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Research Questions

  1. How can West Virginia support the workforce-development pipeline that produces workers for energy-sector positions?
  2. How can employers and public education and training providers collaborate to ensure the local workforce has the knowledge, skills, and behavioral competencies to fill semiskilled energy-sector jobs now and in the future?

In the past, West Virginia's energy sector was primarily based on mining and combusting coal for industry or electricity. In recent years, the production and industrial application of natural gas and natural gas liquids from shale resources have increased demand for workers in the energy sector. In 2013, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) asked RAND to work closely with the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia (CTCS) to develop a strategy for energy-sector employers and education and training institutions to collaborate to ensure that the local talent pool is prepared to enter the workforce with the competencies to fill energy-sector jobs now and in the future. To develop that strategy we examined data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) and interviewed energy-sector employers in West Virginia to determine the key knowledge areas, skills, and abilities required of energy-sector employees across the country and within West Virginia. We then analyzed data from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, interviews with representatives of academic and training providers within CTCS, apprenticeship programs, a regional Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and CTCS students enrolled in energy-related programs to determine whether education and training is aligned with the sector's needs and what may impede such alignment. We conducted a national review of promising practices from training provider–employer partnerships across the United States. Based on this analysis, we developed ten recommended action items CTCS and other regional stakeholders can implement to support a well-aligned and coherent energy-sector workforce-development pipeline.

Key Findings

The Most Important KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities) Are Basic Ones

  • Across high-growth and energy-sector occupations, the abilities cited as most important were English language, mathematics, listening, and critical thinking.

The Candidates for Semiskilled, High-Demand Energy-Sector Positions Are Not Meeting Basic Skills Requirements

  • Most CTCS students enrolled in non–energy-related courses.
  • Nearly half of new students in CTCS energy-related programs needed remedial math courses first.
  • Employers note difficulty in finding local talent with necessary skills for energy-sector jobs.
  • Lack of employer collaboration in educational and training programs results in misalignment between job requirements and course content.

Students Feel Little Support for Job Placement or Career Counseling from Community and Technical Colleges

  • Students report that CTCS does not provide formalized internship or apprenticeship opportunities. Students must rely on the personal contacts of individual instructors.

There Are Three Key Characteristics of Successful Partnerships Between Education and Training Providers and Employers

  • Bridge services focus on increasing job skills and opportunities for low-skilled workers and ensure they develop the personal, academic, and workplace competencies needed to succeed.
  • Employer involvement ensures students receive the education required to enter the industry and the training for energy-specific jobs.
  • Recognition of and addressing barriers to program implementation keeps geography, transportation issues, and instructor shortages from breaching the workforce-development pipeline.

Recommendations

  • Develop ongoing partnerships among industry leaders, training providers, and other education providers.
  • Revise CTCS programs to fit the demands of the energy-sector workplace.
  • Leverage workforce-development training programs already in place in CTCS.
  • Improve awareness of available energy-sector education and training programs and employment opportunities.
  • Institutionalize and formalize internships or cooperative training partnerships, and expand and improve career counseling.
  • Make the recruitment and retention of quality instructors a priority for education and training program administrators.
  • Improve readiness of talent entering postsecondary education and training programs.
  • Provide services to address potential barriers to talent's entrance into, and completion of, education and training programs.
  • Integrate basic skills instruction within degree-bearing courses.
  • Institutionalize cross-communication and collaboration across state institutions.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Characteristics of the Energy-Sector Workforce-Development Pipeline: Education, Training, and Employment in West Virginia

  • Chapter Three

    Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Needed for Energy-Sector Occupations Across the United States and in West Virginia

  • Chapter Four

    Community and Technical College System of West Virginia Education and Training Programs

  • Chapter Five

    Promising Practices to Strengthen the Energy-Sector Workforce- Development Pipeline in West Virginia

  • Chapter Six

    Summary of Findings and Recommendations to Improve the Workforce-Development Pipeline to Meet West Virginia's Energy-Sector Needs

  • Appendix A

    Knowledge, Skill, and Ability Requirements for High-Growth Energy-Sector Jobs in the United States and West Virginia

  • Appendix B

    Interview and Focus Group Data Collection Protocols

  • Appendix C

    Technical Programs Offered by the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia and Enrollment by Major for Each College

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program, a part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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