By Burton Speakman
Mass hiring for oil and gas jobs is expected to start within the next year, but the lack of a drug-free work force in the Mahoning Valley may prove to be a problem.
In Columbiana County, for example, nine of 10 potential unskilled workers will fail the urine screen, said Josh Dunne, co-owner of Accord Occupational Health Services in Boardman and Ohio Sports and Spine Institute, which does drug testing as part of its work in occupational health.
For higher-skilled positions in the industry, the rate drops to three tests to find one worker, he said, a failure rate of 66 percent.
It becomes expensive for the companies seeking qualified workers since tests can cost $40 each.
The trades, such as welding and pipe fitting, have brought in workers from other areas because there are not enough skilled or drug-free workers in the Valley, Dunne said.
Brian Benyo, president of Brilex Indus-tries Inc., said at the Oh-Penn Interstate Regional Manufac- turing Workforce Summit in April that there are not enough people locally who have the necessary skills for the modern manufacturing industry.
Benyo, as part of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, is working with local colleges and training programs to increase the number of skilled workers.
It doesn’t matter if someone has the best training, however, if they cannot pass a drug test. There is no way they will get hired in the oil and gas industry, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Education Program.
“Companies can’t afford the risk. Safety is one of the biggest concerns out there,” she said. “Someone potentially getting hurt would create huge problems.”
The most-common drugs that appear on failed tests among local workers are marijuana and painkillers, Dunne said.
“Failing a urine test is like failing an IQ test. If you fail, you’re probably too stupid to work there,” he said.
The difficulty in getting potential employees to pass drug tests has led companies to target veterans and volunteer firefighters as workers, Reda said.
“We tell them two things. First, they have to be able to pass a drug test; and second, they have to be able to work out in the weather and elements,” she said. “Former military and volunteer firefighters can typically pass the drug test, and they’re used to working in all types of weather conditions.”
Both Dunne and Reda would like to see some level of prior screening for people before they are allowed into federal- or state-funded training programs.
“A number of these job-training programs are funded by the state. It’s a waste of time to put someone through training who has no chance of getting hired,” Reda said.
There are a lot of people taking out loans or receiving grants to go through training programs, she said.
“Hopefully, by talking about this, people will get themselves clean by the time hiring is expected to boom in about a year,” she said.
Failing drug tests is a problem throughout the work force, particularly at the less-skilled level, Dunne said. Everyone with an interest must get together to talk about the issue, she said.
“It does not look good for this area if word gets out that you can’t hire employees because they can’t pass a drug test,” Dunne said.
One neighboring state that did not have a large number of failed drug tests was Indiana. Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development reported that just 1 percent of participants failed drug tests.
The reasons for this could vary. Dunne said he worked with a company that had prospective employees take a written test and then walk four blocks for a drug test immediately afterward.
“It was amazing how many people got lost,” he said. “A lot of people pre-screened themselves knowing they wouldn’t pass the test.”