If you’ve heard people say that America doesn’t make anything anymore – that there are no good blue collar jobs anymore – here’s the answer to that: wrong, and wrong.
There are still American industries where those jobs never went anywhere – jobs that require serious skills and knowledge, but don’t necessarily require college degrees. Jobs where making things has never gone out of style – jobs where you don’t learn your trade straight out of a book — and you can find those jobs in America’s fuel and petrochemical industries.
Let’s look at an example. If you’ve ever driven by a refinery or a petrochemical plant, you’ve probably noticed all those glowing lights – like a small city…
…and there’s something to that. Inside are hundreds of structures, thousands of miles of pipe, all sorts of sophisticated equipment and advanced technology – all of it operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Also inside, keeping that “city” running are operators, technicians, environmental coordinators, maintenance workers, managers and inspectors – all making sure those pipes, equipment and technology are running smoothly.
Keeping an eye on everything, on that same 24/7 clock – are process operators. In this case, keeping an eye on their small city from high-tech control rooms, monitoring an array of screens and other sophisticated monitors which are feeding them streams of video and data – watching to see that everything goes as it should – and responding fast if anything doesn’t (you can read more about their work in Bill Laster’s story below).
Outside, all around the facility, inspectors and gaugers, boiler operators and other workers are on the job. Overseeing and operating pumps and furnaces, compressors and valves, turning them on, adjusting them, turning them off – and monitoring everything. At times, they can even be 200 feet up in the air, on top of a tower to adjust a valve – or down on solid ground, tweaking the temperature and pressure inside a unit. And not everything an employee needs to know is in a book – paying attention to what they see, and smell, and hear can be just as essential to keeping a facility running safely and reliably.
It’s work that is challenging (there’s a lot going on out there) and important (these are the refineries that fuel our cars and trucks, buses, ships and planes – and the petrochemical plants that make the stuff of everyday life possible — smart phones and laptops, bicycles, dish soap and food wrap — and the stuff of future life too, like artificial heart valves, exoskeletons and space suits and much more).
And all of these good jobs – are also well-paying jobs. The average salary for a refinery worker is $135,000 a year, which is more than twice the U.S. average. On the petrochemicals side of the fuels and petrochemical business, workers there do pretty well too – with an average salary of over $127,000 a year.
You’ll find these jobs all across the country too, as these industries continue to grow – on the Gulf Coast, in Appalachia, in the Great Plains and in the Southwest. And while, like any business, you don’t start at the top – the fuels and petrochemical industries offer plenty of opportunities to move up. Bill Laster, for instance, is a refinery shift leader now (that’s a management level job) – but he started as an operator trainee, straight out of high school.
About one of every ten workers in the fuel and petrochemical industries, incidentally, is a veteran. Turns out that a lot of men and women who have served our country in the armed forces, find their skills and experience to be a good fit in the industries: their leadership abilities, time spent working on a team, being at home with taking responsibility and handling pressure, and sometimes, like Chad Harbin, their day to day work in the military. And companies across the fuel and petrochemical industries are actively recruiting vets, and working with them to make the transition to job success as a civilian.
Roughly a third of the kids who graduate high school, don’t go on to college (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). If that’s the path you (or your kids) choose – or for kids who go for a two-year technical degree (nothing against the ivy-covered halls, by the way – and there’s jobs for those grads too) – there are still places, that have good, skilled jobs – and are looking for workers. And those fuels and petrochemical industries – are where you might want to look, if you’re looking for work.