Responding to a strong need expressed by area energy companies, Chippewa Valley Technical College will offer a new Gas Utility Construction & Service program beginning in June.
Registration is already open for the 10-month, 35-credit program leading to a technical diploma and employment opportunities with contractors installing gas lines or utility companies maintaining systems that service homes and businesses.
“This is a very high-demand, high-wage field and there is a tremendous amount of job security in the industry. Natural gas is the primary heating fuel in the area,” said Adam Wehling, dean of agriculture, energy and transportation at CVTC.
About two-thirds of Wisconsin homes are heated by natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and with most newly constructed homes being outfitted with natural gas, the need for workers in the area continues to grow.
“After 29 years working in the gas industry, I’ve seen how the industry is struggling to find workers,” said RC Jensen, instructor for the program. “Graduates will be able to find work just about anywhere. We are in need of gas techs, locators, welders, and technicians to build and maintain gas infrastructure.”
Jensen added that when word-of-mouth spread about CVTC starting a gas utility training program, he started to get calls from contractors wanting to hire graduates who won’t be available until March 2020. “A graduate should be able to get a job right away in this field,” Jensen said.
“The program is a partnership between the electric power and gas utility industries,” said Wehling, who added there will be some overlap between the new Gas Utility program and the existing Electrical Power Distribution program.
Jensen agrees that there are similarities between the programs, particularly in the emphasis on safety and the appeal to people who would like to work outside.
“Safety will be the focus,” Jensen said. “Working around natural gas can be safe. It takes knowing how to use the tools to ensure the safety of all workers.”
Like EPD, the program starts in the summer to take advantage of conditions for training in installing underground lines. The heart of the Gas Utility program will be four levels of gas utility field training.
“We won’t be spending a lot of time in the lecture hall,” Jensen said. “If you like sitting behind a desk, this program is not for you. But if you like to work outside and troubleshoot problems, this is a good industry for you.”
While similar programs are offered by technical colleges in other parts of Wisconsin, there are currently no programs in western and northwest Wisconsin, and one college-based program in Minnesota appears to be ending, according to Jensen.