Are Basic Industries a Good Career Path?

Ready to begin a new job search? Entrepreneur is here to cover what you need to know to see if basic industries are a good career path for you.

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By Entrepreneur Staff

As a child, most people were asked what they wanted to become when they grew up. It's a tough decision. Finding the right combination of talent, passion, practicality and job security is no easy feat.

You might discover basic industries as you decide what industry you want to enter. The field provides several options, so it can take some exploration.

Keep reading for the need-to-know information on basic industries, what it entails and whether or not it is a good career path.

Related: 3 Traditionally Offline Industries That Are Going Online

What are basic industries?

A basic industry is one that manufactures materials and provides those materials to other industries. Basic industries are integral to a country's economy, as they supply, process and develop the vital raw materials it needs to operate.

Types of basic industries

Jobs in basic industries are often labor-intensive and require various technical skills and qualifications. See some of the sectors below to see if a career path in basic industries might be interesting to you.

Agriculture

Agriculture falls under the supersector of natural resources and mining. Jobs in this sector entail crop growing, animal raising, timber harvesting and fish and animal harvesting. Any of these actions must occur on a farm, ranch or the natural habitat of the plant or animal.

This industry is irreplaceable, as it is the beginning of the food supply chain, which is the process by which food gets from its raw form, to distribution to people's home tables.

Common locations for jobs in this sector include:

  • Farms
  • Ranches
  • Dairies
  • Greenhouses
  • Nurseries
  • Orchards
  • Hatcheries

While it is not absolutely mandatory to have a degree to enter the field of agriculture, many workers study the major in college and prepare for their careers as early as middle school through programs like the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H.

Those who do study agriculture in higher-education complete majors including:

  • Animal sciences
  • Agriculture production and management
  • General agriculture
  • Plant science and agronomy
  • Agricultural economics

The top 10 universities in the United States for Agricultural Sciences include:

  1. University of Massachusetts Amherst
  2. Cornell University
  3. University of California, Davis
  4. University of Florida
  5. Harvard University
  6. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  7. Michigan State University
  8. Purdue University, West Lafayette Campus
  9. University of Wisconsin, Madison
  10. Iowa State University

Whether or not you're considering pursuing an agricultural degree, you might be interested in some information on workers who enter the field.

Key career statistics about the agriculture workforce:

  • Employment: 627,210
  • Median wage: $52,000
  • Percentage of part-time employees: 13%
  • Percentage employed with occupations requiring a bachelor's degree: 42%
  • Percentage employed with an advanced (post-bachelor's) degree: 27%

Common titles in the agricultural field:

  • Veterinarians (Doctoral or professional degree required)
  • Postsecondary teachers (Doctoral or professional degree required)
  • Soil and plant scientists (bachelor's degree)
  • Sales representatives for wholesale and manufacturing (high school diploma or equivalent)
  • Crop, nursery and greenhouse farmworkers and laborers (no formal educational credential)
  • Retail salesperson (no formal academic credential)
  • Farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers (high school diploma or equivalent)
  • First-line supervisors of retail sales workers (high school diploma or equivalent)
  • Chief executives (bachelor's degree)

Related: How Technology is Fighting Agriculture's Unsettling Age Problem

Steel and metals

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, metal and steelwork became a considerable part of the world's mechanical ecosystem. The technological advances shifted much of the focus from agriculture to industrial.

While agriculture will likely always be necessary, steel and metalwork has continued to evolve with modern technology and is a thriving industry today.

Steel and metal work jobs exist all over the country; however, five states have the highest employment of structural iron and steel workers.

The top five states, their employment numbers, mean hourly wage and annual mean wage as of 2021 are:

California

  • Employment: 7,850
  • Hourly mean wage: $34.07
  • Annual mean wage: $70,870

Texas

  • Employment: 7,240
  • Hourly mean wage: $22.00
  • Annual mean wage: $45,760

New York

  • Employment: 4,400
  • Hourly mean wage: $43.41
  • Annual mean wage: $90,280

Florida

  • Employment: 3,710
  • Hourly mean wage: $22.78
  • Annual mean wage: $47,380

Ohio

  • Employment: 3,320
  • Hourly mean wage: $29.60
  • Annual mean wage: $61,570

The five parts of the industry with the highest employment rates are:

  • Foundation, structure and building exterior contractors
  • Nonresidential building construction
  • Fabricated metal product manufacturing (3323 and 3324 only)
  • Building equipment contractors
  • Other specialty trade contractors

Generally, the steel and metal industry has positions requiring a high school diploma, an equivalent degree and a subsequent apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships allow prospective steel and metal workers to learn necessary skills and knowledge through hands-on experience and training. Many technical schools or contractor associations provide apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships in the steel and metal field can equip students with skills like:

  • Metal framework construction
  • Reinforcing and installing metals and measuring
  • Cutting and laying rebar
  • Basic math skills
  • Basic sketching skills

If you are considering an apprenticeship in this industry, be prepared to dedicate your time and attention. Apprentices complete around 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of real-world job experience.

Related: 3 Stellar Steel Stocks to Buy Now

Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction

The mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction industries fall under the natural resources and mining supersector.

A miner's job includes actions like:

  • Quarrying
  • Well operations
  • Beneficiating: crushing, screening, washing and flotation
  • Preparation at a mine site

During these job performances, miners seek to extract naturally occurring mineral solids like coal, ore and liquid minerals like crude petroleum.

There are approximately 593,300 workers in this industry and 5.7% of workers are members of a union.

Five occupations and their mean salaries in this industry include:

  1. First-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers: $88,290
  2. Helpers — extraction workers: $42,930
  3. Mining and geological engineers, mining safety engineers: $100,000
  4. Operating engineers, construction equipment operators: $52,000
  5. Roustabouts — oil and gas: $44,890

For all other hourly employees, the average hourly earnings are approximately $33.85 per hour.

To begin work in the mining industry, you must undergo training to prepare. The National Mine Health and Safety Academy is located in Beaver, West Virginia and holds in-person courses for prospective mining professionals.

The institution also provides materials and resources for trainees who prefer to complete their training at their local training program.

The job requirements are different if you are interested in the mining sector and are drawn toward geological engineering.

Although geological engineers often work alongside miners, their roles are different. Geological engineers identify risk factors and terrain at worksites to ensure health and human safety.

Geological engineers need, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in a major like:

  • Chemistry
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Lab Work
  • Field Experience

The top 10 U.S. universities for geosciences are:

  1. California Institute of Technology
  2. University of Colorado, Boulder
  3. Columbia University
  4. University of Maryland, College Park
  5. University of Washington, Seattle
  6. Harvard University
  7. University of California, Irvine
  8. Princeton University
  9. University of California, Los Angeles
  10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

In addition to higher education, you will likely need to complete an internship or fellowship to gain real-world experience in the geological field of your choice.

There are also types of geological engineers that need to complete additional licensing to be qualified for positions.

Related: 4 Oil and Gas Stocks to Buy Before the Winter Freeze

Chemicals

Chemical manufacturing is a subsector of the manufacturing sector. This subsector takes organic and inorganic raw materials and transforms them into products through a chemical process.

Groups in the chemical manufacturing industry include:

  • Basic chemical manufacturing
  • Resin, synthetic rubber and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments manufacturing
  • Pesticide, fertilizer and other agricultural chemical manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
  • Paint, coating and adhesive manufacturing
  • Soap, cleaning compound and toilet preparation manufacturing
  • Other chemical products and preparation manufacturing

Occupations in the chemical manufacturing industry and their salaries include:

  • Chemical equipment operators and tenders: $52,470
  • Chemical technicians: $57,140
  • Chemical engineers: $105,550
  • Chemists: $83,960
  • Mixing and blending machine setters, operators and tenders: $42,820
  • Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders: $37,980

While some of the occupations on this list require higher-education degrees, others do not. For example, becoming a chemical technician requires a high school diploma or GED equivalent.

In addition, a chemical technician must have prior experience in the sector, a HazMat certification, likely a forklift certification and general skills.

On the other hand, a chemical engineer requires a bachelor's degree, Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) certification, a master's degree, a Professional Engineering (PE) certification and a state license.

The top skills required by chemical engineers include:

  • Technical skills
  • Mathematics
  • Analytical skills
  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Creative thinking

The top 10 U.S. universities for chemical engineering are:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  2. Georgia Institute of Technology
  3. University of Delaware
  4. University of California, Berkeley
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  7. California Institute of Technology
  8. University of Texas, Austin
  9. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  10. University of Wisconsin, Madison

The states with the highest employment level and their corresponding annual hourly wage and annual mean wage are:

Texas

Annual hourly wage: $79.07

Annual mean wage: $164,470

Pennsylvania

Annual hourly wage: $49.26

Annual mean wage: $102,450

California

Annual hourly wage: $46.60

Annual mean wage: $96,920

Michigan

Annual hourly wage: $52.72

Annual mean wage: $109,650

New Jersey

Annual hourly wage: $59.28

Annual mean wage: $123,300

Related: From Salt To Sustainability: How Tata Chemicals Is Driving Growth On the Back Of Innovation

Textile mills

Textile mills are a subsector of the manufacturing sector. Textile mills take a natural or synthetic basic fiber and transform it into a product that is manufactured further into items used for industrial or individual use.

Textile mills transform materials into items like:

  • Apparel
  • Sheets
  • Towels
  • Textile bags

Textile mills consist of three different types of mills, which are:

  • Fiber, yarn and thread mills
  • Fabric mills
  • Textile and fabric finishing and fabric coating mills

Common occupation titles in textile mills and their mean salaries include:

  • First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers: $59,450
  • Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers: $33,960
  • Textile bleaching and dyeing machine operators and tenders: $31,620
  • Textile knitting and weaving machine setters, operators and tenders: $34,250
  • Textile winding, twisting and drawing out machine setters, operators and tenders: $32,110

Related: Future of Textile Technology and Apparels Trend

Utilities

Utilities are a subsector of the trade, transportation and utilities supersector. The utility sector has several different establishments and services that go with those establishments.

Industry groups in the utilities subsector include:

  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
  • Natural gas distribution
  • Water, sewage and other systems

Utility establishments and their services include:

  • Electric power: Generation, transmission and distribution
  • Natural gas: Distribution
  • Steam supply: Provision and distribution
  • Water supply: Treatment and distribution
  • Sewage removal: Collection, treatment and disposal of waste through sewer systems and sewage treatment facilities

Common occupation titles in utilities and their mean salaries include:

  • Control and valve installers and repairers, except mechanical door: $77,160
  • Electrical engineers: $110,230
  • Electrical power-line installers and repairers: $87,660
  • First-line supervisors/managers of mechanics, installers and repairers: $105,750
  • Meter readers, utilities: $58,120

Electrical engineering may stand out to you as a potential occupation in the basic industries. To become an electrical engineer, you will need a bachelor's degree and participation in an internship or other practical experience.

The top 10 U.S. universities for electrical engineering are:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of California, Berkeley
  4. California Institute of Technology
  5. Georgia Institute of Technology
  6. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  8. Carnegie Mellon University
  9. Cornell University
  10. Purdue University, West Lafayette

Related: 3 Utility Stocks to Weather Market Storms

Paper

Paper manufacturing is a subsector of the manufacturing sector. The paper manufacturing subsector is also made up of converted paper products, paper and pulp.

Pulp is a raw material generally made from cellulosic (vegetable) fibers or other materials like minerals, artificial fibers, rags, straws, grasses and bark. Paper, pulp and converted paper products are grouped because they are part of a vertically connected process.

This process includes three parts:

  1. Pulp manufacturing: Separating the cellulose fibers from other impurities in wood or used paper
  2. Paper manufacturing: Matting fibers into a sheet
  3. Converted paper products: Paper and other materials are cut and shaped with techniques that include coating and laminating activities

Occupations integral to the paper manufacturing industry and their mean salaries include:

  • Cutting and slicing machine setters, operators and tenders: $44,150
  • First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers: $75,050
  • Industrial production managers: $119,980
  • Industrial truck and tractor operators: $42,780
  • Paper goods machine setters, operators and tenders: $45,430

Industrial truck and tractor operators make up approximately 758,290 jobs in the U.S. workforce. This occupation is vital to the industry.

To become an industrial truck and tractor operator, you must fit job requirements like having a high school diploma or GED, a relevant driver's license and a completed apprenticeship or other practical experience.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Paper Packaging Can't be Beat

Pros and cons of working in basic industries

Like any other industry, every job title has pros and cons. See below for more information about the ups and downs of working in basic industries.

Pros of working in basic industries:

  • Job stability: Basic industries are only attractive to some. While it takes a particular dedicated type of worker to embrace a basic industry job, that also means plenty of job opportunities and a high level of job stability for those in the industry.
  • Low barrier to entry: There are thousands of jobs in basic industries that do not require higher education. Instead, many occupations require practical experience or certifications, which are much more affordable than college degrees.
  • Training opportunities: Once a worker enters the field, there are many adjacent jobs for which their employer may provide training. Technology is constantly evolving, so there are many training opportunities for workers to learn how to operate new technologies.
  • Opportunity for growth: Basic industries are niche, so there are many opportunities to train and grow in that environment.

Cons of working in basic industries:

  • Labor-intensive jobs: Basic industry jobs can be tough on the body and the mind. They are the opposite of desk jobs — workers must constantly move, lift and operate heavy machinery. The environment often has high stakes and long work hours, which can affect mental health.
  • Workforce based on the economy: While many basic industry jobs are essential and ineffective by the economy, others might be subject to furloughs or layoffs in an economic downturn.
  • Possible hazardous working conditions: Some basic industry occupations are subject to unsafe working conditions like chemicals, pollutants and other dangerous situations with locations and machinery that often contribute negatively to personal and environmental health.

Basic industries and the environment

It's no secret that industrial practices have damaged the environment and contributed to climate change. The Industrial Revolution was one of the most significant inciting incidents to the manufacturing industry boom.

At the time, people had no idea the long-term effects fossil fuels from large manufacturing plants would someday have on the planet. While so many improvements have been made, industrialization's carbon footprint from basic industries still occurs today. Keep reading for specific environmental impacts from basic industries.

Water pollution

Water pollution occurs when natural or manufactured chemicals contaminate a water source.

While some water pollution can be identified as murky, odorous or containing trash, the even more dangerous situation is when contaminated water looks completely safe. Natural gas and oil leaks, generally from human activity, cause water pollution.

Air pollution

Air pollution occurs when natural or manufactured hazardous substances contaminate the air. Sometimes, air pollution can be seen, like smog; however, other times, the air might look normal.

According to the World Health Organization, 99%of the world's population breathes in air contamination, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide. Too much inhalation of any of these chemicals can cause serious health issues.

Soil pollution

Soil pollution comes from contaminated soil and can harm people or animals who touch, breathe or ingest its toxic properties. It might not seem like soil contamination would affect a large amount of society; however, contaminated soil can be a massive detriment to the entire ecosystem.

Contaminated soil can generate pests and diseases. The animals who eat those pests or the soil are then eaten by larger animals up the food chain.

This is not only harmful to the animals affected but to the humans who consume those animals that now contain bacteria. Contaminated soil can affect the health and food security of the entire planet.

Global warming and climate change

Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are emitted from landfills and agricultural industries, which ultimately causes global warming.

Climate change is caused by global warming, as temperatures shift and weather patterns change. These changes affect the entire planet's ecosystem.

Top sources of greenhouse gas emissions

Six significant industries contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Three of those six are basic industries, including utilities, agriculture and other basic industries. Look below to see where the manufacturing industry ranks compared to the other greenhouse gas emitters.

  • Transportation: 27%
  • Utilities: 25%
  • Other basic industry: 24%
  • Commercial and residential: 13%
  • Land use and forestry: 13%
  • Agriculture: 11%

How can basic industries reduce their carbon footprint?

As the world learns more about climate change and prevention, basic industries can adopt strategies to do their part in cleaning up manufacturing practices.

Waste management

Hazardous waste is a huge contributor to pollution and must be treated and discarded properly to protect the ecosystem. Basic industries can practice strict and clean waste management strategies, including treatment, transportation and disposal, to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Recycle, reduce, reuse

How basic industries treat, transport and dispose of recyclable materials matters. Making sure recyclables are separated is the first step. Large manufacturing plants can also practice upcycling by reusing materials or finding alternative uses when possible.

Mitigate greenhouse gasses

Making the switch to clean and renewable energy is a massive step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to that, gas capture programs can reduce overall gas waste.

More intelligent land use

Before large plants build locations, they should consult ecological experts to ensure the site does not threaten or destroy nearby wildlife. Sites should also have emergency plans in place should a fire, oil spill or another accident occur.

Current technology

Technological advances have produced much cleaner, safer and more efficient machinery. Basic industries can implement these new technologies to reduce their carbon footprints and improve energy efficiency.

One of the most significant switches to consider is utilizing renewable energy, like sun, wind or water.

Promoting environmental awareness

For industries to grow in this area, they must stay current with environmental education.

Two ways to stay up-to-date include performing environmental impact assessments and studying ecological changes. Employee training and company policies are other ways to raise industry-wide awareness.

Related: 5 Ways Technology Can Help Tackle Air Pollution

Companies that care

Each year, more and more companies in various industries pledge to reduce their carbon footprint. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Green Power Partnership Fortune 500® Partners List, highlighting companies that have adopted green power resources to conduct operations.

Below, you will find eight companies in primary industries that have made commitments and the green power resources they utilized the most.

8 basic industries companies committed to green power

  1. Owens Corning: Solar, wind
  2. The Boeing Company: Small-hydro, solar, wind
  3. Crown Holdings, Inc./USA Beverage Division: Wind
  4. Cummins Inc.: Solar, wind
  5. Lockheed Martin: Various
  6. Textron Aviation: Wind
  7. General Dynamics Land Systems/Central Office: Wind
  8. General Dynamics Land Systems/Scranton: Various

The bottom line: Are basic industries a good career path?

Basic industries are widespread, have a low barrier to entry and many are essential occupations. If you are looking for a career that generally offers solid job security and plenty of opportunity for growth, basic industries can be a good career path.

One drawback to working in basic industries is the health and environmental risk that comes with the territory. Because many sectors of basic industries involve manual labor, there can be dangerous jobs you must complete or hazardous materials you must work with.

When choosing the right industry for you, it is essential to weigh all the details and logistics of each occupation. However, if you conclude that working in basic industries has more pros than cons, then basic industries is a good career path for you.

For more information on job searches and other industries, visit Entrepreneur.com.

Entrepreneur Staff

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor

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