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PITTSBURGH—With a simple graduation ceremony this week, a class of 10 students has completed a free three-week course at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) that could open up careers paying $80,000 a year in the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.
The roustabout training course is a non-credit program providing theory and hands-on education in the physically demanding work of setting up and maintaining oil and natural gas well sites. CCAC’s initial cohort received the training free of charge, but there may be a charge for any future cohorts.
“We began with an applicant pool of 130,” said Judy Savolskis, CCAC interim vice president for workforce development. “But the selection process was extremely rigorous. These jobs can potentially be quite dangerous, so candidates must pass background checks, drug checks and placement exams for critical math and reading skills that will keep the worksite as safe as possible.”
Most of the course took place at CCAC–West Hills Center in Oakdale, although one week of hands-on education occurred at a site set up by Westmoreland County Community College. Students were bused to Westmoreland County for that training. In addition, a representative of Chesapeake Energy provided an industry overview and a tour of a well site at the start of the class.
A job fair near the close of the program introduced students to companies that are interested in hiring people with their newly developed skills.
Roustabouts earn an average of $28,000 per year, although workers with training and experience can earn as much as $80,000 per year or more.
“The roustabout training program is part of CCAC’s comprehensive response to the growth of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry in Pennsylvania,” said Charles Blocksidge, executive director of the CCAC–Allegheny County Workforce Alliance. “CCAC wants to prepare entry-level workers and to assist those entry-level workers in their move up career ladders. We can also prepare people to take advantage of emerging jobs throughout the industry.”
The college has identified 11 existing associate’s degrees and 10 credit certificate programs that align with natural gas industry workforce needs. Some programs, like welding and emergency first responder, have been adapted to incorporate skills and situations specific to the field.
Other programs, like the roustabout training, are new. A new credit certificate in bio-remediation will prepare students for a new field treating wastewater from drilling sites with biofilms. The process has been developed at the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute and is being adapted for commercial use by Frac Biologics, which is partnering with CCAC in the certificate program.
“CCAC’s mission has always included preparing individuals for the careers available in our region’s economy,” said CCAC President Alex Johnson. “Our aim with the Marcellus Shale is to help ensure that people have the skills to take advantage of these emerging jobs as they are created.”
The Community College of Allegheny County is the largest institution of postsecondary higher education in Pennsylvania. The college serves 30,000 credit students through 170 degree and certificate programs and offers thousands of lifelong learning non-credit and workforce development courses to 35,000 students annually. Incorporating a learning-centered environment committed to the future of the region, CCAC continues to expand its reach through innovative programming and accessible instruction offered via convenient day, evening, weekend and online courses. With four campuses and six centers serving Allegheny County and surrounding communities, CCAC endeavors to fulfill its mission to provide affordable access to quality education and offer a dynamic, diverse and supportive learning environment that prepares the region’s residents for academic, professional and personal success in our changing global society.