In 2010, Patrick Gerity, vice president for continuing education, workforce and community development at Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC), and Byron Kohut, director for the Western Hub ShaleNET at WCCC, were successful in receiving a $4.964M grant from the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. The result of that grant was the creation of ShaleNET, a workforce and continuing education program to address recruitment, training, placement, and retention for high priority occupations in the natural gas and oil drilling and production industry.
ShaleNET has four major partners that developed the ShaleNET training program: WCCC, Pennsylvania College of Technology, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the PIOGA (Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association).
"We've been running the program in PA, OH, WV and NY for the past three years and we have trained over 3,000 students," says Gerity.
Now, Gerity and Kohut are working with the original ShaleNET partners, plus two new partners — Navarro College (TX) and Stark State College (OH) on a second $15M grant that expands the program to offer Certificate Associate degrees.
One key offering is the Petroleum and Industrial Process Operations Technology (PIPOT) program, which addresses four skilled jobs in the natural gas and oil industry – measurement, instrumentation, controls and electronics. Another offering is the Mechatronics System program, which is more tailored to the manufacturing process.
What's more, WCCC is in the final five months of construction for a new 72,000-square-foot Advanced Technology Center at the former Sony Technology Center in Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, PA. According to Gerity, the technology center and the technology programs create a pipeline to good jobs.
Gerity and Kohut work on a daily basis with the gas, oil and manufacturing industry regionally and nationally to provide the curriculum and help determine the need. "The curriculum we have developed has been vetted by the industry," says Gerity. "We want to make sure that we are preparing our student for the jobs that these companies have; we want them to hire our graduates."
Over the last three years, WCCC has built a valuable, regional network in the energy industry.
"We also work with the industry by providing a forum for the gas and oil industry to address the community," adds Kohut. "We have meetings every quarter and an annual forum that gives stage to the gas industry. The audience is other industry, government officials, higher education and community members. It's an opportunity to talk about the technical needs of the industry."
At a recent meeting, an energy rep superintendent told Kohut that WCCC's program is forging relationships with industry at an unprecedented rate. "We have the tech workforce that they need to hire," Kohut says. "The role of community college is to provide rapid response for entry-level, good paying jobs based on Certificate and Associate degrees."
The goal of WCCC and ShaleNET to link talent to opportunities has a positive impact on the region.
"There is a talent shortage here," Gerity concludes. "And we want to build capacity to meet those needs. We are on a ground floor level, but as companies move in to the region, it's our students that will leave these programs and get these jobs."