By Lee Worley
We are in the middle of a great shale revolution. For the first time in decades, the U.S. is holding its own against OPEC and Russia, going from energy importer to energy exporter. Unlocking previously inaccessible shale reservoirs deep underground using hydraulic fracturing technology is becoming our nation's ticket to energy dominance. The impact of shale development has now propelled the U.S. to become the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Two decades ago, our nation was staring down a potential energy crisis, but now we are a world energy leader.
From the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford and Permian Basin in Texas to Oklahoma's SCOOP (south central Oklahoma oil province) and STACK (Sooner trend Anadarko basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties) plays, the southern region tops the charts with the highest number of oil barrels per day and a huge supply of natural gas liquids to fuel manufacturing growth.
The shale revolution is entering a new stage of maturity, and we must be prepared. These massive projects are on a construction scale we haven't seen in generations.
Are we prepared for such massive scales of construction amid a skilled labor shortage, especially in the southern region? With a wave of baby-boomer retirements, workers who switched careers during the recession and a young generation that is not considering construction as a career option, contractors are reporting a severe skilled labor shortage in the South. Such a shortage could lead to higher prices and longer construction schedules. Three out of four construction firms are showing concern about finding hourly craftworkers over the next year. But is there such a desperate lack of skilled labor, or is the panic due to a disconnect somewhere between supply and demand?
In the South, contractors are scrambling to find skilled labor to man these energy projects, but they are overlooking the main source of skilled labor: the building trades. Many of them are facing delays and having to rework projects while the answer to their crisis is within reach. Can they afford it amid a tsunami of workforce demand?
Regardless of contractors' concerns about a lack of skilled labor, the building trades have always maintained a healthy supply of job-ready, skilled, safe workforce. They are equipped to face the challenge. While others struggle to meet the demand, they produce safe and skilled workers through comprehensive training, innovative diversity and worker retention measures, and fair wages. They invest in comprehensive training, including in-depth safety training, saving time and money for contractors and end users. A safe workforce reduces injuries, fatalities and costly delays, adding up to huge cost savings. For example, the Iron Workers training centers collectively spend between $80 million and $90 million a year in apprenticeship and upgrade training.
But the building trades cannot do it alone. They need support to sustain a healthy supply of skilled labor. They need continued support from the Department of Labor and the Trump administration for their apprenticeship programs.