STEUBENVILLE - At 55, Nathan Jones hardly seems "entry-level" material.
A Steubenville native, he's spent the past three decades or more in New Jersey, working his way up the ladder in the construction industry. But the downturn in the world financial markets four years ago left the housing industry in a tailspin, one it's still not out of.
And Jones? Well, these days he's commuting from his New Jersey home to Steubenville, where he'll soon find out if he has what it takes to be a roustabout, an entry-level laborer on a drilling site.
ROUSTABOUT TRAINING — Instructor Frank Hoagland stresses the importance of good listening and communications skills on the job site to students enrolled in Roustabout class at Eastern Gateway Community College’s Jefferson County campus. Eighteen students signed up for the class, designed to prepare workers for entry-level jobs in the shale oil and gas industry. Hoagland is chief executive officer of Special Tactics & Rescue Training in Mingo Junction.
-- Linda Harris
Roustabouts work 12-hour shifts in all kinds of weather for two or three weeks at a time, doing whatever is asked of them in preparing the site, setting up and dismantling rigs, performing routine maintenance and otherwise making themselves useful.
"I see this as an opportunity to change industries," said Jones, a 1975 graduate of Steubenville High School. "The thing that's interesting about this industry is it's a chance to not only get back to work, but there's a lot of opportunity for growth. It's entry level, it's physical work - but I'm no stranger to that. I started out in construction, the building trades, so I'm accustomed to hard work."
Jones is one of 18 people enrolled in the first roustabout class at Eastern Gateway Community College's Jefferson County campus, an intensive, three-week curriculum designed to prepare residents for entry-level jobs in the natural gas industry. It's part of the Marcellus ShaleNet initiative, a federally funded program. Classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays for three weeks.
Frank Hoagland, chief executive officer of Special Tactics & Rescue Training in Mingo Junction and Roustabout instructor, said the class "augments these fellows' efforts to get a good job."
"The class is just a vehicle to get them there," he said. "Almost everybody in the room has lost a job and is trying to find a way to support their families. They've got a lot of hope that at the other end of this, they'll end up with a job."
Tony DeNuzzio of New Cumberland said he's looking "to change careers to something I feel has more promise, more sustainability."
DeNuzzio had spent four years at what was then Severstal's plant in Mingo Junction, before the plant was idled in May 2009. "I got another job," DeNuzzio said. "But now, I'm just looking to align my skills in environmental health and safety."
He sees shale development as a chance to get Americans back to work.
"It's the idea that we're drilling on our own soil, we're not importing oil," he said. "We're giving Americans jobs. Look at the Bakken field in North Dakota - you see people from Florida, Louisiana and Texas going to North Dakota, of all places, to find work."
DeNuzzio admits he likes the idea of being in the great outdoors, as opposed to being under roof in an industrial environment day-in, day-out.
"I'm looking for change," he added. "Every day (in the gas industry) will bring new adventures, instead of just showing up for a job and everything always being the same."
Greg Ashmead of Steubenville said he's "a semester or so" away from a degree in sports management from West Liberty University. He plans to finish his degree, but said he couldn't help but be intrigued by the drilling industry.
"I just saw opportunity and wanted to try it out," he said. "Since I'm close to being done, I'll finish my degree. This is just an opportunity to stay close to home and have a good job."
Jason Linn of Wintersville was working at a local pizza shop and cutting grass, "nothing that could foster a career, make good money," he pointed out.
"You've got to realize, around here when you hit 40 or so you either go back to school and pick up something new or you take advantage of an opportunity like this," said Linn, who graduated from Wintersville High School in 1990. "This is a field where, when you go in you can make $40,000 or $50,000 or $60,000 a year. It's hard work, but you definitely have to try and take advantage of it. ShaleNet, that's what we've been looking for."
Jones, meanwhile, says it boils down to a common sense decision: With another another eight to 10 working years before he hits retirement age, "I can't not do anything," he said.
"I can't tell you how many times I've sent out resumes, not stock resumes but resumes targeted at a specific job opening, and in a year's time, I've only been physically to one interview," he said. "To me, that's not promising for the future."