By DREW PARKER – Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Local educators are working to prepare students for the continuing oil and gas boom.

As part of that education, Mike Koon, vice president of workforce development at West Virginia Northern Community College, explained three new programs related to the industry at Tuesday’s Wheeling Rotary club meeting.

At the college’s campuses in Wheeling, Weirton and New Martinsville, instructors have designed new programs to meet the needs of fast-growing local industries.

A combination of two-year associate in applied science degrees and one-year certificates, the degree options include petroleum technology; refrigeration, air condition and heating technology; mechatronics; and basic welding.

There are about 20 students enrolled in each program class at their prospective campuses.

The college’s petroleum technology associate in applied science focuses on preparing students for employment in natural gas drilling and development of Marcellus and Utica shales and includes outdoor labs designed to give students hands-on industry experience.

An associate in mechatronics integrates mechanical and electrical skills to prepare students for a job in automated manufacturing.

The college is also introducing a welding program for college students or welding professionals looking to increase their knowledge.

Koon said the programs address the problem of out of state workers coming to the Ohio Valley.

“One of the criticisms of the oil and gas industry that developed here has been that they’ve brought in a lot of out of state workers,” Koon said. “These jobs are very specialized and have safety issues requiring a certain skill set, and the area didn’t have that expertise.”

Koon said oil and gas companies are interested in helping educational programs for their industry succeed.

“The industry has been very involved in helping create and sustain our program,” Koon said. “Noble Gas has donated $250,000 for the program. In addition, Dominion and Chesapeake have also made contributions.”

Koon said the program has been lucrative for local graduates.

“Of our Weirton students who have graduated from the petroleum program, all are making an excess of $66,000 a year,” Koon said.

“These jobs will be with us for 15-to-30 years. We hope this will be a big asset to the local economy” Koon said.