Companies seek industrial technology graduates for processing and maintenance jobs across oil and gas industry

09.08.2015 | By Jeannie Peng-Armao

PASADENA, Texas – What is happening with oil and gas prices and employment on the upstream side of the industry means a very different situation for those working downstream. The industry may have made headlines in recent months but companies continue to experience a workforce shortage.

"Technicians and operators are in short supply today," said Dan Odle, commercial development director for Monument Chemical and Houston Chemical Association's Board of Directors vice president. "It's been this way for several years, and there doesn't appear to be any relief of this in the near future." 

Shaquille Anderson of Liberty, Texas, is about to start his paid internship with Chevron Phillips, following his recent graduation from the San Jacinto College process technology program and several interviews and job offers from other refineries. He will work as a process technician intern for three months, shadowing operators on the job before his evaluation to become hired as an employee.

"What is happening on the upstream side doesn't really affect what I'll be doing," said Anderson. "There's a big demand for new people, like myself, to enter the workforce."

As oil prices decline, the petrochemical industry benefits from the low prices of raw materials. Odle also noted that expansions and projects that are underway will continue, and that means a greater need for a robust workforce. The East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA) reports that industry has more than $40 billion in projects in the works across the region but is facing the reality of more than 50 percent of its current employee base approaching retirement over the next few years. In fact, just six months ago, Anderson's uncle retired from his job as a Chevron Phillips operator. 

In looking for workforce recruits, representatives from Konecranes recently visited San Jacinto College to interview students training in the electrical, nondestructive testing, welding, and instrumentation programs. The company specializes in the repair of electric overhead cranes, which can require vast knowledge of a variety of craft trades. More than half of the company's business is conducted within the petrochemical industry. 

"We will look at a technician to see if there is a need at one of our locations for whichever program they graduated from, but they have to be willing to learn the rest of the craft for what is needed," said James Terry, Konecranes project manager and a San Jacinto College graduate and former adjunct professor. Technicians can start working for the company at the $22-$24 per hour range. "Any technicians who understand welding and electrical have an advantage. We're seeing more cranes automated or semiautomated, so someone with PLC (programmable logic controller) and electronics training could find a place for work with us as well."

Terry noted that during his 15 plus years with the company, he has never experienced any layoffs. 

"When layoffs happen in certain areas of the industry, it's felt very little in our work," said Terry. "Besides the refineries, we also have our employees working in the manufacturing plants, automotive, machine shops, paper mills, and steel mills. Houston is our largest overhead crane service branch in the world."

Frank White, Konecranes district manager for the Rio Grande, said that throughout his 20 years working in the industry he's never been able to completely fill all of the positions that are available. 

"Working on overhead cranes is not something people think of when thinking about a career," said White. "We're a supporting company to industries like petrochemical, automotive, manufacturing – wherever product is being moved. I need about 25 people working in the field, and I need 15 people immediately. People just don't know about these jobs."

About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

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