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Utility workers bring home biggest paychecks

A new report from the Oregon Employment Department shows utilities workers earn the highest average monthly paychecks in the Rogue Valley, with average monthly earnings of $7,381 during the final quarter of 2016.

While education is considered a key component in attaining a higher income, utility workers often go through lengthy training without necessarily earning advanced college degrees.

"There is a combination of classroom and on-the-job training as an apprentice in many of these fields," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department.

"Often, they involve a strong math component and are high-skilled positions for people who are focused and driven."

Utilities workers account for less than 1 percent of the region's employment. But pay is in a narrower range than, for instance, the medical field, where there are many levels of education and training.

"You constantly see help-wanted ads for registered nurses; there are just a lot more opportunities in the medical field," Tauer said. "But there are definitely opportunities, because electrical linemen are one of those occupations where we are facing a wave of baby-boomer retirements during the next four to five years."

Utilities positions include electrical power-line installers and repairers, water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators, electrical engineers, control and valve installers and repairers, as well as plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters.

Tauer recently evaluated earnings and corresponding education attainment in the region. The average monthly earnings across all education levels in Oregon was $4,322 in the fourth quarter of 2016, while it was $3,517 in the Rogue Valley. Statewide, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $6,416 per month compared with $5,189 in the Rogue Valley.

The valley's monthly average earnings across all sectors and all education levels a year ago was $3,980.

While urban-rural wage gaps are found in many fields, it is less pronounced in the utilities trades, he said.

"How important is your drinking water? You don't want just anyone working with it," Tauer said. "And there's no room for error when you're putting in high-pressure natural gas lines under people's streets."

Health care and social assistance is the largest industry in the Rogue Valley, employing more than 20,500 people, or about 18 percent of the jobs in the area.

The state Employment Department tracks online help-wanted data but doesn't aggregate units of a larger firm. Lithia Motors is No. 2 on the list, and Lithia Auto Stores is No. 4, while Lithia unit DCH is No. 35 and Carbone Auto Group, a Lithia acquisition in New England, was No. 87. From Oct. 14, 2016, through Oct. 13, 2017, the largest single employee seeker was Providence Health & Service with 1,068 postings. Providence St. Joseph Hospital tied Asante Health System for No. 6.

Health care workers’ average monthly earnings of $4,518 ranked sixth among the 19 industries, nearly $1,000 higher than average earnings across all sectors in the Rogue Valley. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher within the industry had average monthly earnings of $7,313.

Other industries with a substantial wage premium for higher levels of education were in management  and financial activities, where those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned 119.7 percent and 92.4 percent more than high school graduates.

The report did not include workers younger than 25, because the Census Bureau anticipates most people have completed formal education by then. Accommodation and food services reported the lowest average monthly earnings in the area. Workers 25 and older in that field have similar average monthly earnings for all levels of educational attainment, ranging from $1,754 to $1,890. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was another industry showing little wage premium for having a college degree.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.