These Are The 10 Highest-Paying Blue-Collar Jobs In The U.S.

The term "blue-collar" emerged in the early 20th century, originating from the durable blue denim and chambray fabrics worn by laborers to conceal dirt and grease from their physically demanding work. Blue-collar workers are engaged in trades that involve outdoor work in varying weather conditions, the use of heavy machinery, and reliance on physical strength and manual skills. 

These workers include electricians, welders, carpenters, plumbers, builders, landscapers, farmers, miners, and those employed in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance. Unlike office workers, blue-collar workers are compensated based on hours or job assignments, rather than receiving salaries and bonuses. 

Many of these workers have undergone training, apprenticeships, or vocational education to acquire their skills and maybe unionized, offering job security, competitive pay, and benefits. Skilled trades, which often don't require a traditional four-year degree, offer substantial earning potential, with top blue-collar jobs commanding six-figure incomes. These roles are in high demand and offer future opportunities for growth.  

The Job Functions, Qualifications, And Wages Ranked

Below is a ranking of the 10 most, well-paying blue-collar jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. The May 2022 OEWS estimates were released on April 25, 2023, and are calculated using data from employers throughout the United States. The wages for these blue-collar jobs vary depending on location, experience, and industry.

10. Subway and Streetcar Operators

  • Job Function: Operate subway or elevated suburban trains with no separate locomotive or electric-powered streetcar to transport passengers
  • Mean Annual Wage: $75,880
  • Annual Wage Range: $49,260- $89,180
  • Qualifications: The minimum education requirement for a subway and streetcar operator is a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED). Employers often require professionals to undergo specialized training during their employment onboarding process.

9. Transit and Railroad Police

  • Job Function: Protect and police railroad and transit property, employees, or passengers
  • Mean Annual Wage: $76,380
  • Annual Wage Range: $50,080- $114,310
  • Qualifications: To become a transit and railroad police officer, you need law enforcement officer qualifications, which vary by state and the transit authority employer. Typically, you need a high school diploma or GED certificate, a completed transit and railroad police training program, and a passing grade on a law enforcement exam from your state. You can complete training through a college or university program or on-the-job training with a transit authority company.

8. Fire Inspectors and Investigators

  • Job Function: Inspect buildings to detect fire hazards and enforce local ordinances and state laws, or investigate and gather facts to determine the cause of fires and explosions
  • Mean Annual Wage: $76,910
  • Annual Wage Range: $42,930- $125,610
  • Qualifications: The minimum education requirement to work as a fire inspector is a high school diploma. Most fire inspectors have experience working as firefighters and have post-secondary degrees and certifications related to that work. To work as a fire inspector, you must fulfill your state's training requirements. Typically, this training combines classroom and practical work, covering topics such as building safety codes, proper handling of hazardous materials, and fire alarm installation and inspection. You must be certified by the National Fire Protection Association and may complete additional training.

7. Signal and Track Switch Repairers

  • Job Function: Install, inspect, test, maintain, or repair electric gate crossings, signals, signal equipment, track switches, section lines, or intercommunications systems within a railroad system
  • Mean Annual Wage: $77,370
  • Annual Wage Range: $50,020- $92,900
  • Qualifications: Signal and track switch repairers typically enter the occupation with an associate’s degree in electrical or electronics equipment installation and repair or a related field.

6. Gas Plant Operators

  • Job Function: Distribute or process gas for utility companies and others by controlling compressors to maintain specified pressures on main pipelines
  • Mean Annual Wage: $78,430
  • Annual Wage Range: $46,190- $107,700
  • Qualifications: Most jobs for a gas plant operator require a high diploma or GED certificate. Some positions require additional math and science coursework. Employers typically provide training for entry-level positions. Higher positions require previous experience working with gas plant equipment.

5. Chemical Plant and System Operators

  • Job Function: Control or operate entire chemical processes or systems of machines
  • Mean Annual Wage: $79,290
  • Annual Wage Range: $45,930- $107,680
  • Qualifications: Some employers may prefer an associate degree in chemical process technology or a bachelor’s degree in business administration to be a chemical plant and system operator.

4. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers

  • Job Function: Install or repair cables or wires used in electrical power or distribution systems; may erect poles and light or heavy-duty transmission towers
  • Mean Annual Wage: $82,770
  • Annual Wage Range: $47,070- $114,590
  • Qualifications: Most companies require electrical power-line installers and repairers to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Electrical line installers and repairers must complete apprenticeships or other employer training programs. These programs, which can last up to three years, combine on-the-job training with technical instruction and are sometimes administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers.

3. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators and Gaugers

  • Job Function: Operate or control petroleum refining or processing units; may specialize in controlling manifold and pumping systems, gauging or testing oil in storage tanks, or regulating the flow of oil into pipelines
  • Mean Annual Wage: $84,140
  • Annual Wage Range: $52,920- $107,810
  • Qualifications: The minimum requirement to start your career as a petroleum pump system operator is a high school diploma followed by over one year of on-the-job training. However, more companies in the Gulf Coast region are working toward a requirement for individuals to obtain an associate's degree in process technology.

2. Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation and Relay

  • Job Function: Inspect, test, repair, or maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations, and in-service relays
  • Mean Annual Wage: $88,770
  • Annual Wage Range: $55,170- $117,220
  • Qualifications: To get hired as an electrical and electronics repairer, powerhouse, substation, and relay, employers often prefer applicants who have taken courses in electronics at a community college or technical school. Courses usually cover AC and DC electronics, electronic devices, and microcontrollers. In addition to technical education, workers usually receive on-the-job training on specific types of equipment. This may involve manufacturer-specific training for repairers who will perform warranty work.

1. Power Plant Operators

  • Job Function: Control, operate, or maintain machinery to generate electric power (includes auxiliary equipment operators, as per BLS)
  • Mean Annual Wage: $88,960
  • Annual Wage Range: $52,000- $119,880
  • Qualifications: For most power plant operator positions, earning a high school diploma or GED equivalent satisfies the education requirements. Most companies require prospective employees to take exams that assess their qualifications and aptitude for the job. Some power plants require employees to pass the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exams provided by the Edison Electrical Institute. Power plant operators complete extensive training, which typically includes a combination of on-the-job experience and classroom learning.

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