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How One Man Turned a $5 an Hour Job Into a $500,000 Salary


The American Dream isn’t dead. It’s just moved into the energy sector.

Twenty years ago, Johnathan Roberts starting working on a oil rig. His salary? $5 an hour. Today, he commands half a million dollars a year as operations manager at Norway Drilling. What’s his secret? Hard work, yes. Years of experience, of course. But he was also in the right industry at the right time.

Off-shore drilling is a lonely, demanding job. Workers must be highly skilled and willing to live where the oil lives — in the arctic, on the other side of the world from their homes, or far out in the middle of the ocean. Roberts, for example, relocated from Texas to Singapore for his gig.

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“The amount of money [workers] are making an hour is just mind-boggling now, just five years ago they were making just half that,” Roberts says. His own salary doubled in 1999 after a labor shortage.

The problem isn’t just a shortage of skilled workers, according to Wyn James, owner of a firm that recruits oil workers.

“Even if the skills do exist globally, they don’t necessarily exist in the place that is needed,” James told Reuters. “So what we are doing is we are picking up people from all corners of the world and we are sticking them into projects, whether it’s short-term or medium-term, but where they can earn reasonable money, live in a different country, live offshore, whatever that may be.”

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(Photo Credit: eschipul/Flickr)

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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