Go to college or take an energy job?

Some Montana teens are choosing high-paying jobs in the booming energy industry over college, reports the New York Times from the town of Sidney.  It’s a “risky” decision, opines the Times. What if the oil and gas drilling boom is shut down by environmental regulation?

. . .  with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.

“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”

Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing . . .

One  high school senior makes $24 an hour as a cashier in Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. She plans to work for a few years, save her money and move to Denver.

In eastern Montana, counselors say “more and more students were interested in working for at least a year after graduation and getting technical training instead of a four-year degree.”

Last year, one-third of the graduating seniors at Sidney High School headed off to work instead of going to college or joining the military, a record percentage. Some found work making deliveries to oil rigs, doing construction and repairing machinery. Others decided to first seek training as welders or diesel mechanics, which pay more than entry-level jobs.

Meanwhile, enrollment at Dawson Community College in Glendive, about an hour from Sidney, has fallen to 225 students from 446 just a few years ago, as fewer local students pursue two-year degrees.

People are moving to the energy belt in search of jobs at good wages, but even more jobs are expected.

Shay Findlay found a job repairing drilling pumps the day after he was graduated from high school. At 19, he earns $40,000 a year and enjoys his work. His friends are home from college for Christmas break with “stories of dorm-room dramas and drunken scuffles with campus police officers,” reports the Times.  “They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”

Who’s taking the risk? Findlay’s party-hearty friends are very likely to drop out of college owing money. Honor-roll students with the ability and motivation to earn a degree — petroleum engineering pays very, very well — will benefit from going straight to university. But that’s not who’s earning a welding certificate or working as repairmen, drivers and cashiers.

The New York Times is worried about the risk to the “college-industrial complex,” writes Heather Mac Donald. “Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education.” They aren’t studying the great ideas of Western civilization, she writes. Most will “double major in communications and binge drinking.”

Skills gap is small, but growing

The “skills gap” — a shortage of skilled trades workers — is no big deal now — but it could be in the future, as baby boomers retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 56 years old.

Welding requires math and science skills that most job applicants don’t have, says a CEO whose company up-armors Humvees.

Career paths for remedial students

A Houston community college is linking low-level remedial students to career paths, while a South Dakota technical college sets different requirements for each job training program, virtually eliminating remedial education.

Need a job? Welding is hot.

Making it in America

Manufacturing is coming back in the U.S., after a precipitous decline, writes Adam Davidson in the new Atlantic. However, manufacturing workers are divided between the highly skilled, who are in demand, and the quickly trained, who must work cheaply or be replaced by machines or Chinese labor.

Learn welding, get a job.

Welding for greatness

Jay Leno promotes careers in welding.

Wanted: skilled trades workers

As boomer workers near retirement, employers are partnering with community colleges to train a new generation of skilled trades workers. But many young people don’t realize there are opportunities in manufacturing, plumbing, construction and other blue-collar fields. Welding, seen as dirty and dangerous, is trying to market itself as noble, stable and lucrative. West Virginia needs steelworkers.