Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NYT asks, college or a job for rural Montana kids?

Check out my rig! Credit: New York Times
From a Glen Ernst tweet, an interesting New York Times article on the effect the hydraulic fracturing boom is having on a small Montana town:
...At the end of a gravel highway in northeastern Montana, graduating seniors in Bainville are asking similar questions about their future. Should they get an education and pursue their interests? Or should they stick close to home and surf a wave of cash and jobs that will only grow as companies begin to build a new industrial rail terminal and worker camps, forever transforming this quiet farm town where residents say the population has doubled since the 2010 census found 300.
Dmetri Ross, 17, said he would join his father and uncle at an outpost of Nabors Industries in western North Dakota, working in a lab running tests on water samples and cement related to drilling. “I’d be happy to make a career out of it,” he said. 
...Nobody needed to recruit Shay Findlay. One day after he graduated from Sidney High School, he drove into town and started looking for work. He found a job on the first try, doing repair work on drilling pumps. 
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... 
[On his friends going to college, elsewhere:] “They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”
It's pretty funny and emblematic of the New York Times to be concerned about these kids; I think it's a bit rich for them to routinely bemoan the lack of jobs for non-college graduates and then throw up their hands in terror when kids in small rural towns decide not to go to college in favor of those jobs.

At the same time, there are folks who could indeed benefit from school -- the young man who wants to follow his family into a water testing laboratory would probably benefit from an A.A. in chemical technology (maybe, anyway); one wonders whether such a thing might be available to him in western North Dakota. Distance education might be the thing that works for him -- hopefully, he'll get it  -- if he wants it.

Finally, there are folks who could benefit from these jobs -- the young man with the truck doesn't sound like he wants to go to school, and he's earning a decent wage and learning some decent skills. (He probably could use a lesson in personal finance, but UHK will teach him a lesson or two about borrowing money for a new truck, and that'll be that.)

Readers, what do you think?


  1. As someone who comes from that neck of the woods, and has some family still there, I get concerned for these sorts of situations. When Mr. Findlay says "They're going to have to come back and look for work", he's missing two major points.

    1) That his friends are going into careers that are ever amenable to returning to eastern Montana. I left for college many years ago, and other than the (more than) occasional Resodyn posting, there is very little for any chemistry job in Montana.

    2) The oil/gas fields won't dry up in his lifetime. It's possible that he could make an entire career out of this. But many of the people who are moving up there are in support positions, building a significant amount of infrastructure that isn't there because in the past, it was one exit away from the middle of nowhere. Those support positions won't continue as the oilfield develops and matures.

    Take my opinion with an entire bag of salt, because I took the first train out of Montana. I would love to move back at some point, but realized long ago that it was pretty much a one way ticket for me.

  2. I've been thinking for some time if that my children aren't in the top 20% or so of students, that having them learn a trade and then using the money that would have been spent on college go towards helping them start or buy out a small business once they got the hang of things.

    Imagine this: For about $100,000, you can buy out a hair salon running a profit of over $30,000 per year. Have your kid go to beauty school (one year, total cost around $10,000 after tax credits), then work in a local salon for a few years. If they haven't proven themselves to be a complete screw up at this point, help them buy a salon of their own. Poof! They now have a $30,000 per year income stream AND will likely work in their own salon, bringing in another $20,000 per year. They would also be the boss, have growth opportunities, and actually own a $100,000 asset which they could use for further collateral and expansion.

    You could repeat this logic with any number of small local businesses.

  3. $40k/ yr as a 19-old is better than $40k/ yr as a 35-yr old postdoc.

  4. I still think the four year college experience, is extremely valuable. Perhaps some of costs are still a bit inflated, but spending a meager four years of your youth, in a densely populated area of young adults, learning about stuff not related to the oil boom has got to be more personally enriching and character developing than blowing your paycheck on a big chevy and living in your parents house.

  5. I've worked with chemists from rural areas who tell me that their blue-collar friends and relatives who stayed behind have nicer houses and cars than them due to the housing-cost differences between rural and rich suburban areas. Seems like all that effort to get undergrad and graduate degrees is like running on a treadmill.

    Don't forget that we aren't just taking about chemists here - most of those kids who leave Montana after college will probably go to work in some soulless cubicle farm and live in some equally soulless suburb.

  6. Another thought as to why the kid is still living with his parents. There is a serious housing crunch that comes with the increased job availability. The communities are refusing to even try to keep housing up with demand until the economy stabilized leaving the newly arrived workers living out of hotels.

    Cheap standard of living indeed.

  7. "most of those kids who leave Montana after college will probably go to work in some soulless cubicle farm and live in some equally soulless suburb."

    which is much better than living in rural Montana... There are two types of folks in rural MT... Those who want to leave at any cost and those who'd never think of leaving. Most in MT have probably never been outside their small communities.

    "The communities are refusing to even try to keep housing up with demand until the economy stabilized leaving the newly arrived workers living out of hotels"

    communities like this physically cannot keep up with housing booms. There is not enough labor or supplies available in the area. However, with each of these booms many times there is a bust after infrastructure for new technologies is in place. Doubt the kid is living with the parents as a result of boom anyway... Free room and board means more toys for him.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20