Training Tomorrow’s Worker to Run Western PA’s Petrochemical Industry

Last week, the CNX Foundation Mentorship Academy spent two days at Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) alongside personnel from Shell to discuss career opportunities in the petrochemical industry. Petrochemicals are a massive and growing part of western Pennsylvania’s economy, anchored in part by Shell’s cracker facility that’s nearing completion after four years and billions of dollars invested in its construction.

The Shell cracker plant will take ethane produced in this region by the oil and gas industry and convert it into polyethylene, a polymer product used in virtually everything and by everyone.

Petrochemicals are yet another example of how carbon and its products drive quality of life, jobs, energy security, and strategic positioning of our nation.

The virtuous circle is powerful: the region’s natural gas industry, feeding the petrochemical plant, producing polyethylene pellets to feed downstream manufacturing plants that make carbon-based products, and those products being used in the food, medical, manufacturing, automotive, and construction industries. The stuff that drives regions, nations, and the world.

This amazing economic engine will not properly function without a pool of talented and trained workers. That’s where the faculty at CCBC come into the picture.

During our visits, Dean Goberish and the professors in the process technology school provided a series of lectures and hands-on exercises to allow Academy students to experience the skills and teamwork needed for success in a range of industrial career paths. Whether it was wiring a motor power center or building a scale model as part of a construction project team, these hands-on exercises did an incredible job of facilitating learning by doing.

Our two days at CCBC and with Shell also provided an interesting observation: Academy-participating students embrace a healthy mix of competitive drive and teamwork. During each exercise, the young men and women quickly adapted to work as a team while pushing each other to get a project successfully completed on time (and ahead of their competition on the other team). That’s the stuff that will serve an individual well, no matter what career path he or she embarks upon.

I would be remiss to not mention how incredibly impactful our regional community colleges are. CCBC and Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) are two institutions this region desperately needs. They are also two organizations who never lost sight of their fiduciary duty and mission. Higher education could learn a lot from these two stellar entities. Spending time with either CCBC or CCAC is time well spent, and the Mentorship Academy plans on doing more of that in the future.

Next up for the Academy is a busy December to close out 2021. In addition to site visits and events, we will start developing the professional profile of each student: building a resume, conducting mock interviews, and constructing a social media profile for career pursuits. The goal is to have each student exit the program next summer with a portfolio they can use to secure a job and start on a career.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity for reflection and gratitude. This Turkey Day has me thinking about the Mentorship Academy.

The Mentorship Academy is an initiative of CNX Foundation and part of CNX’s commitment to investing in its local community. Designed for high school students who do not plan to immediately attend a four-year college, the Academy is focused on providing urban and rural youth from economically disadvantaged regional Appalachian communities with greater opportunities—helping provide these young adults a bridge to family-sustaining careers. Following the mentorship program, students will have developed new relationships with peers and business leaders across western Pennsylvania, a new excitement for the region’s career opportunities and an understanding of how to pursue those careers.

Training Tomorrow’s Worker to Run Western PA’s Petrochemical Industry