Coming Home PA is a project spearheaded by PublicSource, a local nonprofit investigative news group, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other local media partners.
If there's one bright spot for veterans on the local job front, it's in the oil and natural gas industry.
Many military men and women logged long, tireless hours working in extreme conditions or operating heavy equipment. So it's a natural transition that they'd pursue similar work upon their return here, where the Marcellus Shale formation underlays about 60 percent of the state.
Scott Grady of Pittsburgh's Veterans Leadership Program has worked with about 20 veterans hired for jobs in the shale industry over the past two years. He cited veterans' "intangible" skills, such as a respect and knowledge of safety procedures, discipline and an accelerated learning curve as further proof the industry is a good match.
"I think the talent pool is here," he said. "I think they are out there and they can fill a lot of jobs with a little bit of training."
That includes a four-week shale gas training course, a required introduction into the way rigs are operated. It's offered at community colleges and adult learning centers in the area; at least two local training centers bundle this training and a commercial driver's license course for $7,000. The Veterans Leadership Program provides grants to help offset that cost, and the GI Bill covers many training courses.
"Your options are to go sit in a college classroom and go to school for four years and get a bachelor's degree -- or you could go to a four-week training program," Mr. Grady said. "I wish I would have had that option."
Shale jobs include various operators for drilling and hydraulic fracturing teams. Truck drivers are needed to haul waste water and equipment, as well as welders and workers to operate rigs and tend wells. Most careers are field-based.
"They're doing everything from front-line jobs, to management and supervisory positions. It really spans the spectrum of jobs," Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in an email of that company's veteran workforce.
Louis D. D'Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association -- which represents nearly 1,000 oil and natural gas producers, marketers, service companies and related businesses -- said veterans are poised to respect the industry's drug-free work environment. A recent article from GI's Shale Daily, a Virginia-based niche newspaper, explored the challenge of drug use among prospective shale workers in Eastern Ohio.
He also believes the veterans hired now will have job security, even with a slowdown in drilling in some parts of the state due to low natural gas prices.
As it is, much of the industry's workforce consists of workers who came here from the South and still have family there. When they eventually return home, people in Western Pennsylvania will replace them, Mr. Grady said.
Veterans make up 7.6 percent of the workforce at Chesapeake Energy, which looks to hire 1,000 veterans in 2012, according to company representatives.
At Range Resources -- the region's dominant driller -- veterans or active service members account for up to 15 percent of the workforce, although it doesn't keep an official count, Mr. Pitzarella said.
"Many service men and women also take additional pride in working in an industry that strengthens our nation's energy security," he said.