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Skilled Workforce Needed for Gulf Coast Petrochem Expansions, Says CPChem Chief

The lack of technically skilled workers able to operate and maintain U.S. petrochemical projects in the queue along the Gulf Coast may pose a big constraint as construction begins over the next year, the CEO of Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP (CPChem) said.

During a panel discussion at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Conference in San Antonio, Peter L. Cella said a lack of trained manpower was the most significant barrier facing future chemical projects. Close to $100 billion of announced new or expanded U.S. petrochemical projects are in the works as domestic manufacturing using unconventional gas increases. Based on industry projections, close to 90,000 craft workers would be needed as soon as 2015 when related projects begin construction along the Gulf Coast.

Among the many new or expanded Gulf Coast facilities is CPChem's U.S. Gulf Coast Petrochemicals Project, which could create up to 400 long-term jobs and 10,000 construction and engineering jobs. CPChem in 2012 selected a site near Old Ocean, TX, in Brazoria County, for two polyethylene facilities that would have an annual capacity of 500,000 metric tons, or 1.1 billion pounds (see Daily GPI, May 1, 2012). The project is set to be completed in 2017.

"While we will continue to need college graduates with various engineering, accounting, marketing, IT [information technology] and scientific degrees, our most acute need is for welders, pipefitters, riggers, operators, instrument technicians and other craftspersons, all with two-year degrees or certifications," said the CEO. "For many high school graduates, choosing a technical vocation can be an attractive career path because it provides a great salary and benefits without the significant financial burden of pursuing a four-year degree."

Cella said the industry needed to do a "better job educating our nation's young people about the viable and rewarding career pathways for those who opt for occupations that require less formal, and less expensive academic training."

Hourly operating and maintenance craft employees at U.S. CPChem facilities may earn total compensation of $90,000-100,000, including overtime, Cella said. CPChem expects to hire more than 2,800 employees over the next six years to support growth, in part because of a surge in petrochemical demand for skilled workers, and to replace retiring employees, he said.

Many petrochemical proposals aren't finalized yet, but several are in the works for the Gulf Coast. Among them is one by Dow Chemical Co., which last August confirmed that it would expand two big petrochemical facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that would be integrated by "advantaged shale gas" (see Shale Daily, Aug. 28, 2013). Those facilities are set to be completed by 2017.

A lack of skilled workers isn't only expected to hamper Gulf Coast expansions. North Dakota last month joined forces with Hess Corp. to lure 20,000 workers for jobs in the Bakken/Three Forks formation (see Shale Daily, March 19). ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson also last month urged energy sector partnerships with the building trades and colleges to create a sustainable, skilled workforce (see Daily GPI, March 14).

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