Cover: Developing a Skilled Workforce for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry

Developing a Skilled Workforce for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry

An Analysis of Employers and Colleges in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia

Published Oct 17, 2017

by Robert Bozick, Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Cordaye Ogletree, Diana Gehlhaus


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تطوير القوى العاملة الماهرة في قطاع النفط والغاز الطبيعي: تحليل لأصحاب العمل والكليات في أوهايو وبنسلفانيا وفرجينيا الغربية

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Research Questions

  1. What knowledge and skills are required by employers in the oil and natural gas industry?
  2. To what extent are colleges are positioned to supply employers in the oil and natural gas industry with workers who have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the industry?
  3. Which workforce development strategies and practices will best connect employers in the oil and natural gas industry with educators?

The challenge of connecting employers and educators to collaboratively plan for training future workers is an enduring one — particularly for jobs that are rapidly changing because of technological advancements. This report addresses this challenge as it pertains to employers and educators in the oil and natural gas industry located in and around the Utica and Marcellus shales. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to tap natural gas has resulted in the Utica and Marcellus shales becoming major sources of natural gas supply within the United States and are predicted to bring significant long-term economic benefits to the tristate region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. To inform policy decisions on how best to expand and sustain the pool of workers with knowledge and skills needed by oil and natural gas employers in the tristate region, this report summarizes the findings from surveys administered to the region's oil and gas employers and education providers. We found that basic cross-cutting skills — such as time management, speaking, and writing — and knowledge of business operations (including sales and marketing) are reported by employers as essential for their workers to competently perform in high-priority occupations. However, these basic skills tend not to be emphasized in local postsecondary degree programs that support the oil and natural gas industry. We also found a clear lack of collaboration and partnerships between oil and gas companies and education providers across the region, with colleges and employers each pointing to the other's unwillingness as the source for lack of partnerships or collaboration.

Key Findings

Employers Want Workers with Both Specific and General Managerial Skills

  • More than half of employers have high-priority occupations that require at least five years of previous work experience.
  • Workers who can think critically and creatively in the context of their work, solve work-based problems, and make sound decisions at work are highly sought, as are workers who understand the fundamentals of administration and management.

Colleges Do Not Appear to Have Curricular Structures Conducive to Occupational Education

  • Most colleges in the region do not explicitly incorporate these into their oil and natural gas–related degree programs.
  • Though most colleges in the tristate region report supporting students getting jobs in specific occupations within the oil and natural gas industry, few have stackable credential programs and less than half of courses aimed at future workers in the oil and natural gas industry use contextualized instruction.
  • Stackable credential programs increasingly are receiving attention from workforce development policymakers and practitioners because they allow workers to obtain occupation-specific knowledge and skills in an efficient, flexible structure and format.
  • Contextualized instruction uses occupational applications to teach basic academic skills (and vice versa) in such a way that the student learns both simultaneously. The majority of courses offered in oil and natural gas--related departments in the tristate region use contextualized instruction less than half of the time.

There Is a Disconnect Between Employers and Colleges

  • The majority of employers do not communicate results of workforce planning with colleges, and few employers provide deep or continual instructional or curricular support to colleges.
  • Both colleges and employers point to each other's unwillingness and lack of time as key barriers to partnering.


  • Colleges need to adjust programming so that it fits better with the agile, flexible, and nonlinear nature of workforce development.
  • Colleges should prioritize the development of work-based learning opportunities for students, such as internships or cooperatives, which provide hands-on experiential learning at a worksite.
  • Employers will need to become more flexible in hiring and placement decisions to keep pace with the labor market's needs for an agile workforce.
  • In addition to community colleges and private training institutes, include four-year colleges and universities and other stakeholders, such as workforce investment boards and industry trade associations, in strategies for workforce development and planning.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted by RAND Labor and Population and RAND Education.

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