Young Texan earns $140,000 a year, with a two-year degree and hard work

I love this story from the Wall Street Journal. I’m linking to the free version on Yahoo News, though!


Justin Friend ’s parents have doctoral degrees and have worked as university lecturers and researchers. So Mr. Friend might have been expected to head for a university after graduating from high school in Bryan, Texas, five years ago.

Instead, he attended Texas State Technical College in Waco, and received a two-year degree in welding. In 2013, his first full year as a welder, his income was about $130,000, more than triple the average annual wages for welders in the U.S. In 2014, Mr. Friend’s income rose to about $140,000.

[…]The risks of a mismatch between costly university degrees and job opportunities have become clearer in recent years. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, said nearly a third of people aged 22 through 26 with a Bachelor of Arts degree either don’t have a job or are working at one that doesn’t require a university degree. The numbers are similar for young people with vocational degrees, but those lower-cost degrees don’t typically lead to heavy debts.

Student loan debt outstanding in the U.S. totaled $1.13 trillion as of Sept. 30, up by $100 billion from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (Mr. Friend has no debts.)

[…]Mr. Friend, who is single, typically works 72 hours a week, usually including at least one day of the weekend, often on an overnight shift. His base pay is more than $25 an hour, up from about $22 when he started in 2012. He gets overtime after 40 hours a week. Pay is doubled on Sundays and tripled on holidays. He receives health insurance, a 401k retirement plan and paid vacation.

With little free time, expenses are low. He rents a one-bedroom apartment for $1,080 a month in a building with a pool and gym. To stay in shape for mountain-climbing trips, he sometimes runs up and down steps wearing a weighted backpack.

He showed an early inclination to make things. “At three years old, he was using a screwdriver and a hacksaw skillfully,” said Dr. Vaughan, his mother. Later, dyslexia made writing and math a struggle for him.

In junior high school, he took a course in welding. Within a few years, he was earning money repairing fences and doing other welding jobs for neighbors.

A documentary on World War II stirred Mr. Friend’s interest in pulse jet engines, which were used by Germany to propel bombs. He and his father, Ted Friend, a professor of animal science at Texas A&M, together built such an engine. “We used a leaf blower to start it,” pumping in air needed to ignite the engine, the younger Mr. Friend said. “It ran on propane.” When he attached the engine to a golf cart, he said, the vehicle proved difficult to steer after reaching 30 miles an hour.

“Mom didn’t like it,” he said. “She thought I was going to blow myself up.” One of his goals is to put a jet engine on a motorcycle, he says, adding: “I’d try to make it as safe as I could.”

On a recent day, while country music played on a colleague’s radio, Mr. Friend used gas tungsten arc welding techniques to attach two steel parts destined for an oil apparatus. Wearing a T-shirt and Wrangler jeans, he hunched over work requiring the precision of a jewelry maker. After welding, he buffed the part with a wire brush. Colleagues would later X-ray the part to make sure the weld was flawless.

The long hours mean “it’s hard to have a life,” Mr. Friend said. Eventually, he said he may pursue an advanced degree in metallurgy and research welding materials and techniques. For now, he’s building up his savings.

He’s debt-free, and probably didn’t even need student loans for this program. You couldn’t say that about most college students these days – and the ones in non-STEM fields will never be able to pay their loans back. What causes people to go into programs that don’t produce a return on investment? I think I know why. I think that many Americans have the idea that life should be about personal fulfillment, and not about doing things that don’t feel right to them. Hard work doesn’t “feel” right to many young Americans. They want work to make them famous, and to make them happy. Well, work isn’t supposed to be like that. Work is about making money, and very often the most difficult degrees and jobs are the least fame-making, and the least happiness-inducing. This guy is a welder! It’s not glamorous.

I would advise my younger readers, especially my male readers, to take a page out of this welder’s handbook. Make a plan to avoid debt, and stick to it.

7 thoughts on “Young Texan earns $140,000 a year, with a two-year degree and hard work”

  1. So he has to work more hours than 40 and not in an airconditioned office to crush six figures in annual income.

    That schedule would be hell on a wife, especially if she was home with his children, although certainly she could afford to pay for some support (and in Texas, likely would). It’s also not exactly easy on his youthful body either.

    I do agree with the young man that he should save, save, save while he can put up those kinds of hours without too much hassle. And his plans to transition into the air conditioned work that is even higher paying are good too.

    Work isn’t just about making money. By that standard, what housewives do since industrialization dropped isn’t “work”. Same for what unpaid elders and deacons do. Or volunteers. One of the reasons the nonprofit and ministry world is so corrupt is the idea that all work must needs be paid work to be of value to the community and family.

    Anyway, interesting link.


    1. You missed the point, man. The guy in the story has no debt and is piling on the savings. Given his perks, he works for a big company, so after a few years eating crap working the tough jobs he can bid on a less time-intensive job.


      1. No, I didn’t miss the point, and I even noted that it’s great he is considering moving on up to airconditioned work for actual six-figures vs. six-figures via unsustainable levels of OT (unsustainable for his body and mind, that is).

        I just think that it’s important to Notice that he isn’t earning six figures upfront, and that not everyone can handle such a brutal schedule to get that much money in such work. A lot of welders can’t take the OT, and make a lot less. They can still save, and many do, but let’s not get all worked up as if this can be a standard approach, or should be.


        1. Fair enough, but not everyone needs six figures or even high five figures. WK’s example is a paragon of how unnecessary a college degree is for the sake of it.


          1. If I knew I could be making money like this guy in my 20s and then stopped when I got married, I’d have done that. I was working 70 hour weeks in two startup companies in my 20s anyway, but only making 50-75K. I thought my 5-6K annual raises was great, this guy just blows me away.


  2. My husband went to welding school right out of high school and worked in industry for years. He has a master’s degree in engineering now, but he’s a big believer in knowing how to do things with your hands too. He says a lot of engineers could benefit from having a little dirt under their fingernails because not everything you can design can actually be built in a machine shop or weld shop and those that can may not be the most efficient or cheap to make. Knowing how the manufacturing process works helps engineers make better designs. He walks in both worlds, so he knows.

    We plan to give our kids experience making things as we homeschool them. Doug wants to build a telescope and a motorcycle (among other things) one of these days when our munchkins are big enough to help and learn something from it. He also plans to have them building sheds and fences for our mini farm and growing vegetables and things like that. Those are the kinds of things you can teach kids when you homeschool and live in the country and they help build real world skills as well as a work ethic – both of which are sadly lacking in many young people today.


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