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Oil and Natural Gas Industry Provides High-Paying Careers for Americans without College Degrees, Says Union Survey

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a building trade federation in the United States and Canada, has released two new studies it commissioned detailing that construction jobs for the oil and natural gas industries provide better pay, benefits, and career opportunities than those in other sectors and are providing “a vital pathway to middle class careers and living standards” for those without a college education.

Cross-Industry Comparison

One NABTU study, Perspectives and Comparisons of Job Quality Across the US Energy Industries, conducted by the Cicero Group, examined government and industry data and conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with workers in the energy industries and building and manufacturing trades, as well as a 1,600-person online survey. The data and the self-reporting from trades people show oil and natural gas workers receive better wages and benefits than workers on “renewable” energy projects such as wind and solar.

“Tradespeople report noteworthy differences between projects in renewable energy and oil and natural gas projects,” the study states. “They report better project variety, trades opportunities, skill development, and project consistency in oil and natural gas construction.

“Many of the trades that work on oil and natural gas projects are not as prevalent on renewables projects, indicating that skilled trade jobs are not highly interchangeable between industries,” reports the study.

No College, No Problem

The finding of a second NABTU study, The Quality of Jobs in Construction and Oil-and-Gas for High School Graduates, conducted by Peter Phillips, a scholar at the Institute for Construction Economics Research and a professor of economics at the University of Utah, shows the oil and gas industry provides well-paying jobs even for people lacking college degrees.

“The construction and oil & natural gas industries rely heavily on high school graduates to staff about 45 percent of all the jobs in these two industries,” Phillips writes. “Relative to many other high school graduates with no college education, high school graduates in construction, oil & natural gas are paid better while receiving more health insurance and pension coverage.

“This is both true for blue-collar and white-collar high school graduates in these two industries,” writes Phillips.

Advanced Education, No Debt

The training the oil and gas industry gives its workers amounts to advanced education while being paid, reports Phillips.

“Because these industries rely upon on-the-job training, industry specific short courses and apprenticeship training, effectively high school workers in these two industries go on to higher education through their work, earning while they learn,” Phillps says. “There is no student debt, and no one is too poor to go on with their schooling even if that schooling is not college, takes place at a workshop, or at a job site, or at an apprenticeship facility.”

“Because of this industry located higher education, wages for high school graduates in construction, oil and natural gas rise more quickly and farther than compared to high school graduates in the overall economy,” Phillips says.

‘Reach the Middle Class’

In the move from the manufacturing to the service economy, the oil and gas industry provides jobs for those lacking an advanced education to attain middle-income status, concludes Phillips.

“As the overall economy shifts from goods production to a service economy, …  most young people are urged to go to college [and] those who stopped at high school are seen as trapped in low paying jobs, [b]ut those who go into construction and the oil and natural gas industries can, in fact, reach the middle class,” Phillips writes.

The oil and gas industry provides better pay and benefits to its workers than they could earn in comparable jobs in renewable energy development, said Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, in a press statement on the two studies’ release.

“The findings outlined in these reports demonstrate that today’s oil and natural gas jobs are better for energy construction workers across the country in both the short and long term,” said McGarvey. “The research confirms what our members tell us: the career opportunities for renewables are nowhere near what they are in gas and oil, and domestic energy workers highly value the safety, reliable duration and compensation of oil and gas construction jobs.”

Tim Benson (tbenson@heartland.org) is a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.

Tim Benson
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.

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