Beneath the continental United States, the largest estimated reserve of natural gas in the world resides between shale and rock formations. This petroleum-based fuel is less expensive to extract than oil, is safer for the environment than other fossil fuels and offers vast career opportunities for trained professionals right here in northeast Iowa.
The bitter cold winter of 2013-2014 reinforced how important this precious resource is for the workforce that delivers natural gas to northeast Iowa homes and businesses. In fact, according to a 2013 report by the Institute for Energy Research, almost two-thirds of Iowa households use natural gas as their main source of energy for home heating.
Major northeast Iowa employers include Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, MidAmerican Energy Company and Infrasource.
Supporting this critical sector of the energy economy are hundreds of gas utility workers who ensure, even in the coldest days in January and February, that Iowa homeowners have a reliable, safe and cost-effective natural gas heating source.
Employment opportunities for graduates of the Gas Utility Construction and Service program at Northeast Iowa Community College’s (NICC) Peosta campus are growing, said lead instructor Bob Waechter, who has taught students since the program’s opening in 2007 and previously worked for 34 years for Black Hills Energy.
“The demand is definitely there for students and graduates going into the gas utility industry. Students can enroll in the one-year Gas Utility Construction and Service diploma program and start out making more money than someone who earned a four-year degree – and without the additional cost of that schooling,” Waechter said.
Program alumni stay in contact with Waechter and report great career success in the field, both in northeast Iowa and throughout the state, which is experiencing ongoing worker shortages because skilled employees are retiring. Major northeast Iowa employers include Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, MidAmerican Energy Company and Infrasource.
According to Waechter, some entry-level wages for gas service line workers, at MidAmerican Energy for example, are over $56,300 a year.
“There are three things that my alumni always say: they like what they’re doing, they really like the people they work with and they’ve never seen that much money in their paychecks in their entire lives,” he laughed. “The benefits are also great for employees in the gas utility field; these companies take care of you.”
An additional benefit of the NICC program is the training the College provides to meet federal requirements in the field. Area job seekers often see help wanted ads for gas line workers that require future employees to be operator-qualified, which is a federal mandate for nearly every aspect of gas line work. “Our program prepares students to be operator-qualified and to meet this employment requirement for certification,” Waechter added.