In the face of skyrocketing college tuitions and a weak economy, some U.S. educators are questioning whether it makes sense to continue steering the majority of high school students toward a four-year college. Some educators say yes, while others point to the fact that there are plenty of recent college graduates — some with mortgage-sized student debt loads — who have no job prospects. Studies have shown that, on average, someone with a bachelor’s degree will have around $1 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. But there are exceptions to the rule, and while some in the academic world dismiss blue-collar and technical trades as less prestigious than white-collar work, there are many blue-collar jobs that pay quite well. Here’s a list of some of the highest paying blue-collar jobs in the U.S., with median salary information as of 2010 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5. Construction and Building Inspectors ($52,000 median national salary)
This has some elements of a white-collar job, as inspectors act in a supervisory role to ensure construction projects adhere to all building codes and regulations, zoning ordinances, etc. The requirements for landing a job in this field vary considerably from state to state, and by employer. Most states require some sort of licensing or certification for inspectors, and many employers are now seeking inspectors with some technical training in engineering, architecture and construction technology. Although the recession put a damper on new hires in this field, and many inspectors have seen their workload shrink dramatically, some labor analysts see a growing demand for inspectors in the next decade.
4. Commercial Divers ($53,000)
Statistics can often be deceptive. As we learned in sixth-grade math, the median number is in the statistical middle of all numbers in a study; exactly half of the numbers are greater, while half are lower. Commercial diving is one blue-collar profession where the median salary can be misleading. Some of these jobs pay around $35,000 a year. On the other hand, high-risk diving jobs on construction can pay well over $100,000 per year. Forget those visions of swimming through crystal-clear blue waters amid schools of tropical fish, however; much of this type of diving, such as on oil rigs, takes place in dark, turbid, waters full of construction debris and equipment. This is also one of the most expensive blue-collar careers to break into; although a training and certification program through a commercial diving school lasts only a few months, tuition and fees can top $25,000. That’s a good bit of debt to rack up just starting out, and there is something else to consider as well — many of the more lucrative diving jobs are so physically demanding that they go to those younger than age 45, so older divers can see limited employment opportunities.
3. Line Installers and Repairers ($58,000)
Those with a fear of heights or electricity obviously need not apply. Most of the training for this job comes in several years of field and classroom training. At one time, companies would hire high school graduates to fill these positions, but with the tight labor market, many companies are now seeking candidates who have received some basic training, either in the military or at a community college, in electronics and fiber optics.
2. Elevator Installers and Repairers ($71,000)
Elevators are one of those items in daily life we take for granted — until they stop working. Enter the elevator repairman. These technicians repair not just elevators, but also escalators, ski lifts and other similar equipment. Like many other technical trades, elevator installers and repairers serve a paid apprenticeship learning the trade, and must be licensed in some states. Many companies now seek applicants with some technical training.
1. Air Traffic Controllers ($108,000)
There is some debate over whether this qualifies as a blue-collar job. After all, ATCs usually earn more than $100,000 per year, work in an office-type surrounding, and supervise airline pilots, who themselves earn six-figure salaries. But the air traffic controller profession has been traditionally filled with workers from blue-collar backgrounds, and has a long history of unionization. However, this job does require a great deal of training, up to four years in school, which is akin to requirements for the white-collar world. Here’s a link to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics website with detailed information on how to join this lucrative field.