A key initiative of the Power of 32 is to match education programs to jobs with the goal of increasing gainful employment across the region. A very successful strategy to achieve this goal is ShaleNET — launched in 2010 with a $4.964M Community Based Job Training grant awarded to Westmoreland County Community College by the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration.
According to Laura Fisher, senior vice president, workplace and special projects at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the original ShaleNET grant was focused on noncredit, pre-employment, entry level training to respond quickly to oil and natural gas industry needs. This original grant exceeded all of its benchmarks and goals. In just 26 months, ShaleNET served over 9,500 people and, with 20 recognized training providers in four states, the program has trained over 3,000 people and more than 1,650 are employed in the industry.
In October 2012, a second $15M grant was received to build capacity for the highest demand occupations in upstream, midstream, and downstream activities.
"The second federal grant expands ShaleNET to continue developing the education pipeline to help people build a long-term career," explains Fisher. "The grant is being used to align certificate and two-year degree programs in a stackable credential model that will meet many different occupational needs across all natural gas."
ShaleNET uses a hub and spoke system for delivering training. Pennsylvania College of Technology, the lead for the new $15M ShaleNET grant, and Westmoreland Community College have recently been joined by two new Hubs — Navarro College in Corsicana, TX and Stark State College in Canton, OH.
ShaleNET's success is a result of collaborative model. "We start with industry input to determine the occupational needs and then build out the capacity in our education and training community to address increasing demand across other occupations," says Fisher.
"We are really looking at where the industry demand is and then trying to align our education and training system to be able to respond quickly and effectively; and that's what we seeing happening," she adds.
ShaleNET has had a major impact on the region by training and employing people who already live here and by attracting people to the region. "We have had a lot of success in getting underemployed people and veterans into jobs," says Fisher.
"Initially, because these are a high-skilled, high demand occupations, there was talk that people would be coming from Texas and Oklahoma," recalls Fisher. "What we now see is that the vast majority of people working in the natural gas industry in our region are local. And what's also interesting is that there are people who have moved here permanently, so we are also growing our overall tax base and our skilled working population."