ECF ’15: Training partnerships could boost US Gulf petrochemical workforce

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

GALVESTON, Texas -- Petrochemical companies are urged to establish better relationships with local training providers as a means of promoting improved workforce development, an executive at JPMorgan Chase said on Tuesday.

Carolyn Watson, vice president and relationship manager of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, said that billions of dollars in new petrochemical US Gulf projects are still likely to advance, even with the recent collapse in oil markets.

But at the moment, the regional construction industry is somewhat ill-equipped to develop those projects, both in terms of the raw number of craft workers needed as well as the requisite skillsets. Watson explored these trends in a presentation Tuesday at the Energy Construction Forum.

“I think it starts with looking at your workforce and looking at the stars, and finding out where the star employees were trained or received their education,” she said. “Once you inventory that, you'll get a sense of who is doing the training that meets your needs.”

In the Houston area, where Watson is based, she referenced local community colleges such as the Lone Star College System and Lee College as examples of training schools where the petrochemical industry could have a more direct influence.

“It’s really about developing a relationship with your training provider,” Watson said. “Relationships rather than transactions are important. That also positions you to influence the curriculum that these students are receiving.”

Watson also called on petrochemical leaders allocate resources with partnerships. She noted that in JPMorgan Chase’s time dealing with community colleges, she recognized that they are able to respond quickly to suggested changes.

“We can get real-time information from what's going on in the market to what's going on in the classroom,” Watson said. “K through 12 schools and community colleges are really seeking input from employers on what your needs are and what kinds of hard and soft skills you require on the job.

“I think that kind of focused effort will expand the types of applicants that come through your door,” she said.

Watson also spoke of the need to improve public perception as a means of attracting more potential workers to the industry.

“For years, our public policy was based around a four-year degree as being the only successful path to a good life,” she said. “What we're trying to tell the story with manufacturing and construction is that the other pathway is equally rigorous and offers some wonderful career opportunities.”

The inaugural Energy Construction Forum continues through Wednesday at Moody Gardens in Galveston.

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