A growing number of high school students are looking into the programs offered by their local technical schools and career centers to meet a dramatic shift in the job market. As industry expands in northeast Pennsylvania, so too does the need for skilled laborers and specialists in mechanical fields. Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) funds are providing incentives for businesses to invest in tech school students to help offset their costs for supplies and certifications.
West Side Career and Technology Center (WSCTC) was a recent recipient of a $15,000 grant from Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. Administrators and students there are grateful for the gift, which can be used in any of the school’s 15 programs. According to WSCTC Assistant Director Richard Rava, that can include tuition, the purchase of uniforms or steel-toed boots and paying for testing supplies and OSHA certifications.
“The students generally shoulder these costs,” Rava explained. “We’re very fortunate to have Cabot back at the table.”
This year, Cabot will more than double the number of trade schools that will be direct recipients of its funding. Cabot representatives are also working closely with the schools to match curriculum to the growing need for specialized workers as the natural gas industry enters an exciting new phase.
Lawmakers are providing incentives to draw major corporations to Luzerne and other counties that have both generous industrial acreage and an ambitious workforce comprised of young tradespeople and specialists. Exposing more youths and young adults to a burgeoning new field of industry in northeast Pennsylvania is critical.
“Supporting these students and those programs is critical to making sure that the workforce keeps up with the needs,” said State Representative Aaron Kaufer, an alumnus of WSCTC. Trade schools like the one in Kingston are “training the workforce of today and tomorrow to make them productive members of society,” he related.
“What’s happening up there is spreading through the area,” said Kaufer. “It’s important to know what’s on the horizon and to be ready to turn the page.” The long-term relationship between the gas companies and technical schools, he continued, provides a direct benefit to local students who can work in Susquehanna County or elsewhere across the state.
Conversely, HB-1104 is crucial to providing family-sustaining jobs for those who want to stay in Luzerne County. The next phase in natural gas production is the manufacturing of value-added products like fertilizers and methanol, and Energize PA legislation will attract major corporations to Luzerne County to build new plants for those enterprises, Kaufer maintained.
“We’re excited for the jobs that are ahead, and we are making sure we have the workforce for this next step in natural gas production in northeast Pennsylvania,” he stated. “These are opportunities that are truly transformational.” Luzerne County is poised to become a hub for the petro-chemical industry, said Kaufer. “Pennsylvania is ready and open for businesses to responsibly expand our natural gas production – things we might not have done so well with coal.”
Wyoming Valley West senior Mykenna Dekin attends WSCTC to study law enforcement, hoping to become an expert in criminal justice and forensics. Funding from Cabot helped to pay for her uniform. Fellow WVW senior Nate Kapalka is enrolled in the HVAC course at WSCTC and hopes it leads to a job in the oil fields, where several of his cousins are already earning solid wages. “I want to be sure that I always have a steady job,” Nate remarked. “I’ve learned here that you have to work hard to make good money.”
“The natural gas industry has opened up a number of pathways for our students to go down – pathways that we didn’t have before,” Rava noted. “We have 15 different programs here, and a number of them lead to future occupation in the natural gas industry.”
“These jobs are here to stay,” Kaufer said of opportunities for students graduating from trades-oriented schools, adding that EITC contributions are a direct investment in the future. “It’s no longer our generation,” he stated. “It’s their generation.”