Siemens AG said it had to start extensive apprenticeship programs in the U.S. as a shortfall of adequately qualified workers made it difficult to staff its gas-turbine factory in North Carolina.
“This is really helping to fill the skills gap that we’ve seen,” Siemens’ head of U.S. operations Eric Spiegel said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. “We’ve also worked closely with one of the local universities to develop our engineers who can help us in our gas plant.”
The management board of Europe’s biggest engineering company is meeting in the U.S. this week to examine how to benefit from the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale rock to extract natural gas. The Charlotte gas-turbine plant, which Spiegel said has taken on at least 800 new workers since its opening in March 2010, will eventually employ more than 1,800 when completed.
An estimated 7.67 trillion cubic feet of U.S. natural gas was extracted using fracking in the U.S. last year. That’s 17 times more than a decade earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration, which forecast production will reach 13.6 trillion cubic feet in 2035, accounting for 49 percent of gas output.
“We see this as a big driver of growth over the next few years,” Spiegel said in the interview, which was carried out jointly with Chief Executive Officer Peter Loescher. “Our managing board is over here from Germany this week, taking a look at how we can take advantage of this opportunity.”
Siemens, based in Munich, generated 21 percent of its annual 78.3 billion-euro ($106 billion) revenue in the U.S. with about 57,000 employees at the end of September.
Siemens has tied up with the University of North Carolina’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center, where it funds scholarships, and the Central Piedmont Community College, according to the company website. The generators and turbines produced at the Charlotte site range from 150 megawatts to 1,600 megawatts in size.
The company also has recruited high school students to work part-time at the Charlotte facility, Spiegel said.
Siemens is seeking to boost profitability, which has lagged that of competitors General Electric Co. and ABB Ltd. for six consecutive quarters. The company last month said quarterly profit across the company’s four core business sectors increased 4.4 percent to 1.7 billion euros, driven by a 12 percent increase at the energy unit.