When Royal Dutch Shell’s ethane cracker plant opens in the early 2020s, so will about 600 permanent cracker plant jobs required to operate the $6 billion complex in Beaver County.

Former Army National Guard combat engineer Michael Deal will be vying for one of them.

Deal, 51, of Beaver Falls joined several dozen veterans from across Western Pennsylvania Thursday morning at an event targeting former military members interested in working at the plant, which is estimated to create about 6,000 construction jobs.

“I thought it was very smart actually to give people time to meet the qualifications they would need to be able to apply and qualify for positions in the future cracker plant Shell is building,” Deal, a maintenance worker who served eight years in the Army, said shortly after the event at Community College of Beaver County’s main campus in Center Township. “I’m going to utilize that time we’re given to continue some educational objectives and pad my resume a little bit more before I apply.”

The six-hour program, modeled after similar ones Shell has held in Texas and Louisiana, aimed to attract military talent to the industry. Recuriters especially urged women and minority veterans to apply and seek out scholarship options as Shell strives to cultivate a more diverse workforce.

Veterans have a slew of transferable skills and “bring discipline, a really strong safety mindset and technical acumen,” said David Esquibel, a workforce development specialist for Shell based in Houston who spoke at the event.

“This is an opportunity for us to plant a seed for the future of our technical talent harvest,” he said.

Once operational in 2020-21, the petrochemical plant along the Ohio River in Potter Township will convert — or “crack” under high heat — ethane liquids from Marcellus shale wells into ethylene and polyethylene, the building blocks of plastics. The complex will include a polyethylene derivatives unit and is expected to attract manufacturers interested in using its products.

“The misconception is you can just walk off the street and get one of these jobs,” CCBC spokesman Scot Rutledge said.

“These are very technical jobs,” echoed Esquibel. “In the past, people would be hired for these jobs for their brawn. Now, they’re hired for their brain.”

Certificates and two- or four-year degrees will be mandatory for most long-term positions, including roles in engineering, maintenance and process technology — operators “involved with the setup and monitoring quality and productivity of these automated plant processes,” said John Goberish, dean of workforce and continuing education at CCBC.

The community college offers a two-year degree in process technology at a cost of about $14,000 for Beaver County residents, including tuition and fees, and closer to $21,000 for Pennsylvania residents in other counties.

The median wage for a process technician is about $67,000, according to Goberish. With experience, the rate climbs to closer to $90,000, “and with overtime you’re making six figures,” he added.

“It’s an associate degree right into a job,” Goberish said. He cited a recent CCBC grad who landed a local process technician position starting at $65,000.

On Thursday night, CCBC held a career expo for the broader public aimed at construction, trade and manufacturing jobs related to the cracker plant.

Construction is underway and hiring will ramp up early next year for positions including bricklayers, boilermakers, carpenters, electricians, welders, installers, ironworkers, pipefitters, steamfitters and general laborers.

“I think it’s a great start to really bring back a community that’s been needing something like Shell’s bringing in,” Deal said. “It’s going to really help elevate the game here in the Monaca area.”

Job-seekers who obtain technical training for the operations side will be in demand not only at Shell’s plant, but also related companies such as NOVA Chemicals, FirstEnergy and BASF.

Shell military recruiter Dylan Raymond’s advice for prospective applicants: “Find out what’s needed, find out where you’re at, determine your gaps and then work on filling those gaps so you can be ready once the doors open.”

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
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