BOARDMAN - Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396 held 13,500 hours of training last year to prepare skilled trades workers, and it still wasn't enough to meet the growing demand from area shale gas development.
That's why the union is seeking grant dollars and meeting with energy companies to find out exactly what it needs to do to win jobs for local residents, officials told member contractors Thursday at the union hall in Boardman.
"The number one thing is training," said Marty Loney, director of the unions PIPE training program. "We already do the basic skills, but the final skills are what we need to work on."
Rep. Johnson meets with pipefitter and plumber union members.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, told the group of about 25 contractors and union officials that efforts are being made to connect colleges and technical schools to meet employer needs.
"This is an example of where labor, government and management need to come together and come up with solutions to move the ball forward."
The demand for pipefitters, welders, carpenters and other skilled trades workers came into sharper focus this week with two major projects - Chesapeake Energy's $900 million natural gas processing plant in Columbiana County and Shell Oil Co.'s $2.7 billion gas cracker plant in nearby Monaca, Pa.
Local 396 may benefit indirectly from the cracker plant, with new jobs expected from plastic producing plants that may be built in Ohio that use gas byproducts from the Shell plant to make plastic products.
The Chesapeake plant offers numerous direct construction jobs, along with pipeline work to distribute natural gas.
A concern is that local workers aren't trained in some of the special skills needed for the new industry, leaving forcing companies to bring in experienced, but often nonunion, workers from energy states such as Texas and Oklahoma.
By the Numbers:
Natural Gas Refinery
Estimated cost to build proposed Shell Oil Co. plant in Western Pa.
Number of construction jobs that could be created under the proposal
Estimated amount of private investment that could be attracted by this plant
Amount Shell Oil Co. paid in 2010 for drilling rights in the region
Number of acres on which Shell owns drilling rights in the region
Number of wells drilled into Marcellus Shale region in the past five years
One skill local welders need training for is downhill welding. The process, which is used to assemble pipelines, provides faster welding but requires a different technique, officials said.
Even more jobs are expected as natural gas drillers move more heavily into the Mahoning Valley. Plumbers Business Manager Roland "Butch" Taylor said he doesn't know when job demand will hit full stride, but he said the union plans to be ready.
"We're trying to be proactive," he said. "We have to aggressively go after the work."
The union already has applied for a $65,000 training grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission focusing on downhill welding. The grant is in Washington and should be determined in the next two months, Loney said.
The union's latest five-year apprenticeship program garnered 144 applications, a number that will be whittled down, officials said. Those who make the cut will go right to work, although that program provides traditional training, they added.
The union also is pushing its PIPE program, which stands for Piping Industry Progress and Education as a way to produce trained workers.
Taylor said the large wave of shale industry hiring hasn't started yet, but the union wants to be ready when it does arrive.
Don Crane, president of the 6,000 member Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, said "it's a huge concern" that energy companies may bring in their own workers at the expense of local workers.
"We very much want to be a partner," he said.
William Cornell, general manager of industrial operations for mechanical contractor McCarl's Inc. of Beaver Falls and an employer signed on with Local 396, said putting the right blend of journeymen and apprentice workers on a team can help keep costs down.
A regular contractor with General Motors Co. Lordstown Complex, RG Steel in Warren and many other Mahoning Valley factories, Cornell said McCarl's is in "competition every day" to win jobs.
He said the company, which has averages about 700 workers, sees a potential 20 percent to 30 percent gain in revenue and jobs with the shale gas boom.
Union officials will join companies, educators, trainers and elected officials at an energy Networking Forum scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday at the Bistro Restaurant in the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center in Canfield.
In Youngstown Thursday evening, the Ohio Contractors Association held a meeting and a number of those in attendance said they already have seen the Shale industry's impact.
''We're super busy right now, and it's because of all the oil and gas stuff going on,'' said Marty Suarez of Con-Agg Logistics of Canton. ''We just had our best February ever.''