By STEPHANY ROMANOW
HOUSTON -- A growing US shortage of skilled labor
will only get worse when new shale-enabled projects try to move forward.
That is the view of Stephen D. Pryor, president of ExxonMobil
Chemical. Pryor offered his longer-term views on the global petrochemical industry in a keynote
address at IHS Chemicals 29th World Petrochemical Conference.
This shortage of skilled labor is not limited to energy and
chemicals. The National Association of Manufacturers reports
that two-thirds of all US manufacturers are experiencing
moderate to severe worker shortages, with up to 600,000 jobs
How is this possible? US students continue to show declining
interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math
(STEM). In 2008, only 4% of US bachelor's degrees were in
engineering; in China, it was 31%.
The STEM disciplines are the foundation for innovation and
economic competitiveness. And increasingly, good manufacturing
jobs require proficiency in one or more of the STEM fields,
especially in high-value-added industries like energy and
Building a workforce
The energy and chemical industries are built on math
and science. Strengthening STEM education and expanding the
pool of skilled labor is needed. Pryor affirmed that the energy
industry must take steps to partner with educators and focusing
on quantifiable results.
ExxonMobil helped launch the National Math and Science
Initiative back in 2007. This initiative takes innovative,
proven programs and scales them up to a national level.
One of the key goals is to increase the number of highly
qualified US math and science teachers at the high school
level. So far, more than 60,000 existing teachers have
completed training, and by 2020, nearly 10,000 new math and
science teachers will be certified.
The other skilled labor group
Skilled jobs like instrument technicians and
machinists do not require a four-year degree in most cases, but
they do require math and science skills. ExxonMobil recently
partnered with nine Houston-area community colleges in a new
program to expand vocational training in a program is labeled,
"Houston + Natural Gas = Jobs."
The goal is to prepare thousands of high school graduates and
returning military veterans for skilled jobs in the Texas
chemical industry. This Houston training initiative has
received both state and national recognition.
ExxonMobil was named Employer of the Year by the Texas
Workforce Commission and will receive a leadership award from
the National Association of Workforce Boards.
In closing, Pryor affirmed that the petrochemical industry has
tremendous opportunities. With shale oil and gas developments,
the US can take a leading role and support the growth of a new
generation of high-paying, middle-class jobs.
But strengthening the US math and science education and
expanding the skilled workforce is the longer-term challenge.
By embracing shale energy, the US can meet the needs of a
growing middle class overseas and revitalize the domestic
Cover photo by F. Carter Smith, Bloomberg