Top Ten Highest Paying Blue Collar Jobs

FT Contributor  | 

Trade jobs are in high demand, mostly because many high school graduates are choosing college over trade and vocational schools. There are about 30 million jobs in the U.S. that don’t require a bachelor’s degree yet pay an average salary of $55,000, most of which are trade jobs. These jobs are commonly referred to as “blue-collar jobs” because skilled workers, such as mechanics, usually wear blue shirts as work uniforms.

Some of the most recognizable blue collar jobs include plumbers, electricians, journeymen, and contractors. While jobs like these don’t require four-year college degrees, they can sometimes pay just as much as positions that do require degrees. However, most of the highest-paying trade jobs require that you complete vocational school and an apprenticeship or on-the-job training. The following list highlights 10 of the highest paying trade jobs.

1. Construction Manager

A construction manager works on a project site to monitor progress. Many are self-employed, but can be employed by civil, residential, or commercial construction firms.

Median Salary and Job Growth

The average starting pay for a construction manager is $55,240, but the median pay is $93,370. This job is growing at 10%, which is faster than average.

Job Description

Construction managers budget, coordinate, plan, and manage construction projects. On-the-job training and years of experience are required before becoming a manager, which contributes to this position’s high salary. Most workers start as construction assistants and work their way up to managing.

2. Oil Rig Workers

Also referred to as a geological and petroleum technician, an oil rig worker is employed by petroleum companies to maintain, repair, and operate oil rigs.

Median Salary and Job Growth

Entry-level oil rig workers can earn $28,020, while the median salary for this position is $53,300. This job is growing at 7%, which is slightly higher than average.

Job Description

Oil rig workers clean, operate, and repair equipment on oil rigs. The position requires completion of trade school and on-the-job training. The job requires travel and manual labor in potentially dangerous working conditions, which attributes to the high payscale.

3. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator

A nuclear power reactor operator, or power plant operator, works in a power plant or nuclear plant in the utilities or government sector.

Median Salary and Job Growth

At entry-level, a nuclear power reactor operator earns $49,580, with a median salary of $83,020. Growth for this position is declining by 6% as alternative energy sources are increasing in popularity.

Job Description

A nuclear plant or power plant operator controls the plant’s systems to distribute electrical power to the grid. To become an operator, you must complete vocational school and additional classroom and on-the-job training. It’s one of the highest paying trade jobs because it can be dangerous and requires experience and skills.

4. CNC Manufacturer

Computer numerically controlled manufacturing, or CNC machining, uses pre-programmed machinery to manufacture goods or products. Computer programs dictate the movements of the machines throughout production.

Median Salary and Job Growth

An entry-level CNC manufacturer can earn as low as $27,050, but the median salary for this position is $43,630. The position is showing little to no growth, with a 1% increase in demand.

Job Description

CNC manufacturers work to program and operate machines to manufacture products. Vocational classes can teach you design and blueprint reading, but you’ll also need on-the-job training to learn how to operate machinery.

5. Elevator Installer and Repairer

An elevator installer and repairer is generally employed by an elevator repair company, but can also be employed directly by a government agency or private business.

Median Salary and Job Growth

Elevator installers earn about $40,850 when entering the field, but the median salary is $79,780. This position is growing at 10%, faster than average.

Job Description

An elevator installer and repairer installs and fixes elevators in public or private buildings. A four-year apprenticeship program is required and you’ll need to learn how to read blueprints and pass a basic aptitude test. Compensation is high for this position since it can be dangerous and requires advanced technical skills.

6. Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers work in approach control facilities, route centers, or control towers to coordinate aircraft movement.

Median Salary and Job Growth

The average entry-level air traffic controller salary is $68,090, with a median salary of $124,540. This position is showing little or no change in growth.

Job Description

Air traffic controllers must complete training courses, pass skills assessments, and attend on-the-job training. They may be required to report for overnight or weekend shifts. Generous pay is earned because aircraft and passenger safety is in the hands of these controllers, making the job stressful.

7. Criminal Investigator

Criminal investigators, commonly called forensic science technicians, are typically employed by government agencies or labs to collect and investigate evidence from crime scenes.

Median Salary and Job Growth

The average starting criminal investigator salary is $34,600 and the median salary is $58,230. This position is experiencing growth at 14%, much faster than average.

Job Description

A criminal investigator may need to take photos or collect evidence at a crime scene to analyze, and may need to work extended hours. Investigators must have scientific skills, extensive on-the-job training, and experience working in a lab.

8. Petroleum Pump Systems Operator

A petroleum pump system operator guides petroleum refining or processing units. These operators may specialize in gauging or testing oil in storage tanks, controlling manifold and pumping systems, or regulating the flow of oil into pipelines.

Median Salary and Job Growth

An entry-level petroleum pump systems operator can earn as low as $42,020, but the median wage is $67,770. The growth outlook for petroleum pump system operator careers is declining by 0.22% per year.

Job Description

A petroleum pump system operator is generally employed by petroleum processing plants and may be asked to read, repair, and regulate pumps or containers. Math skills and on-the-job training are required for this position in order to keep machinery running safely. The payscale is generous because this job can be dangerous and stressful.

9. Power Plant Operator

Power plant operators work in the control rooms of plants to ensure all systems are working properly.

Median Salary and Job Growth

An entry-level power plant operator earns $49,580, but the median salary is $83,020. Demand for this position is declining by about 6%.

Job Description

Classroom, hands-on, and on-the-job training is required to become a power plant operator. These operators are responsible for controlling all systems within the plant to ensure they’re running safely and efficiently. Therefore, this job can be stressful and requires extensive knowledge of the plant’s systems.

10. Electrician

Most electricians work for electrical installation companies or contractors, while some are self-employed.

Median Salary and Job Growth

An entry-level electrician salary averages $32,940 and the median salary is $55,190. The demand for this job is growing at about 10%, faster than average.

Job Description

Electricians install, fix, and maintain electrical components, including lighting, communications, and controls systems in residential or commercial buildings. While a college degree isn’t required, an extensive apprenticeship and on-the-job-training as an assistant is usually mandatory. Electricians earn high salaries because they must learn technical skills and the job can be dangerous at times.


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This post was updated December 2, 2019. It was originally published December 2, 2019.