Colleges now offering certified training for the utility workforce

Des Plaines, IL, Nov. 25, 2008 — A new program is being added at several U.S. community colleges to provide certified training for students interested in field positions in the natural gas industry.

Developed by Gas Technology Institute (GTI), a gas industry research and training organization, the Certified Operations Technician (COT) Training Program offers a 70-hour training course designed to introduce students to the natural gas industry and provide the skills necessary for an array of field positions.

The COT training program has been presented at several gas utility companies earlier in 2008 and has been offered since October at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, New York, with a goal of providing skilled workers for Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, National Grid, and other utilities. Community Colleges in California, Kansas, and Minnesota are also scheduled to begin classes in early 2009.

“With retirement reaching unprecedented numbers in the next few years, industry training must react to the need to quickly replace the lost skills,” said GTI’s Flo Kellogg, manager of distribution, transmission, and marketing training. “The industry no longer has the luxury of apprentice-type ‘on-the-job’ training because of the time required… We have now taken [a] performance-based training program model and applied it to the field employee training with the COT program. The community college route can be a cost-effective choice used by industry for new employee training, and provide local labor sources with an opportunity to learn the skills necessary for entry-level positions and thus a career in the natural gas industry.”

Surveys note that an unprecedented number of gas-industry employees will retire in the next 10 years, with 35 to 40 percent retiring in the next four to eight years. The American Society of Training and Development reported similar trends, citing that Columbia Gas of Ohio recently recruited 190 employees mainly due to workforce maturation.

“We’re very supportive of GTI’s educational initiative with a local community college,” said Kevin McHugh, manager of gas training for Consolidated Edison Co. of New York. “Skilled technicians are needed in the utility industry, and the certification program helps to provide a solid foundation for the emerging workforce.”

The overall program consists of one core course and additional elective courses that feature specific competencies in gas transmission and distribution. The program takes a student through a series of basic and advanced skill sets designed to enhance on-the-job performance and quickly bring the student to the level of a full-functioning, skilled employee.

The course covers an introduction to natural gas, natural gas properties, the structure of the industry, and a detailed examination of construction, operations, measurement, gas quality, gas control, safety, and other practices. Students can then choose four or more elective courses — depending on the desired skill path and depth of training — from modules in 10 gas transmission and nine gas distribution topical areas. Through the elective courses, the student progresses from conceptual principles into advanced areas of each topic. Many elective courses also satisfy regulatory requirements for operator qualification and re-qualification.

Program applicants must have a high school degree or GED and a valid driver’s license, and are required to pass a math-assessment test. Upon certification, students can apply for community college credit hours at several colleges.

“To help students with job placement,” said Kellogg, “the community colleges have hiring information and contacts from the utilities. The certification is an industry-recognized way to verify the job applicant’s qualifications.”

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