Joining forces with building groups and community colleges to improve training and opportunities for America's future workforce will help the oil and natural gas industry continue to be one of the largest employers in the country, according to to ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson.

He was in Washington, DC, last Tuesday to address the North America's Building Trades Legislative Conference. The building trades not only understand the importance of the U.S. energy sector, but they have been pivotal in helping to implement more opportunities within the sector, he said.

"It is no exaggeration to say that American industry and American workers have launched a new era of energy abundance...But I believe our nation can do more. And we must do more," the CEO said.

"We live in very challenging times. Our nation's economy continues to struggle. Millions of U.S. workers are out of work, and millions more have dropped out of the workforce out of frustration and discouragement. But there is reason for hope. The workers and businesses that make up the U.S. energy industry are well positioned to transform America's future for the better."

By working with the domestic energy sector, the building trades could help to establish "sound energy policies and support education, job training and career development," Tillerson told the audience.

The U.S. economic recession began to take hold in 2007, but it had little effect on job growth in oil and natural gas, Tillerson said. Employment over the past seven years has risen an estimated 40%, "and in every one of the 10 states where hydrocarbon production is on the rise, overall employment growth has outperformed the rest of the nation."

In the United States, the industry supports an estimated 9.8 million jobs, with average upstream employment paying about seven times the federal minimum wage, Tillerson said. "The U.S. energy sector now accounts for $1.2 trillion of the U.S. economy," equal to 8% of gross domestic product.

New natural gas supplies also are also providing environmental benefits by reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the CEO, who runs the largest gas producer in the country. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that in 2012, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions had fallen to their lowest level since the 1990s.

"What makes this extraordinary is that the United States has about 50 million more consumers of energy and an economy that is about 50% larger than in 1995. And yet our carbon dioxide emissions are close to what they were in the mid-1990s."

Still, there's much more to do, he said.

"At a time of often bitter partisanship in Washington, energy policy is an opportunity to move the nation forward in a constructive and cooperative way," Tillerson said.

For instance, regarding the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry supplies south from Canada, the building trades and the energy sector "have exposed how political gamesmanship continues to delay a pipeline that would create more than 20,000 construction jobs and more than 118,000 other new jobs for local businesses all along the route."

In the booming Appalachian Basin, the American Petroleum Institute and the building trades helped defeat an Ohio ballot initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing. And the AFL-CIO has come out in support of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to expand jobs.

"With sound energy policies, we could see up to 452,000 new U.S. jobs from LNG exports by 2035; a half-million new U.S. jobs supported by new oilsands development within 20 years; and, in the upstream industry alone, 166,000 jobs for African American and Hispanic/Latino workers between now and the year 2020," Tillerson said.

"In short, by 2030, sound energy policies that enable increased development of our domestic energy resources could increase government revenue by $800 billion and create 1.4 million new jobs...As our elected officials continue to struggle with our nation's debt and persistent deficits, we need to spread awareness of the vast new government revenues that could come from expanded energy development.

"All we need is the green light to proceed."

Partnerships with the energy sector have to be built on past cooperation, he told the audience, pointing to an oil and natural gas industry labor management committee made up of business and labor groups.

"The labor management committee is working to channel our cooperation and collaboration to unleash new opportunities for American workers. One of the areas where we have seen the most consequential dialogue and ongoing action has been on improving job-training programs. As you know, there is a 'great shift change' -- not just in my industry but across America.

"Our nation faces tremendous challenges as the U.S. workforce ages and baby boomers retire. For both the energy industry and the building trades, we must find a way in the years ahead to replace skilled workers, whether they be scientists and engineers or electricians, welders and technicians."

It boils down to how to equip future workers to be successful, Tillerson said. In addition to these trades training centers, he said the nation can't neglect community colleges, which "serve as gateways to expanded opportunity for U.S. workers."

ExxonMobil last year provided $500,000 in grant money to underwrite a technology job-training program in the Greater Houston area, an initiative to help community colleges develop future energy sector employees (see Daily GPI, June 10, 2013).