Help wanted! The natural gas revival creates demand for skilled workers

Millions of Americans are looking for work in these difficult economic times, so news of a labor shortage might come off as a bit of a paradox.

But that’s the reality for parts of America’s robust manufacturing sector, where the shale gas boom has created huge demand for workers, but, in some cases, not enough qualified men and women to fill the jobs.

The need to foster a new manufacturing workforce

For example, the Louisiana chemical industry projects it will need at least 34,000 highly-skilled and well-paid workers to construct new manufacturing plants scheduled for completion in 2016, according to ACC President and CEO Cal Dooley, who spoke recently at an Aspen Institute forum on energy and jobs:

These are welders and pipefitters that they need and they’re not available right now.  So there is a really pressing need, which I think government has a role to play, to help train and develop the skills that are needed . . . . There is just a tremendous growing demand for some of these trades people and these jobs are paying quite well.

Aspen attendees agreed that developing and training a new manufacturing workforce will be paramount to keeping pace with the forecast for growth in the manufacturing sector in the coming years and even decades.

“We’re already seeing a real resurgence in manufacturing in the United States and we’re confident that this will occur in the next decade,” Dooley added.

Chemical industry leading U.S. manufacturing resurgence

Nova Chemicals CEO Randy Woelfel delivered a similarly robust forecast for the chemical industry last week.

Hailing the advantages of natural gas at an industry event in Dubai, Woelfel emphasized the advantages of low-priced shale gas for the competitiveness of North American chemical companies:

Ethylene producers are naturally very excited. We have gone from being a sunset industry to suddenly a sunrise industry.

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, one of the nation’s preeminent historians, helped to put these economic developments into perspective, telling CNN that the United States may actually be moving towards “a new economic golden age,” largely due to natural gas from shale:

This is an absolutely huge phenomenon with massive implications for the U.S. economy, and I think most people are still a little bit slow to appreciate just how big this is.

To be sure, an ACC study estimated that a modest increase in natural gas supply from shale deposits would generate more than 400,000 new jobs in the United States, creating more than $132 billion in U.S. economic output and $4.4 billion in new annual tax revenues.

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