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Marlington garners attention for oil, gas program

By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal education writer

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Anthony Kirby, 18 drives a teleloader under the direction of Marlington High School gas and oil instructor Bob Givens (right) standing next to Alex Hatfield, 18, students in the gas and oil program at Marlington High School on Monday in Alliance, Ohio. Students learn to operate equipment similar to the type used in the gas and oil industry. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)

MARLBORO TWP.: Ten seniors and 12 juniors in the Marlington district have enrolled in Ohio’s first Gas and Oil Technology program for high school students.

The first-year program has garnered the attention of neighboring school districts and prospective employers in Ohio’s emerging gas and oil business. Each day the students spend 90 minutes learning skills that could land them an entry-level job.

For some, it’s a family tradition.

T.J. Mathes, 18, grew up driving backhoes and bulldozers in his grandfather’s backyard. His grandfather worked as a welder until he could launch his own company, SML Contracting Inc., which excavates land for gas wells.

Mathes’ father, Marc, got his start in the business by spray-painting gas wells. He’s now a field representative for Chesapeake Energy Corp., which has leased more than 1 million acres of land above Ohio’s Utica and Marcellus shale formations.

Mathes knows that following in his family’s footsteps requires training and hard work. And an entry-level job after a year in Marlington’s oil and gas program could launch that career.

“I want to work my way up,” said Mathes, who joined his classmates Monday to receive training on a rented forklift.

Most of the students’ fathers are crane operators, construction workers, truck drivers, farmers or heavy equipment operators. Between the rustic farmhouses and fields of rural northeastern Stark County, the students find work as busboys, landscapers and caddies at a local golf course.

Some hope to land a job in the oil and gas industry as early as April 1, when students are permitted to leave school at 11 a.m. if they are employed. Others, like seniors Randy Vaughan and Jesse Chenevey, hope to earn up to six college credits in the program before receiving a post-secondary education.

Vaughan said he plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Akron after graduating in June.

Beyond high school

Some college students are going back to high school to learn from Marlington’s program. As Marlington’s seniors pile onto a wagon and head back to the high school, the empty parking lot where they practiced on- an off-road forklift maneuvers begins to fill with cars belonging to Stark State College students.

Among them is 37-year-old Steve Shell. He enrolled in Stark State’s ShaleNET program three months ago, after he lost his job at RG Steel in Warren, which closed in June.

“I’m finding other avenues,” Shell said.

His instructor, Bob Givens, has been instrumental in offering those avenues.

Givens began teaching agriculture at Marlington in 1970. Over the years, he got into natural resources.

You could say Givens has lived at the corner of agriculture and industry his entire life. He worked in construction at 9 years old. At 63, he maintains a 500-acre farm.

All his life, he has relied on input from industry leaders to shape his teaching. It’s the foundation for the oil and gas course’s curriculum at Marlington.

Givens said he wouldn’t be training students about gas and oil if the industry wasn’t already at Ohio’s doorstep. He has sought out companies like Chesapeake to give students an added perspective on what employers might expect.

During Monday’s forklift training, students asked Mark Matusick, Chesapeake’s manager of corporate development, all the questions that might be asked of them in a job interview.

Matusick and other Chesapeake officials reiterated the most notable attributes to learn from the program: work hard, show up on time, be safe and stay drug-free.

“There’s been a lot of talk about ‘Do we have the trained work force?’ ” Matusick said of the industry’s demand for able and eligible employees. Programs like this, Matusick added, would help to “keep the work here” in Ohio, explaining that the training would translate to jobs beyond drilling.

“Those skills are universally adaptable,” he said.

Ripple effect

Students familiarized on heavy equipment could work in manufacturing, construction and transportation, Matusick and others said. Chesapeake’s hiring footprint, with roughly 500 Ohio jobs to date, is “a drop in the bucket” compared to the ancillary positions the gas and oil industry would generate.

Marlington’s location between the Akron metropolitan area and the promising Utica shale fields of eastern Ohio provides an advantageous landscape for students to learn and seek employment, Givens said. “I see this as the greatest opportunity for jobs in this area for as long as I’ve been teaching,” he said.

Carrollton and Louisville high schools are among many from Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania seeking to emulate Marlington’s fledgling program, Givens said.

“The ultimate goal is to develop a curriculum and use it elsewhere,” Givens said, as well as “give students a leg up on everyone else.”

Marlington schools have assumed the program’s cost, said Nick Evanich, the district’s career tech director. He could not immediately provide that figure.

Evanich said funding for vocational studies like the oil and gas program has flat-lined in the past few years. He added that career development had become less of a priority.

“That kind of got lost with everyone going to college for a while,” he said.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.