In the wake of a string of major natural gas pipeline mishaps and stepped up regulatory oversight, a 30-year gas industry veteran said there is a critical need throughout the industry to produce a new generation of well-trained welders and other skilled personnel.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president, made the observation in keynote remarks on Tuesday, part of a two-day workshop in Houston that PG&E hosted to examine best practices in improving pipeline training.

Stavropoulos said he has recruited three young people with the promise if they were to forgo college, and to train and work as welders for 10 years, they would have saved enough money before age 30 to return to college and pursue other dreams.

“A well-trained welder, willing to work six days a week, can earn about $150,000/year today,” Stavropoulos said. The industry “operates an incredibly safe pipeline network across the country, but it is only the result of the great work skilled people do [throughout the industry], and we can’t do that work unless new people are properly skilled and trained.”

He said he recommends deferring college and taking the “$200,000 their parents would have to pay, put it in a trust fund, then go to welding school.”

Stavropoulos said when he joined PG&E in mid-2011 there was a lack of seasoned leaders on the gas side of the business. “We had a shortage of gas leaders in our organization, so we had to go out across the country and reach out to many of my former colleagues [at National Grid] and others.”

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