Blue Collar Jobs
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High-paying jobs are traditionally associated with office environments and involve clerical, managerial, or administrative duties. These are often referred to as "white-collar" jobs.

However, this does not affect the earning potential of skilled "blue-collar" professions that involve hands-on work. Let's explore the definition of blue-collar jobs and check some of the highest-paying positions in this field.

Blue-collar jobs

A focus on manual labour characterizes blue-collar jobs. These roles range from requiring minimal qualifications to demanding specialised skills and certifications. A college degree is usually not mandatory, but a high school diploma or GED is typically expected.

Blue-collar occupations span various industries, including retail, manufacturing, sanitation, food service, warehousing, and construction. Compensation typically comes in hourly wages, though some positions offer project-based or annual salaries.

Here we explore 14 of the most lucrative blue-collar professions in the United States. This ranking is based on the most recent mean annual wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2023). It's important to note that salaries for these blue-collar jobs can vary depending on location, experience level, and specific employer.

1. Ship and boat captains and operators

Salary: $99,540 a year

Ship and boat captains and operators are responsible for the safe and efficient operation of vessels on waterways like rivers, lakes, and oceans. They oversee navigation, coordinate with crew members, and ensure adherence to maritime regulations.

To become a captain of a private or commercial vessel, you'll typically need a combination of experience at sea, passing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved exam, and relevant certifications. Anyone over 18 can qualify as a boat operator, but becoming a captain requires a dedicated career path.

2. Nuclear technicians

Salary: $97,040 a year

Nuclear technicians play a vital role in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of nuclear facilities. They assist engineers and scientists with various tasks, including maintaining radiation detection and monitoring devices.

While a four-year degree is not always mandatory, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests many employers prefer candidates with an associate's degree in nuclear science, technology, or a related field. Additionally, relevant certifications and hands-on experience are highly valuable in this field. Military experience working with nuclear reactors or related technologies can also be a stepping stone to a nuclear technician career.

3. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

Salary: $94,820 a year

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are the unsung heroes who keep our lights on. They work together to ensure the safe and efficient generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.

These roles typically require a high school diploma or equivalent, combined with on-the-job training and industry certifications. Some positions, particularly for nuclear power plant operators, may necessitate a specific degree and specialised licensing. All power plant personnel undergo rigorous background checks and drug screenings.

4. Elevator and escalator installers and repairmen

Salary: $93,960 a year

Installers and repair men are technicians who ensure the safe operation of elevators and escalators. Their duties involve installation, repair, and maintenance and may require on-call emergency response. The National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP) offers apprenticeships in this field.

5. Makeup artists

Salary: $93,850 a year

Makeup artists use cosmetics to enhance clients' appearance, including fashion shows, film productions, and special occasions. Earning potential can be exceptionally high in films, television, or theatre. Typically, they possess an esthetician's license or have undergone equivalent beauty school training.

6. Detectives and criminal investigators

Salary: $91,610 a year

These roles typically require experience as a police officer, often followed by specialized training in investigation. A background in criminal justice or forensics can also be beneficial.

7. Commercial divers

Salary: $85,630 a year

Commercial divers perform underwater construction, maintenance, and repair tasks. They require a high school diploma, GED, physical fitness, and specialised diving, welding, and underwater operations training.

8. Broadcast technicians

Salary: $84,860 a year

Broadcast technicians and engineers, who often work behind the scenes, ensure the smooth operation of equipment for radio and television broadcasts. Some technical skills can be learned on the job, but numerous employers prefer candidates with specialised training or apprenticeships.

9. Dental hygienists

Salary: $84,860 a year

Dental hygienists provide dental care alongside dentists, performing teeth cleanings, screenings, and patient education. They must graduate from an accredited program and pass national exams.

10. Diagnostic medical sonographers

Salary: $84,410 a year

Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound technology to create images of internal organs for medical diagnosis. An accredited two-year sonography program typically qualifies you for this career.

11. Postmasters and mail superintendents

Salary: $84,190 a year

Postmasters and mail superintendents oversee staff, ensure efficient mail processing and delivery, and maintain office operations. The role typically requires passing qualifying exams and background checks, and experience in administration can be beneficial.

12. Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

Salary: $83,790 a year

This category comprises those who manage agricultural operations, including farms and ranches. The role often involves hands-on work, business expertise, and joint on-the-job training. For more information, explore, a U.S. Department of Agriculture resource.

13. Electrical power-line installers and repairers

Salary: $82,770 a year

These workers install and maintain power lines, ensuring electricity reaches homes and businesses. The job often requires on-call availability and can involve working in challenging weather conditions. Apprenticeships are a common pathway to this career, and they are the best way to enter this field.

14. MRI technologists

Salary: $81,530 a year

As the name suggests, MRI technologists operate MRI machines to produce diagnostic images for medical purposes. They assist doctors and require an associate's degree or certification, often with internship experience.

15. Transportation inspectors

Salary: $79,770 a year

Transportation inspectors perform thorough checks to ensure the safety of transportation systems like railways and cargo. An associate's degree in construction or engineering and hands-on experience are typical for this role.

Rise Of The Machines

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked concerns about job displacement, with prominent figures like Bill Gates suggesting that AI tutors could one-day handle tasks currently performed by human teachers.

A recent report underscores this concern, predicting that over 75 percent of companies will adopt A.I. within five years. However, not all jobs are equally at risk.

According to a Hackernoon report, blue-collar careers involving manual dexterity and problem-solving are likely less susceptible to automation than white-collar jobs with routine tasks.

While AI threatens repetitive manufacturing, retail, and agriculture tasks, the report suggests it may primarily fill existing vacancies rather than displace current workers.