CHARLESTON, W.Va. — High School students looking for strong employment soon after graduation are being recruited to consider becoming a technician in the natural gas industry.
TC Energy, which has operations in 48 states including West Virginia, has partnered with Kanawha County’s BridgeValley Community and Technical College to create programs to train future gas technicians for jobs which are expected to be in high demand in the next three to five years.
Ken Haynes is one of the instructors helping craft the program. He says West Virginia is currently the sixth largest producer of natural gas in the United States. The industry said there is a market for skilled operators who can work the systems in the growing industry.
“There’s that going on and with the number of baby boomers who are retiring it has presented a unique opportunity,” Haynes explained.
According to Haynes, the current program started in 2017 and is enhanced by a robust lab at the community college campus in South Charleston. The lab simulates all systems a student would experience in the field. Instead of being pressurized by natural gas, they systems operate with compressed air. Those readings and applications which require natural gas are handled with bottled gas products under careful laboratory supervision. TC Energy was extremely impressed with the prospects offered by BridgeValley-trained graduates.
“They had been to community colleges in a number of different states and he said we were the first community college they visited where they believed we had everything they were looking for and partnering with,” said Haynes.
Haynes said the two year program will result in an associate degree for the students. During the second year, in the partnership with TC Energy, students would spend the summer doing 30 hours a week in the field. They would actually work for the company with on the job training while still attending two classes during the summer. The 60 hour degree program would include a second internship with TC Energy at the end of the second full year of class work and a strong possibility of full time employment.
The students are also able to do a large amount of the work on-line in a blended schedule. They would come to campus for lab work and would handle the one-on-one work on a case by case schedule working with the instructor to schedule the time. According to Haynes, who is one of the instructors, it creates a wider range of opportunities for those who may have jobs or issues with childcare which need to be addressed. The programs also qualify for the state’s West Virginia Invests program. Tuition can be paid by the state if the student finishes their work and stays in West Virginia for an agreed to period of time to work.
“This program is focused on gas measurement and gas regulation with the pressure in the pipeline, but TC Energy also wanted us to develop two more concentrations for them. One for a pipeline technician and one for a corrosion technician job,” Haynes explained.
All three disciplines involve similar skills, but with different emphasis on the technical needs the company currently has. Haynes expected the second two degree tracts would be in place by fall 2022.
The technician jobs typically start in the range of $45,000 to $60,000 a year.