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20 Highest Paying Blue-Collar Jobs (And How to Get One)

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Blue-collar work is growing in demand and becoming more lucrative, in large part thanks to a wave of worker strikes in 2023 advocating for higher wages. Plus: There’s often a low barrier to entry for those with unique and specialized skill sets.

Read on to learn about the perks and requirements of breaking into a blue-collar job—and the highest-paying ones out there.

What is a blue-collar job?

In short, a blue-collar job involves manual or skilled labor, such as maintaining, building, or installing tools and machinery. While you’ll often find a white-collar worker at a desk or office, a blue-collar worker is usually out in the field, be it a construction site, someone’s home—or an actual field.

Blue-collar workers are often paid hourly instead of salaried, with opportunities to make overtime pay if they log more hours than their typical schedule. That said, they still typically qualify for benefits such as health insurance, vacation time, and retirement options, as well as are frequently involved in local and state unions.

You don’t need a bachelor’s degree for many blue-collar jobs. At most, they might require an associate’s degree or certification—making them a good fit for professionals without access to or the means for higher education.

Instead, you can adopt a skilled profession by attending a trade or vocational school. These are typically shorter, and cheaper, than a four-year college—think 1-2 years before you’re ready to enter the workforce. Other options for basic training are bootcamps and paid or unpaid apprenticeships.

The pros of a blue-collar job

Beyond the low barrier to entry, a blue-collar job can provide benefits such as:

  • Job security: There will always be customers for skilled or manual labor—toilets break, wires fry, packages need to be delivered. Additionally, many blue-collar jobs have unions that advocate for workers when layoffs are a possibility, call out unfair workplace practices, and ensure employees receive reasonable and consistent benefits and compensation.
  • Work-life balance: Blue-collar workers can’t take their work home with them the way a desk worker can continue checking emails after work hours. With the right schedule, work-life balance is fairly easy to maintain.
  • The chance to run a business or make your own schedule: Starting out in blue-collar work, you might want to find a mentor or get some experience working under an expert. But once you’ve mastered your craft, there’s plenty of opportunity to shift into a contracting or freelancing situation where there’s more flexibility, or even start your own business.
  • Tangible and rewarding outcomes: When you build, make, or fix something with your bare (or more likely, gloved) hands, you can immediately see the results of your hard work and its impact on others. Many people might find this kind of job rewarding in that they’re able to tangibly measure their progress. For those passionate about solving climate change and protecting the environment, a lot of so-called “green-collar” jobs can be found in the blue-collar industry as well, says Andrea Gerson, a Muse career coach and the founder of Resume Scriptor who regularly coaches blue-collar workers. “These roles are going to be exponentially growing in terms of growth opportunities,” she adds.

The cons of a blue-collar job

Like any profession, a blue-collar job has its imperfections. Some downsides to the field you should consider are:

  • Weird or long working hours: Many blue-collar jobs require you to work nights, weekends, or even longer days than a typical 9-to-5—the obvious reason being the customer you’re serving and the urgency of your work.
  • Safety, physical health, or mental health concerns: Manual labor can be physically challenging, which is fun and motivating for some but tiring and debilitating for others. And some blue-collar jobs, while offering an array of safety training, protocols, and protections, still require workers to navigate potentially precarious situations.
  • Lack of career support or advancement: Blue-collar jobs don’t always provide pathways for growth. If this is important to you, it’s key to vet whether a company invests in its people long-term.
  • Potentially low wages: Many blue-collar jobs pay a livable, if not comfortable, wage. But how much you make depends highly on whom you work for, the growth of your industry, and demand for your skill set. Starting out, you likely won’t be garnering the kinds of salaries you see on “high paying blue-collar jobs” lists like the one below.

4 tips for getting a blue-collar job

If you’re starting from scratch, Gerson outlined a few simple steps you can take to start your blue-collar job search.

1. Do your research—and consider taking an assessment

Before signing up for a training or associate’s degree, you’ll want to get a firm understanding of the field you’re interested in, what it’ll require, and potential paths you can take. Career assessments can be helpful tools for those who are indecisive or unsure what they’d be happy doing. For aspiring green collar workers, Gerson recommends Grandshake’s 10-question quiz.

2. Use databases to find apprenticeships

The U.S. government provides an Apprenticeship Finder for those looking for on-the-job training, and many states and municipalities also offer their own versions, as well as scholarships and funding for those unable to afford vocational school tuition.

3. Focus your resume on hard skills

Blue-collar employers want to know exactly what you’ve done and can do. Listing and expanding on your hard skills—tools, frameworks, techniques—and how you’ve put them to work in past roles is key. (A functional resume can come in handy here.)

4. Lean on your network

Maybe a family member works in a similar role, or a friend’s relative runs a business that could use your skill set. Networking is how a lot of blue-collar jobs get filled, so don’t be afraid to lean on the people in your life for help and referrals.

The 20 highest paying blue-collar jobs out there

The following blue-collar jobs are ranked according to the latest mean annual wage data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was last collected in May 2022.

That said, many of the highest paying blue-collar jobs could pay more—or less—than what’s listed, depending on your location, experience level, and the type of organization.

1. Ship and boat captains and operators

Salary: $99,540 a year

To operate a private or commercial ship, you’ll need not just some experience aboard but also to pass the U.S. Coast Guard-approved exam—among meeting other certifications and standards. But anyone over the age of 18 is qualified to become a boat operator, meaning you can start your training as soon as you graduate high school.

Find ship and boat captains and operators jobs on The Muse

2. Nuclear technicians

Salary: $97,040 a year

Nuclear technicians assist engineers and scientists in maintaining and operating equipment. Much of the skill set needed can be learned via an associate’s program in nuclear science or physics, or transferred from a military background.

Find nuclear technicians jobs on The Muse

3. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

Salary: $94,820 a year

Power plant workers control the flow of electricity from plants to users such as yourself. They also monitor the performance and state of equipment, respond to emergencies, and troubleshoot issues as needed. The job requires licensing and some on-the-job experience, as well as a drug and alcohol screening and background check.

Find power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers jobs on The Muse

4. Elevator and escalator installers and repairers

Salary: $93,960 a year

Installers and repairers ensure the devices that help people move up, down, and around are working properly at all times. This might mean being on call 24-7 for emergencies, even if you don’t actually work the entire time. The National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP) is one of the top sources for apprenticeships in this area.

Find elevator and escalator installers and repairers jobs on The Muse

5. Makeup artists

Salary: $93,850 a year

Makeup artists typically have an esthetician’s license or equivalent beauty school training, and can earn a substantial living when involved in popular film, TV, theater, or advertising.

Find makeup artists jobs on The Muse

6. Detectives and criminal investigators

Salary: $91,610 a year

To become a detective or criminal investigator requires at least several years serving as a police officer (which requires attending a specialized training or military academy). You might also consider beefing up your knowledge in law enforcement, criminal justice, or forensics through continuous education.

Find detectives and criminal investigators jobs on The Muse

7. Commercial divers

Salary: $85,630 a year

Aspiring commercial divers must have at least a high school diploma or GED, good health, and a passion for deep-sea diving and swimming. From there, they’ll attend a program complete with certifications and skills training to weld, cut, rig, and assist in underwater construction or repairs.

Find commercial divers jobs on The Muse

8. Broadcast technicians

Salary: $84,860 a year

Broadcast technicians and engineers are the hands behind your favorite live shows and performances. Much of the role can be taught on the job, if not through specialized education or apprenticeships.

Find broadcast technicians jobs on The Muse

9. Dental hygienists

Salary: $84,860 a year

Dental hygienists assist dentists by helping with teeth cleanings and screening patients for problems. They must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program and complete national and board exams.

Find dental hygienists jobs on The Muse

10. Diagnostic medical sonographers

Salary: $84,410 a year

Diagnostic medical sonographers conduct ultrasounds and help doctors detect issues with patients. All you need to get started in this field is to pass an accredited sonography program, which is often two years of training.

Find diagnostic medical monographers jobs on The Muse

11. Postmasters and mail superintendents

Salary: $84,190 a year

Postmasters and mail superintendents work behind the scenes of your local post office. They supervise staffers and coordinate activities so mail is delivered on time and to the right people. The role requires passing entrance examinations and a drug and background check. Gaining experience in administration through continuous education could also help you stand out or move up in the field.

Find postmasters and mail superintendents jobs on The Muse

12. Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

Salary: $83,790 a year

Becoming a farmer or rancher requires mostly on-the-job training and some investment in your own business. For more information, you can check out, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Find farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers jobs on The Muse

13. Electrical power line installers and repairers

Salary: $82,770 a year

Linemen ensure power is working in neighborhoods and towns, and jump in when disaster strikes (which may mean being available all hours of the day). The best way to break into this field is through an apprenticeship.

Find electrical power line installers and repairers jobs on The Muse

14. MRI technologists

Salary: $81,530 a year

Similar to sonographers, MRI technologists assist doctors by performing diagnostic imaging on patients through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In other words, they operate the equipment you go into when you’re scanning the inside of your body at the doctor’s office. This job requires a certification or associate’s degree and internship experience.

Find MRI technologists jobs on The Muse

15. Transportation inspectors

Salary: $79,770 a year

Transportation inspectors ensure tracks, railways, and other cargo function properly and safely. They typically have an associate’s degree in construction or engineering paired with real-life experience.

Find transportation inspectors jobs on The Muse

16. Signal and track switch repairers

Salary: $77,370 a year

Signal and track switch repairers ensure anything electrical—signals, gates, intercomms—on railways are working as they should. They should have some vocational or apprenticeship training under their belt.

Find signal and track switch repairers jobs on The Muse

17. Transit and railroad police

Salary: $76,380 a year

Transit police protect railways from theft, vandalism, and other common crimes to cargo or passengers. They go through much of the same training as other police officers and have to pass a state law enforcement exam.

Find transit and railroad police jobs on The Muse

18. Subway and streetcar operators

Salary: $75,880 a year

In short, subway and streetcar operators get you where you need to go by driving public transit. You’ll need a valid state license and high school diploma or GED, experience working for a transit company, and to pass an operator exam.

Find subway and streetcar operators jobs on The Muse

19. Avionics technicians

Salary: $74,730 a year

Avionics technicians routinely inspect and repair aircrafts. They get their start by attending and getting certified from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved aviation maintenance technician school, or come from a military background.

Find avionics technicians jobs on The Muse

20. Respiratory therapists

Salary: $74,310 a year

Respiratory therapists, as the name suggests, help patients struggling with breathing issues. An associate’s degree or certification from an accredited program is typically all that’s required, but continued education is recommended to move up in this position.

Find respiratory therapists jobs on The Muse