In 2014 the East Harris County Manufactures Association (EHCMA) conducted a survey looking at the future workforce needs and available workers in the petrochemicals industry in the area. The results were staggering with a shortage of approximately 11,000 workers.
With a growing interest in workforce development, Barry Klein, Shell Deer Park General Manager, appointed Mary Margaret Hamilton as the Shell Deer Park Workforce Development Advisor and put her on loan to the EHCMA Workforce Development, Petrochem Works, initiative.
“Before EHCMA’s Petrochem Works group started up, you would hear about the worker shortage and questions on how to recruit people to our industry from all over. Everyone was aware of and working this issue in silos,” said Klein. “But this issue is something that’s bigger than any one company and is something that all operators and contracting companies must work on together to solve. By coming together, we’ve been able to collectively work on attracting people to the industry and ensuring they stay onboard once they’re here.”
In 2016, EHCMA and ABC came together to form the workforce development steering team with five owner operators and six contracting companies. From there, seven sub-committees were developed to look at fundraising, scholarships, events and resources, data management, on-boarding, training and communications. These sub-groups include other key stakeholders in the workforce development lifecycle such as the schools and colleges.
“The colleges have seen an up-tick in the number of people who are going into trades and petrochemical careers,” said Hamilton. “One of the most rewarding parts of this role has been working with the schools and students and being able to tell some of these kids that there are great career options out there for them outside of university.”
“Some of the students I’ve met are looking for jobs that are hands-on. They’re not interested in a four-year university program for a variety of reasons that range from the time commitment, to taking on new debt, to finding careers in their areas of study. Through Petrochem Works, I’ve been able to shine a light on a different career path, which is a career, not just a job. Students can go into the petrochemical industry where in some fields they can make an annual income of $70,000 with two years of training or less.”
In addition to working with schools and colleges to ensure new people are coming into the talent pipeline, the Petrochem Works steering team has also spent time looking at ways to improve the process for those already in the field.
With both the owners and contractors around the table, the team was able to produce a list of best practices that focus in on some of the pinch points that exist in the industry to come up with new ways to resolve or minimize these issues.
One example is to make onboarding less time consuming and to reduce redundancy in some of the annual computer based testing by allowing the test every other year instead of every year. By moving to more on-site performance verification, companies can assure the worker actually knows how to do a task while reducing time away from the site and improving performance and safety.
Another area the steering team is looking to improve is diversity in the workforce so recruiting has been tailored to reach out to a variety of groups. Question like “How can we attract more women into the program?” are being considered. One way is to provide more education around the roles available in the petrochemical industry and the other is to provide scholarships tailored for women.
“Petrochem Works has played an important role in bringing everyone in the industry together and continues to push forward in creating a talent pipeline to meet our industry’s current and future needs,” said Klein. “Mary Margaret has been instrumental in facilitating this work and I thank her for her dedication to the project.”