By Jon Delano

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s hard to think about Beaver County without thinking of the Shell cracker plant now under construction just off Interstate 376 in Potter Township.

For many in this region, that means jobs — and a lot of them.

Take the steamfitters who install the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and processed pipe.

“[We have] 1,800 working from the West Virginia border to Lake Erie in 15 counties,” says Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters Local 449.

“But on the cracker, we should peak with Great Arrow Builders with 1,500 steamfitters.”

“So if I’ve got 1,800 working now and we’re almost going to double the man hours — need double the number of steamfitters because of that facility.”

“This is huge,” adds Greg Christy, business manager for Iron Workers Local No. 3.

Iron workers erect those steel I-beams, do bridge work, install footers and foundations, and even install glass in skyscrapers.

The cracker plant needs a lot.

“This will transform the tri-state area if you will, and for Local 3 it’s big, and, as [Broadbent] stated, we are actively recruiting apprentices,” said Christy.

The local trades unions — like the carpenters — say they have been planning for a possible worker shortage by training new skilled workers.

“We have been preparing for this for the last three years when Shell starting talking about coming to this region,” says Rick Okraszewski, marketing director of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters.

“We took a look at our workforce, and we took a look retirement age. People my age are starting to head on out. And we’re looking at how much do we need to back-feed that group of people,” says Okraszewski.

That means training young people to become carpenters, ironworkers, steamfitters, and the operating engineers who run the heavy equipment on the work site.

Each of the trade unions are now offering free training to those who want to become skilled tradesmen and women.

“We just built an $18.5 million training center, 75,000 square foot, and all the training is for free,” said Broadbent.

“And we are bringing in four times as many apprentices, so we will handle any labor shortage.”

Those newly-trained apprentices could end up at the cracker plant over the next few years.

“We have quite a few at the cracker plant already. Quite a few of the Beaver County residents that are carpenters are working at the cracker plant already,” said Okraszewski.