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Front Page » October 3, 2006 » Focus on Energy » Grand opening, symposium usher in Western Energy Training...
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Grand opening, symposium usher in Western Energy Training Center

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Sun Advocate reporter

A Savage employee uses torches to perform the "cable cutting" at the Western Energy Training Center's grand opening Thursday. Classes have already begun at the training center.

The Western Energy Training Center hosted its grand opening Thursday at their facility at the mouth of Indian Canyon on U.S. Highway 191. The "cable cutting" was followed by a symposium focused on the issues that currently face the energy industry and how the WETC will help.

Rick Olsen, president of the Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association, introduced speakers that hailed from all areas of the energy industry. In his preliminary remarks, he stressed two vital themes, that "safety begins with training," and that the WETC board of directors is a policy board rather than an advisory board.

This means that the industry that supports the WETC will make decisions involving the training that goes on there. The board is comprised of both members of industry and College of Eastern Utah faculty.

The symposium started with remarks by David Litvin, president of the Utah Miners Association. He reported that at this point, coal mining is an $18 billion industry in the U.S. It contributes 1 million jobs to the economy directly and 2.5 million indirectly.

Litvin began his address by stating, "I believe this center to be central to the future of mining in this area." He centered his remarks around the large need that exists in all areas of energy production for skilled and trained employees. According to Litvin we currently have 13 energy-specific training schools in the nation where 20 years ago we had 24. Along with several other factors, this has led to an increasingly older workforce, especially in the mine engineering field where 54 percent of the work force are older than 50 years old.

"We have a serious problem with coming retirement in our industry," commented Litvin.

As these individuals retire, the need for their replacement goes up exponentially every year because of additional demand at new and growing facilities.

At the current rate, the energy industry will require 260 new mining engineers per year. At present, only 100 graduate currently graduate each year.

Grand opening attendees enjoy a catered lunch before the symposium's first session. Industry officials as well as well as College of Eastern Utah faculty spoke during the sessions.

The next obstacle is, who will teach them? Of the 68 tenured professors who currently teach in this field, half will retire in the next 10 years. The opening of the WETC is a huge step in the right direction, he said. In addition to more training, Litvin concluded by saying the industry must also "increase scholarship money in order to entice more young people into the field."

Next to speak was Mike Herbertson, of the Utah Department of Oil, Gas and Mining. Herbertson put our areas importance in the states energy production in perspective by reporting that, "The coal produced at Sufco Mine is responsible for producing 95 percent of the electricity used in Utah."

He also addressed natural gas, chronicling the enormous growth that Utah has seen over the last few years. He reported that more than 1,600 drilling permits were issued for all of last year, with 1,538 permits already granted this year.

Herbertson's department projects a big increase in numbers. While the bulk of these permits are issued for Uintah County (67 percent), Carbon County is also seeing an increase with 10 percent of the total permits. His message was largely the same as Litvin's.

"We need more skilled and trained employees" Herbertson concluded.

Robert Topping concluded the first session with his curriculum plan for the WETC. Before joining the WETC team, Topping served as department chair and campus administrator for the Wilsonville Training Center at Clackamas Community College in Oregon. There he developed his "corporate university model" which has received national attention.

Topping not only brings 14 years of experience educating at the collegiate level, he also brings 26 years of hands-on-experience in the construction industry.

His doctoral dissertation in education addressed learning environments, career education and workforce development specifically for the energy industry. Within his dissertation his study focused on the community college's role in the learning process, design features and major issues that affect workforce development and career succession planning.

These qualifications make him ideally suited to address the need of both the WETC and the surrounding community.

"Training is just the beginning," stated Topping. "This will be a comprehensive education program. The WETC will also assist in education and training for areas outside, but related to, the energy industry," Topping continued.

Members of the local American Legion present the flag at Thursdays ceremony.

Thanks to U.S. Department of Labor grant funds and Topping's own curriculum philosophy, the WETC we operate with three components in mind: industry, education and community.

"We will help the industry to identify where their workforce needs will be and provide training in order to help them move forward," explained Topping.

The guiding principles of the facility will be to:

•Recognize safety as the primary performance indicator for state of the art training. "Safety begins with training," has become the mantra at this facility.

•Protect facilities, adjacent lands, and equipment from hazards and unsafe conditions while conducting training.

•Comply with safety regulations, performance standards and service area requirements.

Once these principles have been met, the WETC looks to focus its training capabilities on replacing aging industrial infrastructure, expanding labor pools, adding value to community economic development and developing a comprehensive information sharing program.

The industry cannot afford to lose the invaluable information contained in the minds of those who are about to retire, said Topping. It must be recorded and shared with those who are coming in to replace them.

The curriculum that Topping has created is geared toward hands-on learning. From the introductory workforce readiness program to the more lengthy process engineering program. "People in the energy industry are hands-on learners and we will embrace this by doing hands-on training."

The energy field is growing and it is growing in and around the Castle Valley. The industry needs to have trained individuals if impacted communities are to take advantage of the economic impact this growth will provide. The WETC is beneficial to all who live in the area, "We produce workers that add value to our community as well as industry," stated Topping in conclusion. He said that the potential for tremendous growth is there, but it must be seized.

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