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Author's profile photo John Harrison

Shortage of Skilled Workers Impacting Chemical Expansion Projects

It is amazing the impact that the shortage of skilled workers is having. A lot of the materials I have read recently look to the future of shortages of skilled workers and wonder about the impact his will have in the future. As you know most of us just get by, and think that this is in the near future.

But the talent shortage is with us today. At the recent  Instrument Symposium conference at Texas A&M ( ), I was talking with people who said that they thought that they could increase their companies size  if they could get the staff. And with the limited number of skilled workers available, they  were poaching them from each other or looking to China for workers. The assumption being that the imported workers had to show that they could do the job, or back they go.

So the problem is real and it is today.

Then I ran across an article in the Cornerstone a construction publication for workforce development professional. In this article they pointed out that Industrial Info Resources (IIR) ( ) estimates that there are over 1,100 active construction projects underway in the gulf region. And within the chemical industry, the availability of low-cost natural gas from shale mining  has increase the demand for new and expanded chemical plants, the plants that were being considered for closure are now planning major expansions.

With $10 billion dollars’ worth of chemical plant expansion planned to  occur in the greater Houston area over the next 3 years, with nearly triple that amount expected in the overall Gulf Coast area during the same time, there is tremendous demand for skilled workers. This impacts not only the capability for completing the project, but also the cost as wages will inevitably increase.

“One thing in the IIR report that’s interesting is that there are a lot of projects out there that owners want to do, but if this workforce problem isn’t solved, wage escalation will price them to where the return on investment won’t make them worth doing,” said Matt Clark, senior workforce development manager for KBR.

The article also points out that there is international competition for these skilled trades. Canada’s Oil & Gas Industry is also competing for the same workers and is willing to pay well for people to cross the border. No longer is the shortage regional but international. And this competition is going to get worse as the aging work force retires and a world wide shortage results.

So how are we going to resolve this:

How do we manage our existing talent so that they stay with us?

How do we make sure that there is a continual flow of newly skilled workers flowing into the company?

The article points out some of the programs that the construction industry are putting in place to try to resolve their problem. Can or should the chemical industry do something similar?

Is distance, on line learning a possibility? Let us know what you think. Please comment.

For those who are interested in the complete article please use the following link

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