Boosting the Middle Class

The Wall Street Journal featured a fascinating article this week about 24-year-old welder Justin Friend of Bryan, Texas. The story of Friend’s success is a testament to the power of the shale revolution and should also be a sharp rebuttal to anyone who thinks that there is no future for Americans working in skilled trades and manufacturing.

According to the article, Friend "attended Texas State Technical College in Waco, and received a two-year degree in welding." This led him to a full time position as a welder for "Acute Technological Services, a Houston-based unit of Oil States International, Inc." In 2013, Friend earned $130,000 in this position, and by "2014 (his) income rose to about $140,000."

Friend might be considered exceptional, as he is young and eager to take on overtime to boost his savings, including shifts on weekends and holidays. However, his story is a poignant example of the opportunity brought about by the shale energy revolution. According to the Wall Street Journal, "demand for welders has been strong in Texas for the past few years, largely because of booming energy-related industries." While some of that demand may "decline in the near-term as lower oil prices reduce exploration" job prospects for welders remain strong. "Schools in the Texas State Technical College network had 732 students enrolled in welding programs in the fall 2014 semester, up about 70% from three years earlier" and "the college says most of its welding students secure jobs before they graduate."

The shale energy boom helped create his position "which provides health insurance, a 401k retirement plan and paid vacation" and provides a place in the middle class that many Americans thought was no longer available to skilled laborers like Friend.

Kudos to Justin Friend and others like him for working hard and smart to chase their American dream! Shale energy development is growing our middle class by placing a generation of dynamic workers in positions where they can chart their future and boost our broader economy.

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