The North Side, like many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, suffers from an abundance of young unemployed Black men. But several organizations, led by Mentors Consulting and Training, have teamed up to change that by offering some of them training to work on shale gas rigs.

Mentors founder and President Kris Kirk said she put the program together to address the “shameful” unemployment rate for Pittsburgh’s African-American population.

BUILDING FUTURES—The first class of students in the Mentors Certified Energy Specialist Program begin their 80 hours of instruction at the RCI building on the North Side Feb. 13. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“Normally we go into a company and create a training curriculum, so this is a pilot program for us,” she said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of the target population, looking to put 40 men, in groups of 10, through this program. The first class started Feb. 13.”

Married and with two children, at 36, Lenell Hale is one of the “old heads” in the class. Prior to being laid-off in August, he was a substitute teacher and counselor in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. His wife Jacqueline is the director at Obama Academy. Hale said he enrolled for several reasons, but the wealth-building opportunity and job security offered by the shale industry was foremost.

“It’s an up and coming field, almost like the old gold rush, and it’s going to be around for years,” he said. “We have a good mix of old and young in this class and that helps us bond. These guys are serious.”

Assuming he masters the class and is hired to work on a shale rig, Hale would be working a schedule that keeps him away from home for two or three weeks at a time.

“Yes, while I’m away I’ll have to make sure I stay connected to the kids, and when I’m home, I’ll have to make that time count even more,” he said. “My wife is my best friend, we’ll adjust. Life is short, you have to live it.”

Dennis Dull, of the Institute for High Priority Occupations, who has partnered with Kirk as one of the program’s safety instructors, said it’s the same course offered at Slippery Rock University and several other locations around the state, and which has resulted in the placement of more than 500 individuals.

“An informal poll of our graduates indicates they are making around $64,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve placed people with 95 different companies. I can’t guarantee anyone a job, but I can guarantee they are learning the skills the industry needs because they told me what they needed to have taught.”

In addition to the 80 hours of industry specialist training, the program includes 40 hours of personal skills training that includes not only interpersonal work-related skills, but also interviewing and resume building training. That portion of the programs is conducted by Rochelle Oaks of the Oaks Group.

This education would typically cost about $3,900, but Kirk has made it possible for those in the program to get a scholarship by partnering with the POISE Foundation. All the students need to do is pay back 10 percent to the foundation so the next group of shale trainees can do the same.

“I own a private company, I can’t do that, but POISE can,” said Kirk. “And we’ve had great support from (state Rep.) Jake Wheatley. And Reggie Good from the Northside Community Alliance, who’s done our recruiting, has been great. Heck, I couldn’t go out and recruit on the street. These guys would laugh me out of town.”

There is already a waiting list for upcoming classes, but Mentors will continue to recruit through next year, and will not be limited to the North Side.

“That’s what’s great about this,” said Kirk. “We’re mobile. We’re taking this into the communities. “

For more information contact project manager Jodi Munchow at 412-996-1855 or by email at jodi@mentor’ Recruiter Reggie Good may be reached at 412-506-0118 or by email at or

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