A new class at Stark State College may move your résumé to the top of the pile of applicants for oil and gas drilling rig jobs.
Carl Smith is the only person in the Stark State College floor hand class with gray hair, but it doesn’t dim his enthusiasm. His classmates are primarily in their late 20s, but the 59-year-old Lake Township man says he’s in the right place at the right time.
“I’m not ready to retire. I’m looking for a new challenge,” Smith said. “Everything I’ve seen so far says I’ve struck gold here.”
Actually, he won’t be striking gold — he’ll be striking oil and gas. The floor hand class prepares students for entry level jobs on drilling rigs. The boom in shale drilling in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia is creating job opportunities, and nearly 70 people, most unemployed, applied for the 13 slots in this preparatory class.
A TOUGH JOB
Kathleen Steere, oil and gas program coordinator for Stark State, warns applicants the job is physically demanding.
“A floor hand can also be called motor man, sometimes a roustabout, or derrick man. They are working on the drilling floor, actually drilling the wells,” said Steere, who is a petroleum engineer and geologist. “It’s one of the hardest jobs out there.”
Floor hands work a minimum of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, usually 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, in all weather conditions.
“They wear long-sleeved, fire-retardant shirts, steel-toed boots — so you can imagine what that’s like in this heat,” Steere said. “They work 365 days, so they are out there in the snow and the rain, too.”
Smith, a retired Navy man with a master’s degree, said he understands the job won’t be easy but sees it as a stepping stone in a field with a “tremendous amount of opportunities.” He was laid off by Lockheed Martin in July 2012 and wants a job “outside of the defense industry with stability and growth.”
Classmate Irtiza Naqvi, 29, also is looking for a foot in the door.
“I have a finance degree and right after college I went to the Middle East. I worked in oil and gas in Qatar. I did contracts for buying products,” said Naqvi, who recently moved from New Jersey to Canton and had been working at LensCrafters.
Naqvi hopes the floor hand class will give him an edge over other job applicants.
“In this industry, it’s about building relationships before you can move forward,” he said. “I’ve applied for jobs — one at Marathon — and hoping one of them calls me before the class ends.”
As part of the Stark State class, students earn certificates or “wallet cards” showing they can operate various pieces of heavy equipment. Instructor John Harper said these certificates move the students’ résumés to the top of the applicant pile.
Page 2 of 2 - “Coming through this (class), they’re already prescreened, having passed the drug test, the records check, and the equivalent to an OSHA-type safety class,” Harper said. “To me it elevates a person from one of a thousand applying to the top ten of that thousand. The person with experience gets picked first, but the next level is those with this class.”
Self-described tomboy Maria Gamble, the only female in the class, said she was “ready to get her hands dirty,” but worried that the men wouldn’t accept her on a drilling rig. So she was excited when Harper told the class that drilling jobs represent only 10 percent of the jobs in the industry.
“At first I wanted to be on the rig,” said Gamble, 23. “But I think I’d like to be a well (tender), where you go check on the wells to make sure they are still running and still producing.”
Harper said the class is good preparation for thousands of available jobs, from driving to surveying to maintenance at an underground gas storage facility.
“These are hidden jobs in the community that you never hear about,” Harper said. “Jobs like pumping the wells, measuring the product, keeping the pipes from corroding, where you can make a good living — $50 (thousand) to $60,000 a year.”
The oil and gas courses at Stark State are part of Shale NET programming, funded by a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Labor Employment and Training Administration. The current floor hand class was free to veterans and unemployed Ohioans, with tuition supplied by the American Natural Gas Alliance.
Stark State College has held one previous floor hand class and a welder’s helper class. Of the 18 graduates, 70 percent have been hired by oil and gas related companies including Chesapeake Energy, Precision Drilling and Stonebridge Operating Company.
Reach Saimi at 330-580-8493 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: sbergmannREP