being discussed by a technology consortium that includes schools in Wood, Pleasants, Wirt and Jackson County schools as well as West Virginia University at Parkersburg and business groups in the area.
Tim Rogers is an instructor for the oil and gas program at the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute in Pleasants County. The program, now in its second year, was the first in the state attempting to introduce high school students to the booming oil and gas industry. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
"Our local area is aware of the out-of-state workers and is beginning to make adjustments to meet the workforce demand," Winland said. "We are in the infancy stages of training in our schools, adult training and local colleges."
Ryan Haught, director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute (MOVTI) outside St. Marys, and instructor Tim Rogers said they are a few years behind the development of the industry and are trying to catch up.
"The housing and motels and RV lots are full because the skilled labor wasn't here," Rogers said.
For developing prospective employees at the high school level, officials in Pleasants, Wood and Ritchie all pointed to the oil and gas development program at MOVTI.
The program, now entering its second year, was the first in the state to introduce high school students to the industry.
Rogers, the program's instructor, said the courses are basic, and not everything is geared to the Marcellus shale or pipeline work.
"Our major is basic oil and gas," he said, adding the school also offers Safeland and Rig Pass training.
Classes this year are learning about electrical systems and hydraulics and pneumatics as they relate to oil and gas work, he said. They are are also touching on abstraction and research work.
"Our job is exposing them to the skills," Rogers said. "Our mission, our job is to open the industry up to them. Do they know all the opportunities available to them?"
Students spend two-and-a-half hours every day at MOVTI, which pull students from Wetzel, Tyler, Ritchie and Pleasants counties. Rogers said unions and craftsman have a lot people retiring and there a lot of recognized skills gaps. Educators have no problem filling the programs, opening with the 30 students last year.
Haught said as officials worked to build the program they sought input from employers in the field. The initial meeting with oil and gas industry employers produced more than 25 people interested in developing a program.
Rogers said last year - as officials worked to get the program off the ground -they depended on guest speakers and field trips. This year, Rogers said companies have pledged the use of some heavy equipment and they will simulate pipe and trench work in the field.
Students are also focusing more on electrical systems, hydraulics and pneumatic systems.
However, Rogers said colleges offer advanced training MOVTI can't. Haught said area higher education schools are developing programs at West Virginia Northern Community College, Pierpont Community and Technical College, the Washington County Career Center and Zane (Zanesville) State College.
Marietta College has offered a four-year petroleum engineering degree for decades.
Tabitha Anderson, vice president of Workforce and Community Education at WVU-P, said the college has a host of programs, mostly certificates and two-year degrees.
"We are adding as the technology changes," she said. "Everyday, we are looking to expand and increase as business and industry comes to us with a need."
Anderson said most of the programs are hands-on, short-term programs,
Winland said Wood County Schools has a welding program offered at the Wood County Technical Center. The Caperton Center operated by Wood County Schools is starting a new program called Energy, Transportation and Energy Designs.
"Both of these programs tie to the gas and shale industry, but are not directly related to drilling sites," he said.
Officials do not yet have placement data as a result of the MOVTI program. Haught said that won't be available until spring. Rogers said one student is working in the industry, while another has gone on to Marietta College, in pursuit of an engineering degree.
Haught said in listening to employers detail struggles to fill the workforce, the problem was almost universal.
"One of the most common things we here is getting people to show up on time and pass a drug test," he said.
Rogers said MOVTI officials have also implemented teaching job application and interview skills.
"The worst case is preparing them for a job and they don't get hired because they can't interview," Haught said.