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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jobs? Anyone?

This was an eye-opening article in today's PI about good paying trade jobs that go begging.

From the article:

"Today, he (Steve Klein) faces an equally stubborn problem: Getting young people to accept a job that starts at $55,000 a year.

That's right: $55,000, which is 28 percent higher than the average wage in Snohomish County last year. And in less time than it takes to complete college, those workers - linemen trainees - can change that paycheck to journeyman's wages of $72,000 a year.

So what's the problem?

Despite the hefty pay, Klein, the general manager of Snohomish County PUD, is having difficulty finding linemen. The problem is so big that his agency has been operating without six to eight needed linemen for several years. If he doesn't fill the openings, he'll have trouble maintaining the area's electrical system, let alone expanding it."

Further on:

"The problem is so acute that many are asking themselves this question: Are today's young people too lazy to do physical labor?

Experts say the issue is more complex. Some suggest that the real question is whether we're giving our kids bad advice by insisting that everyone go to college. One thing is clear. The children of today's baby boomers are focused more on college and a desk job.

"It's a sea change," said Donna Thompson, a labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. "In our time, the important thing was just to get a job. Today, people want a job they can feel good about." "

Why this might be?

"Sue Ambler, the director of the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council, spent a long time in the schools working with truants. She said most kids are assessed in the eighth or ninth grade, then steered to either technical or academic training.

"In current technical education, the thought is that only high-risk kids should go into that program, but that's not the case," she said, adding that students on the academic track who don't go to college will be unprepared for work.

Added the agency's Heather Villars: "People are going into debt to go to college and many aren't getting a job, and we aren't talking about that. Unless you have an internship or you know someone, you're working at Borders."

At his day job, state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, runs the Snohomish County Labor Council. Before that, he was a teacher. In the Legislature, he is vice chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.

Asked why so few students seem to be interested in the trades, he prefaces his remarks by saying his thoughts are anecdotal, based on stories, not studies.

"I've heard they've shut down a lot of the technical programs because of the need to focus on getting the best WASL scores," he said of the high schools."

4 comments:

Jet City mom said...

Ive posted on this before- and spoke on this topic at SPS board meetings- as apparently I have a perspective that isn't often voiced or heard by those who "make the decisions". Not that it probably makes much difference.

First I want to say- I agree that those who feel we shouldn't put every student on an academic track automatically.

I recognize that skilled workers can make a decent living- particulary if it is in one of the few areas that still has strong unions.

But a couple things-
I wasn't advised on an academic track in high school. However about 7 years after I left high school I decided I wanted to continue my education since the jobs that I could find- paid little- had little growth potential & were soul numbing.
But without having taken either the SAT or college prep classes, I was stuck at the community college going part time while I worked.

I think community colleges are great for a lot of things- but I think I would have been much more successful even getting a full two years of college transfer credits, if I had, had more preparation in high school.

I do know several students- who have college degrees and aren't working " at a desk".

But I also don't consider trial law, medicine or teaching to be "desk jobs". Neither are many careers in engineering- at least if you remember that there are mechanical, practical, electrical engineering jobs as well as computer.

High school- is about getting the very broadest rudimentary knowledge in many cases- for example- although our district pays for 6 classes ( and some district pays for 7) my daughter has only been given 5 classes- since as a senior she has met most of the district graduation requirements- she is only taking 3 academic classes this semester in fact- math- english and science.
( AM govt is just one semester)

We may not have all the vocational type classes that students are interested in taking- but neither do we have enough academic classes-

BTW this is @ Garfield- one of the schools that has a lot of academic offerings- but not necessarily for seniors.

Additonally- while a few jobs pay well and increase over time- particulary govt jobs, other blue collar jobs start relatively high and but stay there.
My husband who is a skilled worker at Boeing- 30 years in the field- trained in experimental projects and composite materials, who goes to other states to train workers has been at the same pay scale for over 15 years- taking inflation into account, he makes about the same as he did 20 years ago & it is a difficult physical job- not one you can do into your 60s.

My neighbor- works at the shipyards on Lake Union. Another place that apparently has difficulty finding workers considering that many of them are undocumented/immigrant.

It also is a tough place to work.
He feels he has to be armed @ work - his former helper was recently shot in the head after he stabbed his wife to death at a birthday party.
Not the sort of place that is going to give big sendoff after you retire. ( or the sort of place you want to see your kid working)

Id like to see all students prepared to enter a public 4 year college from high school- The workplace is changing so much, that even if you end up owning your own business, or never needing your degree to get a job, you need the education to do your job.

My husband got his job 20 years ago without any college, however- his trainees are expected to have had college.

I don't want to shut those doors on students by not expecting them to have completed minimal entrance requirements by the time they leave high school.

Jet City mom said...

Another point in the article I do agree with- which is another subject entirely, is the ability to work independently & not expect to "start with a corner office".

However- I know many kids- who do work. My own kids put many many hours into volunteer work & their extra curriculars- like sports. Two seasons out of every school year, my youngerg daughter has been on two sports teams- her schools & on a rec league team ( different sports)

I also don't know many kids- who spend a lot of time on the computer-they really don't have to - what with cell phones they just test their friends all day
(grin)
Many of my younger daughters friends work for pay, while in high school- being a lifeguard is very physical ( especially to get the position), & pays well- some work in their families businesses- ever seen how many teens are working in restaurants?

I don't see young people as without gumption at all, in fact I don't know how they cram all that they do into a 24 hr day.

Of course my D commented that she wanted Seattle & Portland to switch public transportation. She doesn't have a car- nor do most of her friends- they don't want the expense and hassle of gas/ins/upkeep, but they still need to get around.

Maybe if we improved public transportation, made the city core a carless zone, encouraged bicyclists by deed not just word, more people would find that our climate is so mild that most of the year it is a real pleasure to be outside?

Anonymous said...

Most of those trade/labor positions that the article mentions, require formal training and/or a degree. I'm sure that %55,000/YR lineman position at PUD requires formal training or a degree? How does a kid get their first job on the line???

Jet City mom said...

I asked my H about that- he had been interested in linework- but he wasn't able to live at a low pay scale for 3 or 4 years.

Linemen climb to the top of their class
By ALISON BOGGS
The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — No matter how strong their desire, some students don’t realize they’re not cut out to be linemen until they’re standing on two metal spikes high up on a utility pole.

This semester at Avista Utilities’ Jack Stewart Lineman School, four students dropped out of the course too far along for any of the 14 people on the waiting list to get in.
That’s too bad, because the industry needs them.

A nationwide shortage of linemen has been building for years, and the situation’s no different in the Inland Northwest. As legions of aging utility workers edge closer to retirement, the construction industry continues to boom, boosting demand for power line installation. Making matters worse, a number of utilities discontinued apprentice programs in years of corporate downsizing, meaning fewer workers are proceeding through the ranks.

"There will continue to be a shortage until we can get people pumped through," said Don Guillot, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 77, which represents linemen in Washington and the Idaho Panhandle. "We do have a problem, but we are trying to address it."

Partially behind the backlog is the amount of time lineman training takes. Students who complete a four-month course like Jack Stewart and go to work for a utility are just beginning. They must work another four years to attain journeyman status and years more to gain the institutional knowledge currently flowing out of utilities with the retirement exodus.

Mike Hanson, training administrator for Avista’s linemen, said the company has been aware of the pending problem for years.

The company has an active apprentice program and the Jack Stewart Lineman School was created in 1993 to address the pending shortage. Inland Power and Light, which recently has been hiring several linemen per year, will begin reaching out to local high school students this spring, hoping to attract more people to the trade, said Marketing Manager Dan Villalobos. Guillot said the IBEW is increasing recruitment of apprentices at high schools and job fairs and is trying to encourage utilities to expand apprentice programs.

Being a lineman is lucrative for those with the fortitude to scale a pole 55 feet high and handle power lines. Graduates fresh out of the training programs are labeled ground men and usually stand to earn $11 an hour in this region. However, within a couple of years, if all goes well, workers earn apprentice ranking and watch their pay rise to $20 an hour. After a couple more years, they can achieve journeyman status and get another $10-an-hour boost.

That’s more than $62,000 a year, not including overtime.

Jeremy Lundberg, 33, landed a spot in the current class at Jack Stewart, drawn by the promise of future earnings. At his former job at a paper mill, he said, he would have topped out at $30 an hour after many years of work. The Spokane man sees the promise of that wage within four years as a lineman, and more after that.

"It would have taken me a long time to see top dollar," Lundberg said of his last job.
His brother-in-law is a lineman for Inland Power, and Lundberg thought it sounded like good work. The married man with two young children said he’s prepared to go anywhere for a job.

Lundberg’s willingness to move virtually guarantees him a job. Job placement from Jack Stewart is 80 percent but rises to 100 percent if graduates are willing to relocate, Hanson said. California, Utah, Colorado, Montana and southern Idaho will collectively need close to 400 linemen a year for the next five years due to construction alone, he said. And some of the other states offer much higher wages, though they’re frequently accompanied by a higher cost of living.

"Some places are offering six months of wages as a signing bonus," Hanson said.
Upfront costs for lineman training are fairly steep. Jack Stewart holds two four-month sessions each year that cost $5,700 for in-state students and $6,500 for out-of-state. Linemen also are required to buy their own gear, which runs another $850 or so.
But the jobs appear to be constantly in demand. Though linemen say winter is the slow season, the February issue of the Northwest Public Power Association’s trade magazine, Bulletin, has nine lineman job openings, mostly in Washington. Avista hired nine of the students from the last Jack Stewart session, but students are not guaranteed local positions.

Paying to attend a training program shows potential employers how serious a student is, Villalobos said. An Avista spokeswoman said it’s fairly rare for the company to hire someone who hasn’t attended a training program.

After hiring program graduates, utilities continue to spend thousands of dollars each year training their linemen until they become journeymen. Hanson said Avista spends $70,000 per year training its apprentices. When the students first go to work for a utility, they initially need to be under someone’s supervision all the time, said lead line instructor Bill Magers. For that reason, the power lines students practice on at the school are not energized.

"You gotta have what it takes before we get to the electricity part of it," he said.
The Jack Stewart school was named for a former Avista lineman known for mentoring his younger colleagues. Students must be 18 to register and though most are men, four women have graduated from the program since it began.

Safety is a top concern and the class size is capped at 26 to keep the student-to-instructor ratio low. The instructors don’t gloss over the potential dangers of the job. On the classroom wall hangs a memorial photograph of a former student who died while stringing power lines for a helicopter company.

The program is intense, meeting eight hours a day, five days a week. Half is spent in the classroom; half outside on the training grounds, climbing poles, tying knots and rigging gear. Two sessions are offered per year: January through April and June through October. There’s more room, generally, in the summer session, instructors said. In four months, the students earn 49 college credits through Spokane Community College, which joined with Avista to create the program.
"When you take 10 to 18 credits, that’s a heavy load," said Linda Poage, who manages SCC’s apprentice division.

The school also trains students for other possible careers, perhaps with cable or phone companies or in other trade positions at power companies, said Magers. He and the other instructor, Dave Valandra, have worked to make the program more compatible with other utility companies’ needs and more applicable to other career fields.

"All the other bargaining unit jobs (at Avista) require what we teach here," said Valandra, who recently retired from 33 years as a lineman for Avista. The course includes instruction on flagging, CPR and forklift operations, among other skills.
But for some, it doesn’t seem like work at all.

Jake Booth is 20, from Davenport, Wash., and is so excited to be in the program, he says over and over how "awesome" it is. An adrenaline junkie who rides motorcycles and snowmobiles, Booth said he’s wanted to be a lineman since he was little. He went to college for two years, but hated it. He likes the lineman school because it’s more hands-on.

"The first day you’re out climbing," Booth said. "They put you right out there and let you start doing it."

Valandra, however, cautions the students against thinking the work is all about being outside and working with their hands.

"It’s not just climbing poles," said Valandra, 57. "That’s not what we do for a living. We work electricity. Climbing the poles is one way to get to the work."