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The Future of Oil and Natural Gas Industry is Ripe with High Paying Opportunities for Minorities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “We expect that in this workforce of future, African Americans and Latinos will supply almost 40 percent of the workforce…” Mike Sommers, president and CEO, American Petroleum Institute

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

In a year when the American Petroleum Institute (API) marks its 100th anniversary, the oil and natural gas industry continues to look towards the workforce of the future nationally and globally that will emphasize the inclusion of African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

API, America’s largest trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, is working diligently to encourage minorities and women to become petroleum engineers, geologists, welders, electricians, accountants, business managers and to secure other high-paying and family-sustaining jobs that have routinely gone to white males.

Under the guidance of President and CEO Mike Sommers, the Institute continues to make strides toward changing the landscape by putting in place strategic and definitive initiatives that address diversity and inclusion.

For his part, Sommers has brought two decades of political experience to API, including his role as president and CEO of the American Investment Council (AIC), an advocacy and resource organization established to develop and provide information about the private investment industry and its contributions to the long-term growth of the U.S. economy and retirement security of American workers.

Prior to joining the AIC in 2016, Sommers served as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-OH) and in other capacities in House leadership for more than a decade.

A Naperville, Ill., native and graduate of the honors program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Sommers served at the center of nearly every major policy decision in the last decade.

He successfully negotiated bipartisan achievements on landmark legislation, including the Trouble Asset Relief Program in 2008, the resolution of the fiscal cliff in 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 and trade promotion authority in 2015.

Sommers also served as Special Assistant to the President at the National Economic Council at the White House in 2005.

In an exclusive joint interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Alliance of Hispanic Publications, Sommers detailed how the country’s natural gas and oil industry plays a central role in the U.S. economy – supporting 10.3 million jobs and keeping energy affordable for families and businesses.

Studies have revealed that the industry will realize close to 1.9 million new job opportunities by 2035, with hundreds of thousands of them projected to be filled by African American and Hispanic workers, he said.

“America’s natural gas and oil industry is committed to meeting and exceeding those projections, ensuring job opportunities reach every community – because we know a diverse workforce is essential to fostering the innovation and collaboration we need for a stronger industry, and a stronger country,” Sommers said.

The half-hour question and answer session revealed Sommers’ and API’s vision going forward.

NNPA: What are the top facts that you’d like the public to know about the natural gas and oil industry?

Sommers: The first thing the public needs to know about the oil and natural gas industry is that it supports 10.3 million jobs in this country.

The other thing is that while energy production has gone through the roof over the course of the last many years, our emissions [in America] have gone down. In fact, the United States now has the cleanest air in a generation, while worldwide emissions have gone up 50 percent.

That’s really thanks to the innovation that has occurred in this industry.

While in this country, costs continue to go up for education, health care and housing, household energy costs have gone down 10.5 percent in the last ten years and that’s truly because of the innovation and work this industry has done to make sure consumers have access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy.

NNPA: What are some of the ways the industry is reducing its environmental impact?

Sommers: The environmental issue is one of the top issues we deal with on a daily basis in this country.

This industry has reduced our environmental footprint not just from the perspective of the emissions reduction… A whole generation of change has resulted in cleaner air in this country and that’s something we’re very proud of.

In addition, we’ve reduced the environmental impact in places where we actually produce this energy.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve reduced the size of well pad by almost 90 percent and that’s good for the environment, good for American production and good for the American consumer.

NNPA: Currently, the unemployment rate among African Americans is nearly twice as high as that of the white labor force, while the median income for African Americans is approximately half as much as whites.

Similar stats are true for the Hispanic community, so what can API do to change that dynamic within the oil and natural gas industry and help ensure that these communities hear about opportunities in your industry?

Sommers: This industry currently supports 10.3 million jobs but that is only going to grow as the energy revolution in this country continues to expand.

We’ve done numerous studies on this and we actually expect that much of the new labor force coming into this industry is going to be supplied by African American and Hispanic workers.

What we’re doing is working very closely with our industry partners, particularly with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute to make sure that black and Hispanic workers in the industry know what those opportunities are.

So, we’re working very closely with others in the industry as well to make sure folks understand where they can get these great paying jobs; these are middle-class sustaining jobs and jobs that will supply the workforce for the future.

NNPA: Do you have any advice for young people who are thinking about pursuing a career in STEM or the natural gas and oil industry in general?

Sommers: STEM education is key. We have a number of partner organizations in this field where they’re helping to ensure that young Hispanic and African American students have access to a STEM education.

That’s not the only place where you can have an entry point into the oil and natural gas industry. This is an industry that needs all kinds of workers; many of our companies are competing with people like Google and Facebook and folks within Silicon Valley, so STEM is important but those are not the only jobs.

We need welders, pipe fitters and we partner with unions like the North America’s Building Trades Unions to make sure there’s training for new employees in this industry, so they understand how important safety is and they get the skills they need so they’re ready for this highly-trained workforce.

We need everyone from scientists to engineers, but that they understand how important putting a hard hat on is and getting ready for this workforce.

Those are the employees this industry needs, particularly as this energy revolution continues to grow in the United States.

Sommers: Again, these are family sustaining wages. In this industry [the requirement of a college degree] is simply not true. Of course, if you want to be an engineer, scientist or geologist, that will require higher education, but we also have training programs that we built out with the Building Trade unions where you can get an 8-week certificate from the unions and you can become a welder in some of the most prolific oil and natural gas basis in this country almost immediately.

These are jobs you can get right out of high school. We are building a workforce for the future and they are paying great wages.

NNPA: What are the top policies you’re advocating to ensure affordable energy and job opportunities?

Sommers: The two key, big priorities this year are that we need Congress to work on an infrastructure bill so that we can build infrastructure to support the energy revolution that’s going on in this country.

So, infrastructure is key; the other thing we need is to make sure that we have markets for these products that are being produced with American resources. So, we need access to pipelines and make sure that the infrastructure is in place.

We also need markets for our products and that means the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement which is a key priority of this Congress and this president that has to get done as quickly as possible.

We expect that in this workforce of future, African Americans and Latinos will supply almost 40 percent of the workforce.

That’s the reason these training programs and partnerships that we’ve built over time are going to continue to be key components of our advocacy to make sure that the workforce that we supply to the American consumer is safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable energy.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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