We commonly associate hefty paychecks with briefcases and neckties – but it turns out there’s plenty of money to be earned by those who sport hard hats and coveralls.
This may be surprising considering the gradual decline of union memberships over the years and the fragile state of America’s workforce, but plenty of talented and skilled blue-collar workers earn six figures doing electrical work, repair jobs and other labor intensive trades.
Forbes combed through data gathered annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the Labor Department, to find some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs. The BLS culls its information from surveys it mails to businesses, and it releases its Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates data each spring. The figures are for 2011.
What defines a blue-collar job?" The American Heritage Dictionary" says, “Of or relating to wage earners, especially as a class, whose jobs are performed in work clothes and often involve manual labor.” We took that definition and excluded work that is largely managerial or supervisory to compile our list of 20 high-paying blue-collar jobs.
Some of the professions on our list require only a high school education, but many call for extensive training and apprenticeships that can last as long as four years. To become an elevator installer or repairer, for example, you must complete a four-year apprenticeship, says John Dalton, a field operations manager for the Stanley Elevator Company. “It can take up to four and a half years, including final exams, but once you get your license, you’re really qualified to do it all.”
Dalton says elevator installers and repairers are well-rounded trade workers who never stop learning. “There is always a new set of obstacles, a new set of opportunities, and the equipment is always changing. I’ve been in the business for 16 years, and I’m still learning.”
He says safety training and education is continuous, too, because elevator jobs are dangerous by nature and it’s crucial that workers be reminded of the hazards.
“The risks and rewards of elevation repair and installation go hand-in-hand. Elevators are dangerous. We’re working with live electricity, heavy equipment at extreme heights in some cases. But there are so many rewarding aspects, too,” he says.
So what makes this job better than a traditional desk job?
“It’s fast moving, it’s different every day, and people in the industry care about each other. We’re a tight-knit community, since it’s a generation type of job, and that makes it a great job to be in.”
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Dalton explains that elevator repairers and installers are also “low-key, behind the scenes workers. It’s a job that people really don’t think about or realize exists until the elevator breaks and they have to walk up 20 flights of stairs.”
It may not be high-visibility, but it’s undoubtedly high-paying. Elevator repairers and installers tops the list as having the highest-paying blue-collar job. On average they earn $73,560 annually, or $35.37 an hour. The top 10 percent of them draw in six-figure salaries.
The best-paying state for these workers, who assemble, install, repair or maintain electric or hydraulic freight or passenger elevators, escalators or dumbwaiters: Massachusetts.
Dalton’s firm, Stanley Elevator Company, is headquartered in neighboring New Hampshire. “It’s such a high-paying profession in this area because it’s union-oriented and it’s very organized,” Dalton says. “The union has been especially strong in the New England area.”
Other jobs on the list include transportation inspectors, who have an average annual salary of $65,770, and boilermakers, who earn $56,650, on average. Electricians, who earn an average of $52,910, also make the tally.
More from Forbes.com
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- The 10 best cities for finding a job right now
- The 10 hardest jobs to fill in America
- America's most surprising six-figure jobs
© 2012 Forbes.com