As problems go, this is a wonderful one to have.

02032017_feature_v2That’s ExxonMobil Chemical Company president Neil Chapman’s assessment of the looming need for skilled workers along the U.S. Gulf Coast to support the rapid growth of the region’s petrochemical sector.

ExxonMobil and others are leading a manufacturing renaissance on the Gulf Coast, particularly in Texas, building and expanding petrochemical plants and facilities to take advantage of the new supplies of natural gas from America’s shale regions.

But as Neil pointed out in a recent forum, these multi-billion dollar investments will require tens of thousands of highly skilled workers for construction and operations. And even though the average salary for STEM-related skilled jobs in the chemical industry in Texas is nearly $100,000 per year, the numbers of qualified workers just don’t exist yet in sufficient quantities.

We’re actively addressing that problem by underwriting technical education and training in the region to produce those skilled men and women.

Four years ago, ExxonMobil partnered with nine Houston-area community colleges to form the Community College Petrochemical Initiative (CCPI). We have contributed $1.8 million so far to this innovative program, helping build a regional alliance of schools to provide training in the essential skills and competencies needed in the petrochemical industry. Students learn everything from welding and pipefitting to instrumentation, computer maintenance, supply-chain management, and electrical technology, among other technical skills.

ExxonMobil is sponsoring similar efforts along the Gulf Coast in Baton Rouge , Beaumont, and elsewhere.

We know we are having a positive effect: Since the initiative began in 2013, enrollment in petrochemical-related fields at participating institutions is up nearly 18 percent.

And last year, the CCPI’s flagship school, Lee College, launched its Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator Initiative to leverage the work already underway and ultimately increase the number of STEM graduates. The laudable goal of this project is “to ensure that 100,000 underrepresented students in Texas earn STEM degrees.”

Neil was right describing the need for a skilled workforce as a wonderful problem to have. It’s even more wonderful to solve.

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