Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic Program Prepares Future Workforce
Philadelphia is undergoing a revolution powered by the U.S. energy renaissance, and experts say the City of Brotherly Love has the potential to be the next big energy hub if it gets the highly-skilled labor needed in the natural gas distribution industry.
To meet the market demand, Community College of Philadelphia joined a Philadelphia-region consortium to offer training to prepare students to work in Pennsylvania’s growing natural gas sector. The inaugural class of nine graduates from the College’s Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic Training Program graduated this Spring. Students learned how to perform tasks needed to install and maintain pipelines for natural gas distribution systems, which provide natural gas service to residential, commercial and industrial customers.
The 11-week program includes 140 classroom hours, and 50 hours for Operator Qualification (OQ) from the Northeast Gas Association. The OQ is the national credential required by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety to establish a verifiable and qualified workforce.
According to T. Mark Andraka, senior engineer for PECO Energy Company, the need to replace old gas pipe infrastructure is not just a Southeastern Pennsylvania issue, but a nationwide issue. Most of the pipelines are made of cast iron and need to be updated to plastic materials, he said.
“There are many opportunities out there. This is more than a job; it’s a career. You have the Marcellus Shale and the natural gas industry, and then you have so many options concentrated here in this area,” said Andraka.
Industry professionals developed this new training initiative for the area citing statistics from the state Department of Labor and Industry, which said potential growth could add more than 600 jobs to the region.
“Through this program, it allowed me to work hand-in-hand with top contractors in the field and tour the job site for recruitment purposes,” said Trevor Mackins, a graduate of the College’s Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic Training Program. “This training put me on a good path to a better paying career and higher level of employment that brings jobs to the city and the region.”
Before enrolling in the program, Mackins was an electrical contractor and worked as foreman in construction both on the residential and commercial side.
“I was ready for a change since I’ve been in construction since the age of 12. This program at the College really prepared me for the future. There are 30, 40, 50 years of old infrastructure, and new gas lines need to be installed, so this is definitely a career for me,” he said.
The class demonstrated the College’s level of commitment to local employers, according to Dr. Donald Guy Generals, president of the College.
“This graduating class is like the maiden voyager and we hope to even develop this program more over the next couple of years,” he said. “We have the support from our industry partners and the city. It’s projected that Southeastern Pennsylvania is definitely in need of skilled labor in this field.”
Community College of Philadelphia’s Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic Training program was created by the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce & Economic Development in partnership with PECO and other industry counterparts to bolster the local gas distribution mechanic workforce. The consortium also includes Bucks County Community College, Camden County College, Montgomery County Community College and Drexel University. Curriculum for the program was developed through a coordinated effort led by the Consortium and PECO, and is supported by Philadelphia Gas Works, Henkels & McCoy and Utility Line Services.
“The demand for this kind of qualified labor is increasing and we are excited that our program has really taken off, and that the first class has completed the program. Our goal at the College is to train these students in the natural gas industry and prepare them for entry-level employment,” said Carol de Fries, vice president for Workforce and Economic Innovation at Community College of Philadelphia.