Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labor Shortage Pittsburgh: Energy

I don't when or even if the credit crunch and falling oil prices will put a dent into Pittsburgh's labor shortage:

On a given night, workers from outside the area who are employed at Range projects occupy 400 to 500 hotel rooms just in Washington County, as there aren't enough local job seekers to satisfy demand. The average annual wage, including benefits, for jobs ranging from administrative to senior petroleum engineers, is $80,000, said Range's Pitzarella.

"The ability to build energy infrastructure is pretty limited in this country," said Michael Corradini, chairman of the Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's not just a shortage of nuclear engineers, but of all the trades involved in building, because coal plants, nuclear plants, all need pipefitters, carpenters, civil engineers." ...

... Range's Pitzarella said his company is talking with universities in the region that don't offer petroleum engineering degrees. Only Penn State and West Virginia now offer such degrees.

"We're also in discussion with a number of parties to put together a public-private cooperative partnership to provide more workers, because if we don't develop the work force here, the potential won't be recognized."

The local focus for labor development is necessary because places such as Alberta are not going to let go the talent they've worked so hard to attract. The time it takes to train enough bodies to man these projects should put graduates on the other side of the downturn. I have half a mind to enroll at the Colorado School of Mines and pave the way for my return to Pittsburgh.

A great boomerang project would be to solicit recruits for training programs in the energy sector. Westinghouse and its ilk get the necessary talent while homesick Yinzers get to return. My wife and I are both college educated and we would love to raise our two children in Pittsburgh. But the relocation logistics range from daunting to prohibitive. Just how serious is the labor shortage?

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