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The Suburbanite
  • Colleges prepare students for new jobs in oil and gas

  • Colleges in the Tuscarawas Valley and southeastern Ohio are set to prepare students for the full force of the oil and gas boom.

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  • ed: 12:57 p.m. vv
    For years, Ohioans have been waiting for the full force of the oil and gas boom while they watched as exploration of the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations took off in Pennsylvania. In preparation, area colleges and universities have started offering new programs, changing operations so their students could join the burgeoning workforce.
    “I think it’s getting close,” said Mike Whitson, dean of Zane State College’s Cambridge campus.
    Two years ago, Zane State introduced the Natural Gas Engineering Technology Associate’s program to its students. It’s a growing program for the college, which boasts an enrollment of 3,000 students.
    “We are graduating our first class,” Whitson said. “We’re graduating 10. We had two who dropped out because they got jobs before they graduated.”
    With a two-year degree, Whitson said the program is more broad-based and aimed at helping students find jobs quickly upon graduation. Twenty new students have signed up for an upcoming class, and Whitson said he hopes to see that number continue to double.
    The boom has brought with it new trends, Whitson added. For example, one of the students is 59 years old, and women represent 20 percent of the graduating class.
    He said the courses cover basic education as well as chemistry, geology, basic electrical and an introduction to oil and gas. Then students are required to do an internship and gain field experience before delving deeper into oil and gas.
    “I think a lot of the companies are looking for people who have been introduced and have a fundamental knowledge of what the industry is, and they take these people with the fundamental knowledge and they give them the additional training they need to be more specialized,” he said.
    And while Whitson said he believes drilling will begin in the near future — and bring numerous jobs with it — many of his students already have jobs waiting for them upon graduation.
    Two of his students already have left the program early because they secured positions at the Halliburton plant located in Zanesville.
    OTHER ENERGY FORMS
    Even though the school offers classes specifically geared toward oil and gas, Whitson said there’s an increased interest in other programs as well. He said alternative energy and environmental issues are part of the school’s emphasis. Zane State received a $2.9 million energy grant in 2011, which focused on oil, as well as solar, wind and geothermal energy.
    “We want to see the country taking advantage of natural resources to lessen foreign dependence,” he said. “However, we do believe with oil and gas that stewardship of the environment is critical.”
    Currently, Whitson sees a trend toward natural gas fleets, such as buses, but also hopes to see more trends in solar and wind energy.
    Page 2 of 3 - Whitson said students in the 60 programs available have shown an interest in energy fields either by joining welding fields for pipefitting or in environmental fields, such as parks and recreational facilities.
    He cautions those who may show an interest in the field simply for the earning potential. He said entry level salaries can begin around $70,000 and go as high as six figures.
    “They make fantastic money but they absolutely earn it,” he said.
    Graduates also may have to relocate in order to find work.
    “For a lot of different reasons, sometimes graduates are reluctant to leave the area,” Whitson said. “Some are for family reasons. That’s a challenge for some of them, recognizing to get the jobs they may need to leave the area for a while and hopefully come back in a couple years.”
    SUPERVISORS, MANAGERS NEEDED
    While Zane State focuses on preparing students for the oil and gas industry, Kent State Tuscarawas is focused on identifying the existing needs in the area.
    William Beisel, director of business and community services at Kent State Tuscarawas, said his office is focused on training for individuals in supervisory and managerial positions.
    “There’s existing needs with these people,” he said. “They’re coming in from all over the country.”
    He said the university has partnered with community outreach and education with the Tuscarawas County Oil and Gas Alliance, also known as TOGA. “We would provide customized training in the area of management and supervision for oil and gas companies — for people already in the industry, team leaders, supervisors and managers,” he said.
    As far as entry level positions, Beisel said his office works with The Employment Source of Stark and Tuscarawas counties to prepare the workforce.
    “The university is just getting started on trajectory for oil and gas industries,” Beisel said.
    Marietta College, on the other hand, has had a petroleum engineering department since 1950. Known for its graduates in the oil and gas field, the program has become so competitive in the past few years that applicants are being turned away, said Associate Professor David Freeman.
     “In the early ’80s there was a large enrollment boom like we’re experiencing now. Currently, we have over 300 petroleum engineering students and geology students on top of that,” Freeman said.
    He said his courses are intensely focused on oil and gas, however there’s an opportunity to learn about alternative energy. The college offers four-year degrees, which translate into varying jobs in engineering and geology.
    He said the concern is that the education is so focused it may be hard to switch careers in an economic downturn.
    On the other hand, “It’s an exciting industry with unbelievable opportunities for students right out of school. They have the ability to work worldwide very early in their career,” he said. “As far as entry level salaries, it’s not uncommon for those salaries to be six figures.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Reach Meghan at 330-364-8419 or meghan.millea@timesreporter.com
    On Twitter: @mmilleaTR