By GRACE WYLER
The effects of almost
three years of recession were evident Wednesday
as thousands of the Valley’s jobless work force crowded the Covelli Centre to search for positions that remain few and far between.
At the crowded V&M Star table, Ron
Oskowski, a former General Electric worker, patiently waited to see about openings for electrical technicians. The 44-year-old Austintown resident has been looking for a job since March, when GE closed its incandescent-light-bulb plant in Niles.
After more than six months of searching, Oskowski, a Navy-trained electrical technician, said he is considering going back to school. He added that most employers he has talked to are looking for someone with a degree in the field.
“Right now, it looks like I have to go back to school,” he said. “I’d much rather work, but if I have to go to school then that’s what I’ll do.”
Oskowski joined the throngs of more than 5,000 job seekers at the Oh-Penn
Interstate Region’s 2010 Job Expo. Nearly 90 employers and 30 training centers from Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties and Pennsylvania’s Mercer and Lawrence counties set up shop across the floor, offering information and positions in several industries, including manufacturing, logistics, law enforcement, retail and financial services.
Although the job seekers far outnumbered the 1,600 positions available, this year’s employer turnout was significantly higher than the 2009 event’s, said Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning Columbiana Training Association, which oversees work-force development.
“We have got a long way to go, but we are seeing some growth,” Cene said. “I am feeling better today than I was at this point last year.”
The natural-gas bonanza in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has been a bright spot in job creation, said Angela Palumbo, an administrator for Mercer County’s CareerLink employment agency.
“The Marcellus Shale is just starting to generate interest in training for these types of jobs,” Palumbo said. “Our hope is that this can help our economy turn around.”
Companies that service the natural-gas industry — including manufacturers, logistics providers and water-treatment facilities — have started hiring, and more workers likely will be needed, she said.
One such company, Dearing Compressor & Pump, a Boardman-based manufacturer of industrial pumps and compressors used in natural-gas drilling, was at the job expo.
Andrew Sanders, a 23-year-old from Howland, stopped by Dearing’s table and filled out an application for a machinist opening. Sanders, who has been looking for a permanent position since he was laid off from an excavation company in March, said he was hopeful about finding a position.
“I was just coming down to see what they had here, and I found this,” he said. “Nobody’s digging anything any time soon, so I’ll build air pumps.”
Training providers also were on hand at the fair to discuss job opportunities in the booming natural-gas industry. A consortium of community colleges, including Eastern Gateway Community College and the Pennsylvania College of Technology, has launched Marcellus ShaleNET with a $4.9 million federal-training grant. The program will coordinate a comprehensive recruitment, training, placement and retention strategy for jobs in the Marcellus Shale among interested and qualified workers across 69 counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The New Castle School of Trades, a private institution, also has started to incorporate natural-gas industry applications into its training programs in electrical technology, heavy-equipment operations, welding and industrial maintenance, said Noel Olinger, a member of the school’s board of advisers. The school also has started to form partnerships to provide workers to companies operating in the Marcellus Shale, he added.
“It is a great opportunity for our students to get these credentials and understand what the Marcellus Shale is all about,” Olinger said. “There are careers out there, and we are putting people there.”
Graduates from the New Castle School of Trades already are looking for jobs with companies servicing the Marcellus Shale. Phillip McIntire, a 40-year-old from Sharpsville, Pa., who will graduate this month, said he has gotten offers from companies looking for electricians. At the job fair, McIntire spoke with V&M Star representatives about openings at the company’s new pipe mill in Youngstown.
“Its just a matter of what I can do to get my foot in the door,” he said. “I wish I’d known they had this training 20 years ago.”