By Leah Kennelly
Summary of January 18, 2017
Town Hall Meeting
with PA Auditor General
A panel discussion with the Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was held on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at the Penn State Beaver Campus focusing on the Cracker Plant Workforce Development. Including the Auditor General, members of the panel included:
- Rick Okraszewski: Training Director at the Carpenters Joint Training Fund
- Steve Columbus: Administrative Manager at Western PA Operating Engineers
- Jason Fincke: Executive Director at the Builders Guild of Western PA, Inc.
- Jill Valentine: Education Program Associate – Continuing Education at Penn State University
- John Goberish: Dean of Workforce and Continuing Education at Community College of Beaver County
- Jack Manning: Executive Director and President of Beaver County Chamber of Commerce
The Pennsylvania Auditor General’s focus is to audit the workforce within the state to ensure that as jobs are created within the state, the positions are filled by Pennsylvania residents. For this to be achieved, however, the residents must have the needed skill set to fill the positions. With the construction of the Shell Chemical ethane cracker plant in Potter Township to launch in January 2018, as many as 6,000 workers could be needed. The focus of the panel discussion was to understand the current programs available to ensure that Pennsylvanians will have opportunities in the upcoming job market.
Many opportunities exist for PA residents to receive the training needed to be considered for the upcoming construction and plant jobs. Local trade unions, the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC), and Penn State’s Department of Continuing Education all have programs in place to train Pennsylvania residents. CCBC is offering a two-year process technology degree to train individuals to become operators in the new Shell ethane cracker plant and well as at other local chemical manufacturers. Penn State Beaver offers a wide variety of courses including Supply Chain Management and Project Management Program for those working in industry to earn certifications and become more marketable. The Builders Guild represents all 16 building trades and has a free apprentice program that is paid for by the union. They have an annual operating budget of $30 million! The program requires 3-5 years to complete, but includes on the site job training. The Operating Engineers have two programs, each 4 years, that focus on training individuals to operate heavy equipment in the building, highway, energy and demolishing industries. They receive 800 applications for 60 available positions and train 200 apprentices at a time. The Carpenter Joint Training Fund focuses on pile drivers, highway construction, millwrights, and building construction and have over 1500 apprentices.
The Auditor General began the discussion regarding grant money. He questioned if the various educational organizations have applied to state and federal grants, and if so how was the process? Most of the unions have received grant money from the US Department of Labor, the National Science Foundation, and the PA Department of Labor, and did not have any issues regarding the process. The only issue presented is that the state grants are available through different agencies, and it would be easier if they were all associated with one state agency. The grant money received does not directly support the apprentice programs, but has been used to purchase training equipment and improve the training facilities. Most of the apprentice programs are paid directly by the union.
The requirements to enter the apprentice programs was also reviewed. Requirements for the candidates may vary slightly, but typically are that they must be 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED, pass a drug test, have a valid driver’s license, and have access to a vehicle. In the midst of a national drug epidemic, the Auditor General questioned the difficulty of candidates passing the drug-free criteria. Most trade union representatives indicated that it is not a significant problem because those with drug issues do not seem to apply for the program. The bigger issues, however, is having a valid driver’s license and access to a vehicle. The need for transportation affects each community differently. Mayor Walker from Aliquippa indicated his concern that his community will miss valuable training and job opportunities because many in his community do not have access to transportation. He called for a re-examination of revoked driver’s licenses and a return of more ‘Bread and Butter’ licenses that remove driving restrictions for work purposes.
The significance of the opportunities that lie ahead are that the jobs that will be created will have salaries of $40,000 – $60,000 a year, which are family-sustaining jobs. It is a real opportunity for growth in the county.
But what happens to all of the trained residents once construction of the massive plant is complete? It is believed that new construction of facilities that support the chemical industry will develop in coming years, and therefore keep the workforce employed in the region.