New Castle News

March 5, 2013

Our Opinion: Local jobs market has opportunities that don’t require college

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Young people are often told that a college education is the key to a good future income.

And indeed, there are various fields, ranging from medicine to law to engineering, where degrees — and the training that comes with them — are crucial to success.

But it’s also true that college isn’t for everyone. And with the costs of college degrees being what they are, obtaining one shouldn’t be something pursued out of habit or automatic expectation of a job upon graduation.

Some recent articles in the New Castle News have highlighted the opportunities that exist for young people in manufacturing and industry. While these positions obviously require training and preparation, they don’t come with the hefty price tags and long-term debt worries of a college education.

Typically, the argument in favor of a college degree is that — despite the cost — it’s a good investment in the long run. Over time, an individual with a degree is seen as earning more than someone without one.

But that’s not necessarily the case in today’s labor force. While most industrial plants today no longer employ the thousands of workers they once did, those who find jobs tend to be quite well paid.

Why? In a plant with high degree of computerization or robotics, a human being who’s overseeing this machinery has to know what he or she is doing. Industrial work today is quite different than it was a couple of generations ago.

Locally, the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center, as well as trade schools, strive to blend what they teach with the needs of local industry. Obviously, it makes little sense to show students industrial skills that no company desires.

One of the hot job areas in Pennsylvania these days involves the shale gas industry. Associated tasks cover everything from preparing sites and working on rigs to handling a variety of responsibilities affiliated with shale operations, such as driving trucks and laying pipeline.

What’s more, the shale industry provides other employment in local plants that maintain equipment and help with developing the infrastructure necessary to remove gas from the ground. In short, the shale industry is seen as an engine for local employment into the future.

But it could be an erratic jobs engine. Recent news reports indicate drillers are scaling back shale operations because of falling natural gas prices. Work in industry can come with periods of idleness with layoffs.

And people entering the modern work force just about anywhere need to be prepared to adapt. Jobs change or vanish completely, as new ones crop up. Workers who are willing to adjust and update their skills are the ones most likely to keep up with the economy.

None of this is meant to minimize a college degree. But in the job market of today and into the future, keeping an open mind is crucial.