A new Minnesota State Community and Technical College program will help fill a “huge” need for trained employees in the gas industry, according to Ward Westphal of MP Technologies, which contracts to provide new construction and maintenance services to a wide range of private and public utilities and power companies.
“Our industry is facing a shortage of workers right now,” said Westphal, who coordinates operator qualifications and quality assurance for the company. “Finding qualified employees is difficult, especially for gas and electric utilities. There’s a whole different set of skills that aren’t required in the other trades.”
Westphal and other industry representatives are working with M State to develop and support the Gas Utility Construction and Service diploma program, which will be offered on the college’s Wadena campus beginning the summer of 2015, with a maximum enrollment of 24.
Graduates of the 32-credit program will be prepared for a range of career options within the natural gas industry.
The impetus for the program came from conversations between industry representatives and Monty Johnson, senior dean of academic affairs on the Wadena campus. At meetings of the Minnesota Energy Consortium, where Johnson is a member, he learned there are currently no gas industry training programs at technical colleges in either Minnesota or North Dakota.
The nearest programs are in Green Bay, Wis., and Mitchell, S.D.
“When we heard M State was considering its program, we jumped in right away,” said Westphal, whose company intends to support the program by assisting with equipment donations and serving on its industry advisory panel. “When employees come in with training, it allows them to advance much more quickly.”
MP Technologies, with offices in Annandale and Cypress, Texas, employs close to1,200 in the Midwest, Texas and California. Westphal said that starting gas technicians in the industry can expect to earn an hourly wage in the “low to mid-20s.”
“And there aren’t many technical college programs where you can graduate and have four different employers begging you to come to work for them,” he said.
According to regional labor market statistics, the number of gas technicians needed is expected to increase by 9.1 percent over the next four years.
For more information about the Gas Utility Construction and Service program, visit minnesota.edu/programs or contact M State at 877.450.3322.