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News Classes Designed To Fill Booming Need For Energy Industry Workers
By Kera Mashek
April 2, 2014


DUNBAR, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) With the recent announcement that West Virginia is one step closer to bringing a cracker plant to Wood County, there's still a big question to be answered. Where will the state find enough skilled workers to staff the facility?

The natual gas industry is absolutely exploding in growth, with an incredible 40 percent spike in the number of oil and gas jobs in the last five years. But filling the demand isn't easy. That's why this year, Ben Franklin Career and Technical Center in Dunbar launched a new energy program to help workers get the skills the need to help support homegrown jobs.

After 10 years in the energy industry, then 21 years as a physics teacher, Tim Beasley has found an important calling. He's teaching the next generation of West Virginia workers to be ready for careers in the booming natural gas business.

"With the cracker plant to be opened and gas field work and all there's a big demand and no one to fill these jobs, and if we don't prepare people to fill those jobs, they'll come here from out of state or out of the country even to come in and fill those jobs, and we don't want that to happen," Beasley said.

The power and energy program is new at Ben Franklin School in Dunbar this year. And it doesn't just focus on natural gas. Students here learn about all kinds of energy sources.

"The new green energies are still looking for skills that we teach too," said Beasley.

This is an intensive program, cramming four years of material into two years for high school students. They spend a lot of time focused on math and science, but also do a lot of hands-on projects to learn about energy and how things work.

"We've made transformers and stuff like that, step up and step down transformers. We have even went over dams and how they work. We made little turbines to kind of simulate it," said student Robert McCallister.

McCallister is glad a school counselor encouraged him to be a part of this new program. He says every day brings a new challenge and when he's finished with classwork this spring, he plans to continue his education to be ready for a career that will help power the future.

"I'm not anti-coal. I like coal. But we need something else in our area for jobs and stuff. Also, the fact that not only does it create new jobs, it's also a little better for the environment. And the more things better for our environment, the longer the planet's going to live, he longer we're going to live. It's just better for everybody," said McCallister.

Right now, the power and energy program at Ben Franklin is only open to high schoolers. But as the industry demand keeps growing, the school expects more classes, including some for adults, could be added.

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