Metro College certifies students in shale

The Shale Exploration Certification program, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Energize Appalachian Ohio grant, will wrap up on Friday, preparing 15 Youngstown State University Metro College students to work on a hydraulic fracturing rig.

Steve Barnett, chief operating officer for Retrain America, said the students will finish the 80-hour course with CPR certification, along with a comprehensive understanding of drilling a well.

“The goal is to get these people to move up the ranks fast in real career advancement and not just job opportunities,” Barnett said.

After completing the course, students can find entry-level positions as truck drivers and roustabouts, or multifaceted manual laborers. Barnett said there is also room for advancement to managerial positions.

Brian Armour, the program’s instructor, has been working in the industry for more than 30 years.

“It’s about safety art and introductory use control,” Armour said. “It serves primarily as a prerequisite for entry-level positions in the oil industry.”

Students are learning about various parts of a rig and how each part works in the drilling process. Armour also teaches students about which types of equipment are most cost-efficient.

Ronald Chordas, director of the YSU Metro College in Boardman, said the program has been successful thus far. He said the same program was adapted from Zane State College in southeastern Ohio, where 50 percent of participants successfully obtained jobs. The program was designed for well completions and servicing, gas and liquids processing, and gas compression and distribution.

“Chances are, they will find a job if they are willing to relocate,” Chordas said. However, Barnett said this industry is still on its way to Ohio.

“Pennsylvania is very well positioned, with about 150 operating rigs. Ohio is still developing, with 20 rigs right now,” Barnett said. “But it’s important to be ready and lay the groundwork ahead of time.”

Dan Durfee, project director of Energize Appalachian Ohio, said the grant provides assistance to individuals working in a job where they need to improve themselves and their skill level. It targets unemployed, dislocated or incumbent workers.Durfee said a similar program is expanding to the Eastern Gateway Community College’s Steubenville campus.

Michael Lorms, special projects coordinator for EGCC, said students will also learn about the culture behind drilling oil.

“They have to understand the intensive nature, safety focus and long hours away from home,” Lorms said. “It is not a standard workplace, and a lot of people come in with a preconceived Hollywood notion. Some shifts include seven to 14 days on with a few days off.”

Lorms said ShaleNET, a coalition of colleges that focuses on industry education, and EGCC’s curriculum include a heavy equipment orientation, where students will learn about the environmental remediation of the site and how to drive a forklift. “We also train for construction because even though four to five people are actually working at a well site, 200 individuals support a singe well,” Lorms said.

Barnett said a four-year degree is essential for some engineering positions, but most entry-level jobs don’t require one.

Richard Johnson, 24, said he had been pursuing a business management degree at YSU when he decided to try the Shale Exploration Certification program. Despite an unfinished degree, Johnson said he felt the benefits in the oil and gas industry outweighed continuing in business.

“This came along, and it was just more for me,” he said. “There aren’t too many businesses that you can start out making $60,000 a year. I could always go back for business, but this is happening now.”

Zach Landgraff, another student enrolled in the certification class, said he was eager to give the class a shot. Landgraff, 20, is looking forward to a hands-on learning experience.

“It’s going to be hard work, but it’s worth it,” he said. “There is a great starting pay for lower positions. There’s just not much else around here, and if this is coming here, I’m glad to be one of the first people employers look at.”