By: Matt Hughes
MESHOPPEN TWP. – Gas companies and the people who want to work for them packed the Wyoming County Fairgrounds Friday for the inaugural Business, Job and Gas Expo.
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce has held annual job fairs for more than a decade and three years ago began hosting a yearly natural gas expo to connect local businesses and the emerging drilling industry, but this year’s fair was the first to unite the two concepts.
“We really wanted to make it big,” said Mark Carpenter, chairman of the group’s board. “We had a big crossover between the job fair and the gas expo, and a lot of common interests between the players, and I think we hit a grand slam here with this format.”
The event attracted close to 140 vendors – among them a half-dozen drilling companies and dozens of subsidiary service providers – and hundreds more job seekers.
Like many recent job fairs, the competition for open positions was stiff.
In the first two hours, Southwestern Energy recruiter Lisa Madalone said she had taken more than 100 rsums for 10 open positions in Tunkhannock, with “probably three times” as many candidates saying they planned to apply for those jobs through the company’s website.
Sharon Morgan of Cabot Oil and Gas had run through the 50 applications she brought along for three open positions before noon.
Laura Wiernusz of Sugar Hollow Water Services said her company doesn’t have immediate openings but had still taken about 20 rsums at the job fair.
“They seem like really quality candidates,” she said. “I didn’t run into any people I wouldn’t want to hire. There’s a lot of really good people looking for work.”
Two factors may make ramp up competition for local gas jobs even more. Some companies have shifted their operations to “wet gas” regions of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio as the price of natural gas has fallen, and the development of worker training programs at educational institutions like Lackawanna College has produced more local graduates with skills needed by the gas industry.
“When we’re looking for employees we are finding folks who are locals who have the skills,” said Helen Humphreys of gas-infrastructure company Williams. “As I look forward from two years ago there’s been a tremendous amount of collaboration between education and the industry.”
Some companies, like Williams and Southwestern, said they haven’t been affected by the slowdown in drilling in the Northeast, while others said they expect a pick-up in a matter of months that will lead to resumption in hiring.
“Right now for our area it’s too slow to be hiring,” said Paul Ayers of Gas Field Specialists, Inc., a Horseheads, N.Y.- based company providing construction, fabrication and well-management services to drillers. “But I guarantee in the next couple months we’ll see it, because it’s coming back.”
Tim Harding of Cameron International, a global well-site service provider, said his company isn’t hiring now but expects to begin hiring for three positions, two of them entry level, in a few months.
“We’re going to be bringing in more employees I would say in the last quarter of the year, so now is a good time for people to submit applications so we could review their applications and schedule interviews,” he said.
That may have been cold comfort for some job seekers.
“I’ve been out of college for about a year now and I haven’t gotten anything yet; I’ve been applying everywhere,” said Ryan Gruver, 25, of Kingston, who is seeking a position in environmental resources management. “Especially entry level positions, it’s pretty hard. I have a feeling if I had some experience. Just being right out of college, it’s pretty tough.”
Others were more optimistic.
“It’s more diverse than I expected, and there’s more companies here than I expected,” said jobseeker Christine Seward, 30, of Scranton, a recent Bloomsburg University graduate seeking an engineering or data analysis job. “There’s a few that sounded very interested, and a few that seemed overwhelmed with applications.”
Recent graduates Jessi Silfee, 23, and Alicia Walker, 21, both of Montrose, said they aren’t looking only at gas industry careers, but that natural gas offers an opportunity to live and work near their hometown – something that’s important to them.
“It makes you feel that there’s some kind of job,” Walker said of the industry. “Everyone says you’re going to graduate and there’s no jobs, but you come here and at least there’s something.”
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