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Most people are broadly aware of the concept of a “blue-collar job,” but it’s far from perfectly understood.

Blue-collar jobs are usually characterized as lines of employment that primarily involve manual labor. The term itself gets its name from the “blue collar” of denim shirts—a common uniform for industrial and other manual jobs.

What people tend to misunderstand, however, is just how skilled many of these professions are. Yes, some blue-collar jobs don’t demand much education or specialized abilities, but many others require highly skilled and experienced workers.

Similarly, blue-collar jobs are frequently stereotyped as offering much lower pay than their white-collar counterparts. While true at times, blue-collar jobs can, in fact, pay quite well.

Today, I’m going to discuss some of today’s highest-paying blue-collar jobs. I’ll cover how much they pay, where the work is popular, and what requirements you might need to break into each profession.

 

Blue-Collar Jobs That Pay Well


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The wages for these jobs all come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2023 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates—the most recent information available.

The numbers shown here are the mean (aka average) wage for each occupation. Every blue-collar job listed in this article has an annual mean wage that’s above the annual mean wage for all occupations—$65,470 as of the BLS’s May 2023 data.

I’ve also included the BLS’s estimates for the number of people employed within each occupation.

11. Structural Iron and Steel Workers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $68,220
  • 2023 employment: 63,780

Not a job for the slight of buff, structural iron and steel workers have to lift, place, and unite steel beams, columns, and other structural members. Some workers also erect metal storage tanks or assemble metal buildings. (Note: This category of employment is separate from reinforcing iron and rebar workers.)

While it can be a dangerous job, these workers still tend to report only average stress levels. And in exchange for this work, the mean annual wage is $68,220, per BLS data—a few thousand dollars per year more than the mean salary for all occupations. The states with the highest concentration of these jobs are South Dakota, Nebraska, Arizona, Louisiana, and Indiana.

You don’t need a college degree to enter this field; jobs here typically require just a high school diploma. But you’ll typically need some previous work-related experience or skills. An apprenticeship (of between three to four years) tends to be the best way to get started. Keep in mind that you might need to join a union to qualify for an apprenticeship.

Related: States With the Highest Minimum Wage

10. Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $68,590
  • 2023 employment: 4,130

Makeup artists might not sound like blue-collar work to some, especially when compared to backbreaking jobs like iron and steel workers. But it’s very much manual labor—a true behind-the-scenes occupation that helps make viewing entertainment so … well, entertaining.

The makeup artists in this category aren’t prepping blushing brides or doing other salon work, however. These are specifically theatrical and performance makeup artists, which apply makeup to performers, such as those in television and motion pictures. This involves a wide variety of work, from making the local news anchor a little more attractive to turning actors into zombies, aliens, and other sci-fi creatures.

Unsurprisingly, these workers are paid well; according to BLS data, the mean annual wage for these professionals is $68,590. However, an interesting note about that data—the year prior, the average wage was nearly $94,000! Why the difference? The 2023 Hollywood strikes resulted in massive temporary shifts in that year’s data; the year before, California not only employed the biggest number of makeup artists, but it also had one of the highest mean wages for the profession.

The strikes affected other data points too. For instance, by concentration, Texas, New York, Florida, Utah, and Illinois are the top states by concentration of makeup artists as of 2023, but under normal circumstances, California would rank pretty high on (or at the top of) that list.

Typically, this type of work requires no associate’s degree, vocational school training, or related on-the-job experience. However, you are expected to already have some of the necessary skills and receive additional on-the-job training.

Related: Today’s 10 Fastest Dying Careers

9. Lighting Technicians


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $73,250
  • 2023 employment: 9,520

Looking for a high-paying job typically categorized as blue collar? This may be a, ahem, lightbulb moment for you.

As you might guess, lighting technicians set up, dismantle, and maintain light fixtures and lighting control devices. Perhaps less obvious, they also deal with the associated lighting electrical and rigging equipment used for creative endeavors, such as photo shoots, television, film, video, and live performances. Some workers focus on operating light fixtures or attaching lighting accessories.

The annual mean wage for this profession, based on BLS data, is $73,250.

It’s far easier to find lighting technician roles in some parts of the country than others. The states with the highest employment levels for this job are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kansas.

There are a few ways to break into this industry. Workers have a leg up on the competition if they hold a bachelor’s degree in theatrical production arts or a degree in electrical engineering. However, a college degree isn’t necessary (there are no formal educational requirements), and people can get entry-level roles that offer on-the-job training.

Related: Top 15 Cities With the Highest Minimum Wages

 

8. Commercial Divers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $75,570
  • 2023 employment: 2,790

If you’re envisioning the Olympics, this isn’t that.

Commercial divers go underwater and use air or scuba equipment to install, inspect, fix, or take out equipment and structures. To do these tasks, they sometimes need to use a wide range of equipment, such as torches or welding equipment.

Some workers conduct experiments, others take underwater photographs, and some rig explosives. Not included within this employment category are fishing and hunting workers, police and sheriff’s patrol officers, or athletes and sports competitors (trust me, Michael Phelps’ wages are much higher).

Data published by the BLS shows the mean annual wage for this job to be $75,570. You’re most likely to find work as a commercial diver in Louisiana, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington (few surprises there), but also Kentucky—a little more surprising given that it doesn’t border an ocean, gulf, or Great Lake.

Usually, this job requires training in a vocational school, relevant experience, or an associate’s degree. Prior skills, experience, or knowledge is required. And once you enter this occupation, you can expect a year or two of on-the-job training.

Related: States With the Highest Minimum Wages [How States Stack Up in 2024]

7. Water Transportation Workers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $79,030
  • 2023 employment: 76,040

Water transportation workers maintain and operate water vessels that transport people and cargo, and they must ensure the safety of both. Captains, mates, pilots, sailors, ship engineers, marine oilers, and motorboat operators all fall under this category of employment.

If you love being out on the water, this job could be a great fit for you. But be warned—these workers typically work for long periods … and the chances of seeing a mermaid are very low.

The annual mean wage for water transportation workers was $79,030 in 2023, per BLS data. The bureau did not list state-level data for this occupation in May 2023.

Entry-level sailors and marine oilers typically don’t have to meet educational requirements. However, some other types of workers usually must do U.S. Coast Guard-approved training programs.

Related: Pensions Aren’t Dead Yet: 15 Jobs With Pensions

6. Signal and Track Switch Repairers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $81,810
  • 2023 employment: 9,200

Specifically, signal and track switch repairers install, inspect, test, maintain, or make any necessary repairs to electric gate crossings, track switches, signals, signal equipment, section lines, or intercommunications systems.

It’s not a huge field, but it’s an important one. While the U.S. doesn’t use passenger trains as much as several other first-world countries, freight trains are popular. Per the Association of American Railroads, America’s freight rail network operates more than 140,000 miles of privately owned track and handles a third of all U.S. exports.

According to BLS data, the mean annual wage for this type of work is $81,810. New York is an overwhelming source of these jobs, at more than a third of the total number employed as of 2023, and it also has the highest concentration of this occupation. Other high concentrations can be found in Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Most of these jobs necessitate training in vocational schools, on-the-job experience, or an associate’s degree. A recognized apprenticeship program can be useful, too.

Related: 10 Best 401(k) Alternatives [If You Can’t Get One Through Work]

5. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $85,900
  • 2023 employment: 120,170

As could be surmised from the title, electrical power-line installers and repairers install or fix cables or wires that electrical power or distribution systems use. Other duties can include erecting poles or transmission towers. After these lines are installed, it’s the job of birds to hang out on them. powerlines. (Note: This employment category doesn’t include electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation, and relay.)

It’s one of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs you can find; based on BLS data, the mean annual wage for this profession is $85,900. While the greatest number of jobs can be found in Texas (13,710), the highest concentrations of these jobs will be found in South Dakota, Mississippi, Wyoming, Alabama, and Kentucky.

The typical entry-level education requirement for these roles is a high school diploma or equivalent. While there is usually no prior related work experience necessary, workers can expect long-term on-the-job training.

Related: 30 Best Side Hustles for Teens [In-Person + Online]

4. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operations, and Gaugers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $88,120
  • 2023 employment: 33,360

Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers control petroleum refining or processing units. Some workers have specialties, such as controlling manifold and pumping systems. A manifold is a system of headers and branched pipes used to distribute or gather fluids. Others specialize in gauging or testing oil or regulating oil flow into pipelines.

Per BLS data, the mean annual wage for this type of employment is $88,120. People interested in this type of employment should look for jobs in Wyoming, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, and Texas, which have the highest concentration of people employed in this field.

Typically, these jobs require a high school diploma as well as some previous work-related knowledge, skills, or experience. Workers can expect job training to last anywhere from a few months to a year.

Unfortunately, while this job does provide an excellent salary compared to many other blue-collar workers, it’s also one of several lucrative jobs that are going away.

Related: 15 Best Investing Research & Stock Analysis Websites

 

3. Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $90,160
  • 2023 employment: 6,150

There is no lack of tasks that need to be done on a farm or ranch. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers may work at farms, ranches, greenhouses, nurseries (the plant kind—not the child kind!), aquaculture operations, timber tracts, or other agricultural places. Some of these workers hire and supervise farm workers, while others contract out the work. These workers are categorized separately from first-line supervisors of farming, fishing, and forestry.

This fluctuates between blue- and white-collar work depending on the exact role. For instance, a worker might either engage in or supervise planting, cultivating, or harvesting plants, though some might focus on marketing and financial activity instead.

This field pays a well-above-average mean annual wage of $90,160, according to BLS data. The states with the highest concentrations of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers include Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Hawaii, and California.

Entry-level education requirements are typically limited to a high school degree or equivalent. However, many employers expect at least five years of work experience in a related occupation. Many people gain experience from growing up on a family farm.

Related: 26 Best Online Jobs for Teens [Earn Money at Home, Age 13+]

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


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $92,840
  • 2023 employment: 24,790

As the title suggests, electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation, relay workers largely handle electrical equipment in generating stations, substations, and in-service relays. This is a common example people use when they encourage others to go into well-paying trades.

The mean annual wage for this category of employment, based on BLS data, is $92,840—second highest on this list, and one of the few blue-collar jobs that earns more than $90,000 annually on average. The biggest concentrations of this job are found all across the country, from New York and Alaska to West Virginia and Michigan.

The minimum educational requirement for this work is usually a high school diploma; however, specialized training is needed for some roles. Employers are more likely to choose candidates who have some formal education in electronics from a community college or technical school. Workers typically get training on specific types of equipment and work with professionals before doing independent work.

Related: Today’s 10 Fastest Dying Careers [2024]

1. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers


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  • 2023 mean annual wage: $100,060
  • 2023 employment: 23,990

You’ve probably ridden an elevator at some point—and it’s possible that once or twice, you’ve tried to call an elevator only to find it’s out of order and that you must take the stairs.

That’s when elevator and escalator installers and repairers come to the rescue. These workers set up and maintain not just passenger elevators and escalators, but also hydraulic freight elevators or dumbwaiters.

This profession has the highest mean annual wage on our list, cracking six digits at $100,060, per BLS data. Where there are a lot of elevators, you need a lot of workers to install and repair them, so it should be of no surprise that New York is home to both the largest number of jobs in this field (4,530) and the highest concentration. Maryland, Hawaii, Washington, and Florida also have high concentrations of this work.

The minimum educational level is usually a high school diploma or equivalent. The vast majority of these workers learn the necessary skills through an apprenticeship of about four years, though those who can prove relevant experience may be able to get a shorter apprenticeship. You need to be licensed in most states.

Related: Federal Tax Brackets and Rates

 

Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper has been a professional writer since 2016 and has worked with WealthUp (formerly Young & the Invested) since 2019.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, she was still immersed in words through previous roles as a library specialist and teacher. Her background in education helps her take complex topics and turn them into easy-to-understand text.

Hannah holds a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. When she isn’t writing, Hannah is usually found playing with her niece and nephew, traveling, or brewing more coffee.