Shale boom: Pipeline welders make $150,000 in Ohio, while liberal arts majors flounder

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The economy is tough, especially if you have a liberal arts degree, writes Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. While liberal arts majors are forced to take low-paying jobs, pipeline welders are making six figures thanks to the country’s oil and gas boom.

“Too many young people have four-year liberal-arts degrees, are thousands of dollars in debt and find themselves serving coffee at Starbucks or working part-time at the mall,” Mandel wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Many of them would have been better off with a two-year skilled-trade or technical education that provides the skills to secure a well-paying job.”

“A good trade to consider: welding. I recently visited Pioneer Pipe in the Utica and Marcellus shale area of Ohio and learned that last year the company paid 60 of its welders more than $150,000 and two of its welders over $200,000,” Mandel said, adding that the company has actually had to turn down orders because there aren’t enough skilled welders to fill them.

The U.S. oil and gas boom has created a kind of manufacturing renaissance in some parts of the country. Jobs that communities believed they had lost forever are coming back thanks to the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

For a long time, the educators and politicians have pushed getting four-year college degrees as the key to economic success. But recently that has resulted in many students taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt only to find jobs that don’t necessarily require college degrees.

A 2012 federal government study found that a whopping 48 percent of all college graduates were employed in jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. Mandel says this is troubling and a reason why the U.S. should “bring back shop class.”

“To help produce a new generation of welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and other skilled tradesmen, high schools should introduce students to the pleasure and pride they can take in making and building things in shop class,” the former Senate candidate wrote.

The Obama administration put a big emphasis on bringing back manufacturing jobs during the 2012 election. In one debate, a 20-year-old college student asked a question about his job prospects after he graduated. Obama answered him by saying he was going to bring back manufacturing.

“Number one, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again,” Obama said. “I want to do that in industries, not just in Detroit, but all across the country and that means we change our tax code so we’re giving incentives to companies that are investing here in the United States and creating jobs here.”

But even with the oil and gas boom, manufacturing jobs are still down. Manufacturing jobs were hit hard during the recession and still have not recovered to levels seen when Obama took office in 2009. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there were about 12 million such jobs in March 2014, down from about 12.5 million in January 2009.

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