Monday, February 21, 2011

Burgh Energy Report: Talent Shortage

I'm seeing some indication that workers are moving to Pennsylvania for energy jobs. I'm not referring to a job-in-hand migration. More like a "let's go to Pittsburgh and see what happens":

At Penn College, students can take a three-week training course and become certified "roustabouts" -- laborers who work near drilling sites. They often work 14 days in a row and then have seven days off. They start out making between $15 and $20 an hour.

Almost all of the students in that program come from Pennsylvania, but there are exceptions.

"I had two graduates in one of the three-week courses that we did, they were from Las Vegas," said Penn College instructor John Harper. "They had lost their jobs. ... And they heard about this and came in here. They went to work the day they graduated."

I'd like to know how the course graduates from Las Vegas heard about the program. I'd call it a pioneer migration, a pathway once forged that will act as a pipeline of talent desperate for work. That's a watershed moment for the energy industry in Pennsylvania and Greater Pittsburgh, a metro that more closely resembles Calgary with each passing week:

Among the Cranberry-area Marcellus Shale players are Exco-North Coast Energy, a division of Texas-based Exco Resources. In 2009, Exco-North Coast Energy signed a seven-year lease on space in an RIDC Thorn Hill Industrial Park building that formerly housed Fore Systems Inc. and Marconi Corp.

Canadian-based Talisman Energy recently established a regional office in the Pennwood Commons development and announced plans to employ 125 people.

Shell also has a local presence, thanks to its 2010 acquisition of Warrendale-based East Resources.

“This area is the heart of the Marcellus Shale,” said Susan Balla, executive director of The Chamber, which serves the northern Pittsburgh, northern Allegheny County and Cranberry business corridors. “That’s why we’re seeing these companies establishing a presence here.”

Pittsburgh is strategically located to serve business center for the interstate energy boom, which also concerns nuclear and coal. There are going to be a lot more employment opportunities than the local universities and community colleges can staff. Eventually, the unconventional gas supply is going to gain access to the global market. The quest for talent will also scale up, going worldwide:

The ability to source skilled labour, wherever it may be, is crucial in the oil and gas industry, which has faced intermittent labour shortages in recent years.

However, with a widespread requirement for specialist skills, sometimes difficult to source within the [European Economic Area (EEA)], it is vital to the health of the sector and the wider UK economy that immigration law take these challenges into account.

Part of this challenge is to ensure employers have sufficient flexibility to engage skilled non-EEA personnel when the need arises and without undue cost or delay. But in what some observers see as an attempt to appease the tabloid media, the Government has been accused of being more concerned about cutting net migration than safeguarding access to specialist skills.

Energy markets are volatile and difficult to predict. In response to the unexpected swings, talent most be geographically mobile. There will be times when labor must leave Pennsylvania, perhaps fueling the shale gas boom in Poland. Pittsburgh will be a major player in that talent market, which in turn will result in new talent pathways to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

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