Apprenticeship programs help petrochemical companies select workers in tight market

Downstream oil and gas companies including BASF, one of the three biggest petrochemical producers, have organized apprenticeship development programs to select and professionally develop workers in the current tight North American labor market.

Image courtesy of BASF

BASF’s North American Apprenticeship Development Program offers an “opportunity to gain on-the-job training and earn industry-recognized credentials while receiving a full-time wage,” a company spokesperson said by email on June 16.

Efforts include “building continuous relationships with education and training organizations to attract, develop and retain top, diverse talent,” she added.

The aim is to “support the manufacturing industry’s efforts to secure a skilled workforce,” she said.

BASF also donated $1 million to support technical education program at the school district of Brazosport, a Texan coastal community.

Another institution, The LyondellBasell Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology located at the San Jacinto College in the Houston area also offers education focused on the petrochemical industry.

Women in manufacturing

BASF has expanded its North American Apprenticeship Development Program so that this year about a hundred apprentices will train on-site in 20 U.S. locations.

The 2022 roster of new apprentice hires includes “an average 44% female selection rate, further supporting the company’s goal of increasing the number of women in manufacturing.”

BASF wants to expand this entry option into the industry “while further strengthening our diverse and skilled workforce,” said Michael Heinz, CEO of BASF Corp., according to a release.

BASF apprenticeship programs for 2022 includes participations at sites in South Carolina, Ohio, and Alabama.

The company is “collaborating with 19 local colleges to ensure comprehensive and integrated training in addition to the practical experience participants gain” at the facilities. 

Labor tightness

The National Association of Manufacturers projects a labor shortage of 2.1 million manufacturing jobs by 2030, according to BASF.

Separately, the U.S. Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) said in June 3 that difficulties finding workers are already reflected in rising wages.

“Rapidly rising hourly earnings enabled the construction industry to add 36,000 employees in May, but a record number of job openings going into the month suggests contractors want to hire even more,” the AGC said.

“Job openings in construction hit an all-time high at the end of April, while the industry’s low unemployment rate suggests experienced workers are scarce,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist of the contractor association.

Rising wages

Average earnings for production and non-supervisory employees, mainly hourly craft workers in construction related work, increased 6.3% during the year that extended from May 2021 to last month and this was the highest rate gain since December 1982, Simonson said.

“But average earnings in the overall private sector rose slightly faster, by 6.5%, making it hard for contractors to attract enough applicants to fill all openings,” according to the AGC.

There were 494,000 construction-industry job openings at the end of April, an increase of 141,000, or 40%, from April 2021.

“That was the largest total for any month since that series began in 2000,” Simonson said.

Unemployment fell

The unemployment rate for jobseekers with some construction experience fell to 3.8% last month from 6.7% in May 2021. The number of unemployed construction workers fell by 250,000 or 39%, to 392,000.

“This suggests there are few experienced jobseekers left to hire,” according to the AGC.

“There is no shortage of available, good-paying career opportunities in the construction industry,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer.

“Public officials should be exposing people to construction career opportunities that pay well and don’t require a college degree and the debt that all too often comes with it,” he said, according to the association. Some 45 million Americans owe a combined total of $1.75 trillion in college debt.

The current tightness in labor market is a marked change from the pandemic, when delays in maintenance projects and other restrictions kept many workers idle.

U.S. chemical industry workers are among the highest-paid in the manufacturing sector, averaging more than $90,000 in 2021, the American Chemistry Council that groups chemical producers  said recently.

By Renzo Pipoli