High Paying Jobs Going Begging In US
American Public schools should identify kids who are not interested in a college education ought to be encouraged to enter these programs. Gives lie to the notion there are no opportunities for young workers without a technical or academic degree. SF Chronicle
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
Big-money blue-collar jobs go begging
Industry, schools join forces to train Bay Area workers
- Erin Hallissy, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Need a good, well-paying job? Contra Costa County industries -- from steel mills to chemical companies to refineries -- want people to give blue-collar work a try.
After years of declining interest in factory jobs, even for positions that are more technical than back-breaking, industries are hurting so much for qualified candidates that they are joining forces with high schools and community colleges to devise training programs and outreach efforts to fill an expected shortage of 400 blue-collar workers a year in the county.
"We're having a very difficult time finding qualified workers locally," Richard Bonner, operations area manager of Tesoro's Golden Eagle Refinery east of Martinez, told about 100 industry officials and educators at a conference in Pittsburg Wednesday. Many companies have resorted to hiring out-of-state workers, but that's not a good solution, he added.
"They grew up in Idaho, and when they get some money and get some training ... they want to go back to Idaho" because of the high cost of living in the Bay Area, Bonner said.
Bill Tanner of ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo said that even in lower- income areas, it was hard to recruit people for blue-collar jobs.
"These are great jobs," Tanner said. "Yes, chipping coke is a dirty job, but chipping coke and getting paid, with overtime, $100,000 a year is not so bad."
Bonner and others urged schools to increase vocational training, and educators said they were eager to help fill the void so their students can wind up in good jobs.
But Contra Costa County school Superintendent Joe Ovick said a name change might help students and their parents get away from the often-negative connotation that vocational education has in an era when a college education and white-collar careers are more desirable.
"Think of 'career technical education' in place of 'vocational education, ' '' he said. "That's what we want to call it. It sounds more exciting."
Already, many high schools in the county, which has four refineries, numerous chemical plants and other types of industry such as the USS-Posco steel mill in Pittsburg, offer vocational classes from the traditional auto shop to biotechnology, fire sciences and robotics.
Blue-collar work may require specialized training, not just in welding or pipefitting but in engineering or computer technology. Some equipment operators at petrochemical plants need an associate of arts degree in process technology that is offered at several community colleges in Louisiana and Texas, so workers from there get jobs that might otherwise go to Bay Area residents.
Daniel Henry, vice president of Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, said some community colleges in California, including his, wanted to offer those kinds of programs so local students could get those jobs.
While agreeing that schools should offer more vocational and technical training, Henry urged industry officials to help schools by working with educators on curriculum and providing teachers, offering student internships and doing more to recruit people who might not know the types of jobs available.
"They don't realize they can make $70,000 to $100,000 a year at some of these operating positions," he said.
Ovick also urged industry officials to lobby government leaders for more money for education.
"As industry leaders, they will listen to you," he said. "They see us as simply self-serving. They see you in a much more positive light."