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Energy companies vie for experienced workers with skills in high demand

Specialized, experienced engineers are becoming a tough get in Western Pennsylvania as the gas drilling industry outpaces the growth of an experienced talent pool.

Stock awards, sign-on bonuses, unlimited vacation and travel stipends are increasingly becoming necessary for companies looking to attract top candidates, recruiters say.

“Sometimes, we get so lost in it, they have so much they’re trying to offer and entice them with,” said Frank Civitate, founder and president of Synergy Staffing, based in Pittsburgh. “The fact of the matter is everyone is looking for the same types of folks.”

Although facing headwinds today from low prices, shale drillers have helped lead the nation’s economic renaissance. Gas drilling jobs and wages have soared in Western Pennsylvania, underscoring the competition companies are facing for workers.

“Especially with people like myself, the technical experts, they’re having to basically pull those people out of the Texas markets to get them out to Pittsburgh,” said Charles Hager, a hydraulic fracturing expert and 25-year engineering veteran.

He should know.

Related: Layoffs in strong economy mean jobs to fill

Range Resources lured him to Western Pennsylvania from Denver last month, offering a compensation package with stock options that he said beat out offers from several companies. Hager would not be specific, and Range declined to discuss details of its compensation.

Hydraulic fracturing specialists and engineers who help complete wells and manage gas reservoirs are some of the workers whose skills are in high demand, recruiters say.

“There’s absolutely a challenge to find specialized skill sets in the market,” said Michelle Buczkowski, manager of talent strategies at Consol Energy, one of the top drillers in the region’s shale plays.

The number of workers directly involved in oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania, including petroleum engineers, has risen steadily since 2010 — to 5,636 in the second quarter of 2014 from 3,410 in the same period in 2010, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Salaries have increased 40.5 percent, or $29,536, to $102,388 over that same period.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a war for talent within the (exploration and production) industry in the Northeastern part of the United States where Marcellus and Utica shale are,” Buczkowski said.

Demand for these skills is expected to continue growing. Petroleum engineer jobs, which include completions and reservoir engineers, will increase to 48,400 in 2022 from 38,500 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than double the rate of growth of other engineering fields.

Several universities and community colleges in the state run training and degree programs for entry-level engineering and technical jobs in the industry, but building a local bench of more experienced workers will take time because the gas drilling here is still in its infancy.

“You start any new industry in an area like that, where it didn’t exist before, [and] you don’t have a pool of talent with experience just living and working in this area,” Buczkowski said.

Although the number of jobs in the oil and gas industry has increased statewide, engineers and managers with seven or more years of experience are among the hardest to find, recruiters say.

Mike Sylvester, vice president of operations at AllTek Staffing and Resource Group, based in Plum, described the competition for experienced engineers as “a feeding frenzy.”

Compensation packages for highly sought talent can include stock packages that expand the longer the employee is with the company, travel stipends, phones, airfare to travel home, sign-on bonuses, performance bonuses and unlimited vacation time, recruiters say.

“I have never seen compensation packages like earned by candidates that we place in this Marcellus and Utica shale plays!” Sylvester said.


This article was written by Katelyn Ferral from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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