Hard hat-clad workers are declining for a multitude of reasons — spanning a decreased interest in trade skills to the aging baby boomer population and ensuing skills gap. But their jobs still need to be done, and many employers are willing to pay for the right talent.
If you're interested in blue-collar jobs, perhaps you're the one to fill blue-collar needs. Here's everything you should know about the blue-collar industry, as well as 15 high-paying blue-collar jobs for you to explore.
The term "blue collar" is an occupational classification that distinguishes working class employs who perform manual labor from workers who perform clerical jobs (by contrast, "white collar"). The term derives from history, when blue-collar workers who worked in trade occupations used to, traditionally, wear blue; meanwhile, white-collar workers historically wore white collars.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines blue collar as including "precision production, craft and repair occupations" and "service occupations" such as "machine operators and inspectors; transportation and moving occupations; handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers and laborers."
In short, blue-collar workers are employed in both the public and private sectors, and they perform manual labor and skilled trades, typically for an hourly wage instead of for a salary. As such, some blue-collar jobs earn lower pay than most white-collar jobs.
But that doesn't mean that you can't earn good money as a blue-collar worker. In fact, the job growth outlook for blue-collar jobs is promising.
Blue-collar workers are declining, which means they're in high demand, according to a late-2018 report released by The Conference Board, a nonprofit organization researching the American business climate. That's right, the demand for entry-level blue-collar jobs in sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, agribusiness, construction and more, has grown steadily since the 2008 financial crisis.
In manufacturing alone, for example, 57 percent of the predicted 3.5 million jobs that'll exist in 2025 will probably go unfilled, according to the Manufacturing Institute.
Fortunately for you, the ample research surrounding this talent shortage suggests that employers are upping the pay in order to attract more blue-collar workers to fill these vacancies.
“Companies looking to attract enough blue-collar workers will have to continue increasing wages and possibly experience diminished profits,” Gad Levanon, lead report author and chief economist for The Conference Board, has said about the research. “The picture looks very different for the workers themselves. Compared to a few years ago, blue-collar workers are now much more likely to have a job they are satisfied with and experience rapid wage growth.”
Research suggests that blue-collar jobs are increasingly better paid. In fact, All of the top blue-collar jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earn annual mean wages well above the national average for all jobs ($50,620). And, better yet, each of them experienced pay raises over the last year.
Take, for example, nuclear power reactor operators, who operate and monitor equipment and record data — they make an annual mean wage of $94,350 for their work that only requires a high school diploma (or the equivalent of a high school diploma), on-the-job training and, sometimes, a license.
Trailing close behind nuclear power reactor operators are electrical and electronic repairers, who are able to inspect, repair and maintain electrical equipment in any state across the country, so long as they've also got a high school diploma (sometimes, additional education or apprenticeship training is necessary, if they're specialized). Electrical and electronic repairers witnessed an annual mean wage increase of 4.33 percent in the last year. This means that they now earn, on average $77,770 each year.
Meanwhile, signal and track switch repairers, received the biggest salary boost in the last year, earning a 4.84 percent raise that brought their wages up to $65,750 on average, annually. Like nuclear power reactor operators and electrical and electronic repairers, they only need to have a high school diploma and on-the-job training to do their work.
Those are only three examples of blue-collar jobs that earn high salaries — the outlook for salary growth looks as good as the demand for job growth does for most blue-collar work.
With that said, here are 15 high-paying blue-collar job options, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from May 2017.
Why not take these into consideration?
Here are 15 blue-collar jobs that pay well, as well as what the jobs entail, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nuclear power reactor operators operate or control nuclear reactors. These means moving control rods, starting and stopping equipment, monitoring and adjusting controls and recording data in logs. They also implement emergency procedures when necessary, and they may respond to abnormalities. They earn, on average, $94,350 a year.
Electrical and electronic repairers inspect, test, repair and/or maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations and in-service relays. They earn, on average, $77,770 a year.
Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers operate or control petroleum refining or processing units. They may specialize in controlling manifold and pumping systems, gauging or testing oil in storage tanks, or they may specialize in regulating the flow of oil into pipelines. They earn, on average, $68,190 a year.
Power plant operators control, operate or maintain machinery that generates electric power (i.e. auxiliary equipment operators). They earn, on average, $75,970 a year.
Boilermakers "construct, assemble, maintain and repair stationary steam boilers and boiler house auxiliaries," as well as "align structures or plate sections to assemble boiler frame tanks or vats, following blueprints." They also assist in testing assembled vessels and direct the cleaning, inspection and repairments of boilers and boiler furnaces. They earn, on average, $63,010 a year.
Gas plant operators distribute or process gas for utility companies and others. They do this by controlling compressors to maintain specified pressures on main pipelines. And they earn, on average, $69,600 a year.
Electrical power-line installers and repairers install or repair cables or wires that are used in electrical power or distribution systems. They may be responsible for erecting poles and lighting or heavy duty transmission towers. They earn, on average, $68,710 a year.
Pile-driver operators operate pile drivers that are mounted on skids, barges, crawler treads or locomotive cranes in order to drive pilings for retaining walls, bulkheads and structural foundations, such as buildings, bridges, and piers. They earn, on average, $63,770 a year.
Signal track switch repairers install, inspect, test, maintain and/or repair electric gate crossings, signals, signal equipment, track switches, section lines and/or intercommunications systems within railroad systems. They earn, on average, $65,750 a year.
Subway and streetcar operators operate subway or elevated suburban trains, or electric-powered streetcars. They may also handle fairs, and they earn, on average, $63,950 a year.
Elevator installers and repairers assemble, install, repair and/or maintain electric or hydraulic freight or passenger elevators, escalators or dumbwaiters. They earn, on average, $77,130 a year.
Avionics technicians install, inspect, test, adjust and/or repair avionics equipment (i.e. radar, radio, navigation and missile control systems) in aircraft or space vehicles. They earn, on average, $63,650 a year.
Transportation inspectors inspect equipment or goods in connection with the safe transport of either cargo or people. This job includes rail transportation inspectors (i.e. freight inspectors, rail inspectors and other inspectors of transportation vehicles). They earn, on average, $73,720 a year.
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians "diagnose, adjust, repair or overhaul aircraft engines and assemblies, such as hydraulic and pneumatic systems." These include helicopter and aircraft engine specialists, and they earn, on average, $62,540 a year.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators "operate or maintain stationary engines, boilers or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or industrial processes." They also operate equipment, such as steam engines, generators, motors, turbines and steam boilers. And they earn, on average, $62,710 a year.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.