Top 15+ Blue-Collar Jobs That Pay Well

Christina J Colclough

By Christina Colclough

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Not everyone is cut out for the academic route. Hitting the books and racking up student debt might sound like a nightmare to some. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined for a life of low-paying, dead-end jobs.

Blue-Collar Jobs

Many blue-collar jobs pay surprisingly well. We’re talking six-figure salaries in some cases. Stick around, and I’ll fill you in on some of the best-paying blue-collar careers and how to nab one for yourself.

What are Blue-Collar Jobs?

“Blue-collar” is a pretty broad term. It doesn’t have a strict definition, but it generally refers to more hands-on jobs.

This is the kind of job where you might get your hands dirty. They typically take place in factories, construction sites, workshops, or outdoors. This is different from white-collar jobs—usually office-based or desk-bound.

While some might assume blue-collar jobs are low-skilled, this is far from the truth. Many of these roles demand a high level of expertise and problem-solving skills. Many mechanics and HVAC technicians have impressive salaries due to the specialized nature of their work.

17 Best-Paying Blue-Collar Jobs

Note: All the annual mean wages I mention here come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

1. Escalator & Elevator Installers and Repairers

Elevator Constructor

Annual salary: $100,060

They’re the people who make sure the elevators and escalators run smoothly. This might be up your alley if you’re good with your hands and have a knack for electrical work.

You’ll need a high school diploma and then jump into a 4-year apprenticeship. Most states also want you licensed, so keep that in mind.

As it’s one of the blue-collar jobs that pay over $100,000, the work itself can be pretty physically demanding. This includes squeezing into cramped spaces and climbing up and down elevator shafts.

2. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers

Electrical Power-Line Installers

Annual salary: $85,900

Their job is to set up and maintain the high-voltage wires and cables that power our homes and offices. They’re often seen climbing poles and working on overhead lines, ensuring steady and secure electricity distribution.

Getting into this field doesn’t follow a singular beaten path. You’d probably start with your high school diploma tucked in your pocket, then step into a vocational training program for a few practical months to learn the ropes. You don’t necessarily need certifications, but having a couple can showcase your skill and dedication to safety.

3. Gas Plant Operators

Gas Plant Operators

Annual salary: $83,020

These power plant operators run the show at facilities that process and distribute natural gas. Even though the world’s trying to ditch fossil fuels, those gas power plants will still exist for quite some time, and they need people. As older workers retire or move on, there will be openings.

You’d typically need a high school diploma or a GED to get started. After that, expect a couple of years of on-the-job training.

To stand out, look into the System Operator Certification from NERC. It involves some exams and keeping up with the latest in the field, but it could boost your chances.

4. Signal and Track Switch Repairers

Signal and Track Switch Repairers

Annual salary: $81,810

You might not realize it, but our railroads depend on a complex system of signals and switches. And of course, we need repairs for that. They keep everything running smoothly by installing, fixing, and maintaining the stuff that keeps trains on track and running on time.

Interestingly enough, while many folks in this field get a two-year degree in electrical equipment repair, you don’t need it.

You can jump right in with a high school diploma and learn as you go. This could be a good fit if you like working with your hands, figuring out problems, and maybe even moving up to a management role.

5. Water Transportation Workers

Annual salary: $79,030

If you’re not afraid of the open water and are looking for a job that will keep you moving, you might want to look into this. These workers keep cargo and people moving smoothly over the water, such as the massive ships carrying shipping containers or those hauling coal and iron ore.

Many positions don’t require a formal education to get started. However, you’ll likely need to complete some training approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Keep in mind, though, that life on the water can mean long hours and weeks away from home.

6. Avionics Technicians

Annual salary: $77,080

They’re the masterminds behind aircraft electrical systems. These technicians handle all the wiring, electronics, radios, and even the autopilot. They troubleshoot electrical glitches and fix malfunctions. This is a crucial role since their work directly impacts flight safety.

As one of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs, it requires you to go through FAA-approved mechanic schools. These programs usually lead to an associate’s degree in avionics.

However, education isn’t the only thing that matters. To work on those complex avionics components and equipment, you’ll need to snag an FAA mechanic certification and have the right experience.

7. Subway and Streetcar Operators

Annual mean salary: $77,370

The title here is very self-explanatory. This role is responsible for getting you from point A to B on these underground and city-based vehicles.

While there’s no strict degree requirement to get started, most operators have at least a high school diploma or GED. Instead of hitting the books after high school, they usually jump right into on-the-job training programs local transit organizations offer.

8. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians

Aircraft Mechanics

Annual mean salary: $76,260

If you are hands-on and passionate about all things aviation, this might hit the spot. These technicians are the airline industry’s backbone, ensuring everything is okay for flights.

Two paths lead to this role. You can go to a specialized Aircraft Mechanic Training School or learn on the job. The latter takes longer to get licensed, though. The FAA has specific requirements you’ll need to ace to get certified.

9. Boilermakers


Annual mean salary: $73,840

These blue-collar workers keep giant boilers, like the ones in your local power plants, running. They build, fix, and maintain those massive tanks and other hefty containers. It’s tough work, often requiring travel and time away from home.

Most boilermakers hone their skills through apprenticeships, with seasoned pros as their guides. Brushing up on your welding wouldn’t hurt if this path piques your interest.

10. Lighting Technicians

Annual mean salary: $73,250

Have you ever wondered about the magic behind those awesome light shows at concerts or the mood setting in movies? That’s the work of lighting technicians!

They handle everything related to lighting for live events, TV shows, and films. They work closely with directors, producers, and the rest of the lighting crew to get the perfect lighting effect.

If this sounds interesting, looking for stagehand gigs at local arenas or theaters is a good starting point. Most lighting techs start by doing the grunt work, like unloading trucks and hanging lights. Most of the learning happens on the job.

11. Pile Driver Operators

Pile Driver Operators

Annual mean salary: $70,260

Pile driver operators have a pretty hands-on job. They operate heavy machinery to drive support piles into the ground for structures like bridges, buildings, and piers. Their day-to-day duties involve positioning the piling leads, hoisting the piles into position, and then activating the power hammers or drop hammers to drive those piles to the required depths.

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically all you need. Some math and auto mechanics courses can give you a little head start.

Most operators start operating lighter equipment first and then work up to the bigger, heavier machinery as they gain experience. Getting a commercial driver’s license is also common since you’ll likely need to transport equipment between job sites.

12. Tapers

Annual mean salary: $69,300

As a taper, your main job is to apply sealant or joint compound between drywall sheets and press tape over the seams.

You’ll also fill in holes, cover up screw heads, and smooth out surfaces to prep walls for painting or wallpapering. Some tapers even work with texturizing compounds and primers and tackle high ceilings. It’s a hands-on gig that keeps you moving around the job site.

Most tapers pick up their skills while working under experienced workers for several months to a year. An apprenticeship program can also give you a solid foundation.

13. Telecommunications Line Workers

Telecommunications Line Workers

Annual mean salary: $69,040

Telecommunications line workers are the unsung heroes of the internet revolution. They install and repair the millions of miles of cables—both copper and fiber optic—that connect us all. Without them, our digital world would grind to a halt.

The job itself involves a lot of manual labor, like stringing up cables, splicing fibers, and troubleshooting outages. It’s not a desk job by any means.

Many line workers start through an apprenticeship program. Newbies get paired up with a seasoned installer and learn the ropes hands-on. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be comfortable working outdoors, sometimes in tricky conditions.

14. Plumbers

Annual mean salary: $67,840

Their daily tasks involve installing pipes, fixtures, and appliances, as well as troubleshooting and fixing any leaks or clogs that may arise.

This is a field that’s in high demand. With more construction projects and increasingly complex plumbing systems, skilled plumbers are always going to be needed.

Remember, in many states, you’ll need to obtain a license to work independently as a plumber.

This usually involves completing an apprenticeship or trade school program and passing an exam to demonstrate your technical knowledge. Certifications can also help you stand out in the field and showcase your expertise.

15. Crane Operators

Annual mean salary: $68,040

Crane operators have an important job – using heavy machinery to lift and move large objects at construction sites, ports, and factories.

They control cranes from a station, extending booms, rotating the superstructure, and lowering/raising hooks to transport materials. It’s no easy task, but it can pay well.

To become a crane operator, you’ll likely need to attend a trade school program accredited by the National Commission for Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).

An apprenticeship with a construction company can also give you valuable experience. Remember, many cities require licenses to operate cranes due to the complexity of urban projects.

The training may seem intensive, but stick with it. Crane operators with the right credentials can find solid job prospects, especially in areas with major construction or shipping activity.

16. Electricians


Annual mean salary: $67,810

The electrical industry is projected to grow steadily in the coming years. This means that skilled electricians will likely have plenty of job opportunities available. However, keep in mind that the work can be physically demanding and sometimes involves working in tight spaces or at heights.

While you don’t necessarily need a college degree to become an electrician, you’ll have to undergo rigorous training.

Most states require you to complete a four-year apprenticeship program, where you’ll work under the supervision of experienced electricians and learn the trade. During this time, you’ll receive classroom instruction on topics like electrical theory, safety practices, and building codes.

17. Valve Technicians

Valve Technicians

Annual mean salary: $64,740

Their primary duties involve disassembling, repairing, and maintaining mechanical control devices and valves that regulate the flow of gasses, liquids, or other substances. They ensure that everything from plumbing systems to industrial machinery operates smoothly.

A high school diploma or GED is often enough to get your foot in the door for entry-level positions. From there, training and apprenticeship programs can help you pick up the ropes and develop the necessary skills.

Certification programs like ValvePro are also available if you want to give your resume an extra boost. You’ll need to be physically fit enough to handle the work demands, which can involve a lot of standing, walking, bending, and lifting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Most Satisfying  Blue-Collar Job?

Jobs in agriculture and forestry often top the list for the happiest blue-collar gigs. There’s something really fulfilling about working outdoors and seeing the fruits of your labor grow. Also, the tight-knit communities in rural areas can’t be beaten.

What Skills Are Most In Demand For Lucrative Blue-Collar Work?

These jobs require strong technical abilities and hands-on experience. Fields like construction and manufacturing prize workers who can operate complex machinery or have specialized training. Don’t sleep on solid math skills, either.

Can I Switch From Blue To White Collar Later?

Absolutely. With some extra certifications and experience under your belt, you can make the jump to management or office roles down the line.

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The stereotype that blue-collar jobs are all about getting your hands dirty for pennies is well and truly busted. As you can see, there are roles across all kinds of sectors that’ll reward you handsomely for your skills and hard graft.

Hopefully, this guide has opened your eyes to some of the lucrative roles out there and given you a nudge in the right direction for nabbing your ideal career.

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Christina J Colclough

Christina J. Colclough

Dr Christina J. Colclough is an expert on The Future World of Work and the politics of digital technology advocating globally for the importance of the workers’ voice. She has extensive regional and global labour movement experience, is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and strategist advising progressive governments and worker organisations.

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