The New York Times published a story on December 25, 2012 regarding the fact that some high school seniors are beginning to realize that going to college will not guarantee them of better employment prospects in many cases. Eighteen year old Tegan Silvertson made a choice that more people contemplating on going to college should consider.
Read: Pay in Oil Fields Is Luring Youths in Montana
For most high school seniors, a college degree is the surest path to a decent job and a stable future. But here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But 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.”
This is something high school counselors all over the country should be stressing to college applicants. There are alternatives to having a college education in which you can still be able to make decent money without having to worry about massive student loan debt. They should be doing a much better job at listening to what the student plans on majoring in and work closely with them to make sure that they are choosing a major or a career that will actually help them pay off their student loans later on if they do decide to attend college. I commend this young man for his sharp thinking skills.
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, often working alongside men old enough to be their fathers. Some live at home; others drive back on weekends to eat their mothers’ food, do loads of laundry and go to high school basketball games, still straddling the blurred border between childhood and adulthood.
Even gas stations are enticing students away from college. Katorina Pippenger, a high school senior in the tiny town of Bainville, Mont., said she makes $24 an hour as a cashier in nearby Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. Her plan is to work for a few years after she graduates this spring, save up and flee. She likes the look of Denver. “I just want to make money and get out,” she said.
The shift appears to be localized around centers of oil production like Sidney. School counselors in western Montana, far from the boom, said that few of their students were abandoning college for energy jobs. And even here, a majority of graduates are still choosing universities and community colleges.
But school officials in eastern Montana said 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.
There are probably a lot of college graduates barely getting by on less than half of what Katorina Peppenger makes at a cashier at a gas station. The more of these types of stories I read, the more I realize how wrong many of my own teachers, family, and classmates were when it came to the idea that a college degree will prevent someone from having to work at some menial job at a fast food restaurant just to say, "Do you want fries with that?" I still believe that certain college degrees are still very valuable, particularly the ones where you can gain actual, marketable skills rather than a self explanatory degree like political science. There's more than one path to success for certain people.
School faculty seem to have an issue with these students taking these jobs and not subjecting themselves to massive student loan debt.
Renee Rasmussen, the Bainville school superintendent, said she worried about young people like these if oil prices plunged or the government passed new regulations limiting the fracking techniques that have driven this energy rush. If they go back to school, they could be hurt by the delay. A 2005 federal Department of Education report showed that students who delayed college were more likely to drop out.
“They’ve come here looking for dropouts in the past,” said Bruce Clausen, the principal of Dawson County High School in Glendive, who said that a few students had gone to work in the oil fields after dropping out. “I told them I appreciate them not coming out here.”
Something doesn't feel right about the two quotes I posted above. It's almost as if they could care less about the employment prospects of the student and more concerned about getting money into their pockets and the bureaucracies that run institutions of higher education. Despite their objections, oil field employment still looks highly promising. I'm impressed at how this high school graduate found a job on his first try! I had to fill out several applications just to get a few phone calls.
He is 19 and on his second job now, earning about $40,000 a year and still sleeping in a bedroom in his parents’ basement decorated with his high school graduation picture and diploma. He bought a dirt bike and a flat-screen television, and took out a loan on a hulking black Chevy Silverado truck with personalized license plates — FDLSTIX — for his childhood nickname, Fiddlesticks.
His mother, Stacy Gustafson, said she worried about exposing her son to the accidents, alcoholism and violence that haunt oil workers. She is glad he still comes home after each shift. Mr. Findlay said he had no complaints about the job. His family comes from the oil fields, and he said he liked the work and was good at it.
Now, his friends are filtering back to Sidney after their first semesters at college, and their stories of dorm-room dramas and drunken scuffles with campus police officers are like reports from another world. He said he misses them sometimes, but would not trade places with them.
“They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”
This whole article demonstrates how college is not meant to be for everyone and that it is sometimes better to be hired in a technical field that one is skilled at and can enjoy at the same time despite the inherent risks involved.