All the news in the last couple years about the oil and natural gas potential in our region's Marcellus and Utica shale fields raises an important question: Who will be hired for the jobs this exploration and associated businesses bring to our area?
Estimates of the total number of new jobs that will be created over the next five to seven years range from 25,000 to 75,000. This is clearly great news for the Mahoning Valley, as well as the broader eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania economies.
However, whether the shale exploration results in a hugely prosperous boon to our area or only a moderate boost depends on how well prepared we are to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Industry leaders have already said that the people they will be looking to employ will have to have the skills needed in the industry, or skills that related industries such as the proposed cracker plant will demand.
Fortunately, we have numerous schools within a short drive that can and have been preparing local residents for various hands-on careers. Both the Trumbull and Mahoning County Career and Technical centers offer an impressive range of training in electronics, computer skills, building trades, machinist training, industrial applications like pipefitting and hydraulics, and welding.
In addition, they offer medical training and even culinary arts. Imagine: With a large influx of new workers here, someone with the skills and ambition to provide catering services and possibly drive-thru pickup for good food would surely be very successful.
There are other local vocational and technical schools teaching needed industrial skills as well, including ITT in Youngstown and New Castle School of Trades. You know years ago we were routinely encouraged to go to an academic college or university to earn degrees in one white-collar specialty or another, as manufacturing jobs were heading south or overseas.
But in recent decades, technology itself has eliminated some white-collar jobs, and others have been outsourced abroad. So it's not hard to see why the Utica and Marcellus shale exploration made possible by hydraulic fracturing (as well as the Bakken oil field in the upper Plains states) is such a godsend for our country.
As an aside, I have to wonder what those who protest against fracking are thinking - if they are at all. Would they rather that we remain at the mercy of terrorist-friendly states in the Middle East for our oil, and see gasoline at $8 a gallon?
I take my hat off to all the dedicated instructors at our local vocational schools who are preparing young (and not-so-young) people for secure careers in so many fields which require both classroom knowledge and hands-on experience. Parents and other mentors throughout the Mahoning Valley should encourage young people who aren't set on an academic career to pursue vocational or technical training now so they will be ready when the shale industries are hiring.
I've heard speculation that a lot of these jobs will go to folks from out of state. Actually, the fact is the drilling companies and related-industry leaders have no bias in favor of out-of-staters. What they want - what they need - are responsible, ''can-do'' employees with the training and skills necessary to help their businesses succeed.
With unemployment and underemployment as high as it is, I know many citizens in our area would like an opportunity for a better future. Well the Marcellus is staring right at us! I work for V & M Star, the steel pipe maker that recently built the new mill off Rt. 422. My question to those looking for something better is, ''Will I be making pipe for you, or an out-of-stater, to use in the industry?''
Dunlap is a Weathersfield resident.