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Wednesday, November 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Opportunity knocks: Spokane makes top 10 for median-wage employment without college degrees

Bouten Construction Co. employees work on the new Ronald McDonald House Charities expansion on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The Associated General Contractors of America reports that 80% of construction firms nationwide and in Washington are experiencing difficulty with finding skilled workers. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Bouten Construction Co. employees work on the new Ronald McDonald House Charities expansion on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The Associated General Contractors of America reports that 80% of construction firms nationwide and in Washington are experiencing difficulty with finding skilled workers. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

More students used to take shop classes in junior high and high school, where they learned a trade and could enjoy working with their hands.

Today, kids might consider Washington apprenticeship programs – which allow them to earn a decent wage while training – as opposed to being saddled with college debt.

Sheldon Bennett, a Carpenters Local 59 representative, said he wishes more kids might consider these apprenticeship programs.

Jobs like this are a great example of “opportunity employment”; making at or above the national median wage ($37,690) without a bachelor’s degree. Spokane was ranked No. 9 for this type of employment, according to a report by Kyle Fee and Lisa Nelson of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and Keith Wardrip of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Ranking No. 1 was Toledo, Ohio. Such metropolitan areas offer opportunity for blue-collar, middle-class families to find work and stretch their wages further rather than, say, in Seattle.

In the case of an apprenticeship with Local 59, a decent wage means $17.22 per hour with a benefits package worth about $16.40 per hour, all while receiving classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

“Apprenticeship is the original four-year degree, you might say,” Bennett said. “Instead of paying tuition for college, the apprenticeship is ‘Earn while you learn.’ So 90% of what the apprentice is going to learn is out there in the field.”

If all goes according to schedule, hourly rate goes up over the course of four years, landing at a base rate of $28.71 per hour, not including the $16.41 per hour in benefits. Local 59 has roughly 1,450 members, with around 400 in Spokane.

“It’s a good way to start a career, and not every job that’s out there, construction-wise, has the benefits,” Bennett said. “That’s through the union. A lot of non-union outfits may pay a little extra, so you can go out and buy some benefits with the extra wages. This newer generation doesn’t necessarily look toward retirement and that kind of stuff.”

Most of the high-ranking cities on the list were in the Midwest, though Anchorage, Alaska, ranked second. Seattle came in at 62nd and Portland was ranked 27th. The report found opportunity employment accounts for 29.7% of Spokane’s share of jobs, whereas employment requiring a bachelor’s degree accounts for 21.1%.

Journeyman Marco Romero, right, discusses painting equipment during a class for painting apprentices, from left, Kirt Hedrick, Alejandro Cruz, Tony Navarro and Jeff Yates Monday, Mar. 16, 2009 at the union training facility in Spokane Valley.  Romero, a Seattle area transplant, works as a journeyman painter when he's not teaching apprentices.  JESSE TINSLEY THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman Review)
Journeyman Marco Romero, right, discusses painting equipment during a class for painting apprentices, from left, Kirt Hedrick, Alejandro Cruz, Tony Navarro and Jeff Yates Monday, Mar. 16, 2009 at the union training facility in Spokane Valley. Romero, a Seattle area transplant, works as a journeyman painter when he's not teaching apprentices. JESSE TINSLEY THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman Review)

According to the study, 49.2% of Spokane’s workforce falls into the “lower wage” category. In other words, the positions do not pay enough to qualify as “opportunity employment.”

Amy Fair, an Express Employment Professionals recruiting specialist, said 70% of the jobs her company offers only require a high school diploma or a GED. Fair said most of those jobs would fall into the category of general labor, and can range from banquet serving to cleaning patients’ rooms at a hospital.

Because placements with Express Employment Professionals on average pay $16 per hour, many positions through the company would not be considered opportunity employment.

Express Employment Professionals had 165 people on its payroll last week. Most of the positions are considered “temp-to-hire,” where the employer can choose to employ the contract worker after a period of time.

“We are actually just looking for people who want to work hard, and are open to long-term placement, if possible,” Fair said.

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