WARREN - Tom Horton said he took a leap of faith when he quit his landscaping job to attend Eastern Gateway Community College's shale natural gas training.
"I've been hearing about it, so I wanted to see what it's all about and what it might be able to offer me," Horton, 34, of Warren, said. "It wasn't easy making this move but I believe it's going to be worth it. I hope so."
Horton, who is married with one child and another on the way, is one of 12 students participating in the course to explore opportunities in the well drilling industry.
The three-week training program provides students with an intensive look at positions in the industry and the steps they need to take to pursue those jobs, instructor Michael Lorms said.
The tuition-free course is paid for through a $4.96 million ShaleNET community-based job training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Several community colleges from Pennsylvania and West Virginia also are participating.
"We already know there are a lot of opportunities in the industry," Lorms said. "This course gives people a better look at what options exist for them.
Drilling of one well requires 400 people working in nearly 150 occupations. About 47 percent of a well's work force consists of jobs that do not require a four-year degree - 20 percent general labor, 17 percent heavy equipment operators and 10 percent commercial driver's license on- and off-road truck drivers.
"These guys start early and leave late," he said. "I can't say that they will all be ready for a job when they're done. They need to be practical. But I think some of them definitely will be.
''We try to give them as much information and training as we can in these three weeks. It's intensive and it's a lot of information. But it's good preparation."
Lorms said much of the classroom focus has been on safety, building on skills students already have and adding new ones, and job readiness. This past week, students received CPR training and made a field trip to the Trumbull County Auditor's Office to look at mapping procedures.
"We go over resumes and updating them and the online application process," he said. "This is an introduction to the oil and gas industry but we really look at everything, all elements that we can look at to help these students with their job seeking efforts."
Applicants are required to undergo criminal background checks, physicals and drug screenings.
Earlier this year, Eastern Gateway, in partnership with the City of Warren, conducted two free sessions designed to provide information about job opportunities in the shale natural gas industry, and the training required to land those jobs. Although some 500 people attended those sessions, a dozen are in the college's initial training course in Warren.
"It's disappointing," Eastern Gateway president Laura Meeks said. "But we are hoping that by getting the word out, through word-of-mouth, more people will see the opportunity that's available to them."
Eastern Gateway is offering the training course tuition-free to eligible participants through the college's partnership with ShaleNET, a federal grant to train workers for targeted jobs in the shale gas industry. The college is offering pre-employment training sessions as well as training courses to prepare individuals to work in these jobs.
Eastern Gateway officials have reported an 86 percent placement rate in the program and an 85 percent retention rate.
"Anybody who doesn't grab this opportunity while the door is open is shooting themselves in the foot," Dave Hawk of Salem, a laid-off welder, said.
"This doesn't just give you an idea about one job but shows you the opportunities that are in the field. You get the chance to learn about the field, to see what's out there, what's available, where the jobs are, and this course is free. Why wouldn't you do it?'' Hawk said.
The college has scheduled another training course in August in Steubenville. Ann Koon, Eastern Gateway's public information officer, said the college is prepared to offer additional training in the Mahoning Valley based demand. For more information, call 800-682-6553, Ext. 311, or visit www.egcc.edu.