PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The course has rigorous demands and is highly technical – taught in a language few of us would understand.
"What we're going to be doing is learning to calibrate that input, with that RTD, it's a temperature measurement, right?" asks an instructor leading a class.
But these dozen young men are taking control of their future, seizing an opportunity that has sprung up in their backyard.
"You know the gas and oil industry's booming around here," said Alan Crump of Bethel Park. "Figured it would be a good idea to start young."
Here at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, they're working for a two-year associates degree in electronics, hoping to land one of the many jobs with starting salaries as high as $70,000 a year.
"Easily make six figures with five years out," said Jeff Dinkel of the Pittsburgh Technical Institute.
And PTI is not alone. Community colleges and trade schools throughout the region are suddenly offering extensive gas and oil courses, trying to meet the shale gas industry's demands for homegrown workers.
"Most of the people they have working are up from Texas and Louisiana," Dinkel said. "They need local talents to match their growth, so the demand is very, very high."
While training school initially focused on developing well pad workers like roughnecks and roustabouts.
But at PTI, they're training instrumentation and control techs for gas processing end of operations.
"This job is more using your brain from the neck up, than from the neck down," said Mitchell Coopersmith of Gettysburg. "That's what I like."
KDKA's Kym Gable reports:
And the industry says its need for a homegrown workforce will remain high for the foreseeable future.
"I think the sky's the limit," said David Spigelmyer of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. "And I'm proud to be part of an industry that's producing affordable energy, putting Pennsylvanians to work."
None of these students are guaranteed a job when they finish this course, but if they master the material, they will be in high demand as will the others who come after them.
So then, is energy the new steel?
A group of panelists came together Tuesday night to address that question at Pittsburgh's first Energy Forum.
The symposium was held at the Heinz History Center. It was hosted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and presented by Chevron. The focus was on how the oil and gas industry is transforming the local economy.
Dr. Karen Clay of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University told KDKA's Kym Gable the local job market is benefiting from the number of programs and courses that teaches students the advanced skills they need to work in the field.
"Lots of new courses that are bringing students up to speed on what's happening with Marcellus," she said. "Now, they're all completely energized. More importantly, they want to stay in the region, which I think is great for the region."
Dr. Patrick Gerity developed ShaleNET in 2010 through a $5 million grant from the Department of Labor.
It's a nationally recognized jobs program for the oil and gas industry.
"You know, there's always (been) the complaint about a work ethic in Pittsburgh, and they were totally wrong," said Gerity. "It was skills. A skills gap. The people we've been training have tremendous work ethics and have done an excellent job."
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