Trades That Still Pay

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Not everyone can -- or even should -- go to college. Regardless of whether your challenge is in getting the necessary grades or finding the money for a university education, you might not be missing an opportunity to access the American dream.

That’s because there are more high-paying jobs available without a college degree than you might suspect. These jobs are in the trades, which are skilled labor or blue-collar jobs in which very specific training is demanded. Many trades involve working with your hands or operating heavy equipment or machinery. The trades can be an ideal option for those who can’t or don’t want to invest time and expense earning a college degree only to be stuck behind a desk.

And some trades pay very well once workers have attained the proper training. For the sake of comparison, keep in mind that the average U.S. wage for all full-time workers is $44,564. That’s according to late 2017 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the highest paying trades available to American workers today.

1. Elevator Installers and Repairers

You must be mechanically inclined and a bit of a perfectionist while on the clock. After all, an elevator that’s improperly installed, repaired or maintained can be fatal. But you’ll certainly be fairly compensated for your specialized skills and precision. Elevator installers and repair personnel make a median annual wage of about $77,500, or over $35 an hour. And you’ll find plenty of opportunity. No matter where you live you see elevators in virtually any public space or apartment building of as few as two floors.

2. Powerhouse, Generating Station and In-Service Electrical Repair Workers

These are the technicians responsible for testing, maintaining and repairing the electrical energy system that powers our houses, buildings, streetlights and other infrastructure. You see them working from electrical poles, but these technicians also conduct their trade in generating stations and substations and wherever they’re needed along all points of our power grids. Modern-day society couldn’t operate without these highly trained tradespeople. As a result, they’re well paid for their critical skills, to the tune of an average annual salary of about $66,000.

3. Transportation Inspectors

You see 18-wheel truck trailers on just about every road. Each one of these big rigs must be inspected. And it’s not just freight trucks. It’s all forms of commercial transport of people or cargo that must be carefully inspected to maintain public safety. Transport inspectors inspect not only the vehicles, but also the contents being shipped. Their serious responsibilities make transportation inspectors valuable contributors to public safety, and well compensated for their efforts. They can earn close to $66,000 annually.

4. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators and Gaugers

Without the efficient processing of oil, the United States comes to a standstill. Or the price escalates dramatically, until few could even afford a tank of gas. These key tradespeople in the petroleum industry keep the oil flowing smoothly through the complicated network of pipelines to, ultimately, vehicle engines across the nation. They also test oil in storage tanks. It’s because they’re such important players in this process that these industry workers make an average salary of about $60,000 a year.

5. Commercial Divers

This sounds like something that might be done in crystal-clear waters on a tropical vacation, but it’s also a highly viable trade. Commercial divers use hand tools and power tools to install or repair deep-sea pipelines or other embedded structures located where only the highly trained few can access them. These workers combine a love of the sea with the ability to work with their hands under stressful conditions in even the most inclement weather conditions. The average pay for this trade is nearly $59,000 a year.

6. Rotary Drill Operators

This is another work segment in the critical petroleum and gas energy industry. These workers are trained to use huge drills to excavate for oil or gas or to be integral parts of energy exploration projects all over the world. It’s a blue collar job for sure, for workers who feel comfortable getting their hands dirty and who expect to be rewarded for all of their hard work. Rotary drill operators can make about $58,500 annually, on average.

7. Boilermakers

This is another area of stable jobs for individuals who are precise and attentive, and who work well with their hands and have a sharp mechanical aptitude. Boilermakers inspect, clean, test, install and repair boiler tanks or vats. It can be dangerous work at very high temperatures, so they must be able to handle the stress. But these craftspeople are well paid for all of their important work in industrial environments. They earn an average salary of just under $57,000 annually.

8. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians

Private pilots and commercials airlines rely on their mechanics to keep their vessels airworthy and flaw-free. The industry would die for lack of passengers if mechanics weren’t so highly sought. Aviation mechanics are rigorously trained to inspect, diagnose and repair a range of air travel components from pneumatic or hydraulic systems to jet aircraft engines or helicopter assemblies. Whatever their specific field of expertise, aircraft mechanics and service technicians are highly respected in the air travel industry. As such, they make a respectable $54,500, on average.

9. Electricians

Electricians are needed virtually everywhere: homes and apartments, commercial buildings, industrial sites, public spaces, new construction sites and in renovated properties. They're well paid, too. The median salary for an electrician is nearly $51,000 a year. You can work for a regular paycheck from an electrical firm, join a construction union and become a journeyman electrician, or start your own business full-time or work nights and weekends while working full-time job in another field. You’ve got many options once you train to be an electrician.

10. Plumbers

Anyone who has ever experienced the need to call a plumber can attest that they’re well compensated. Few have been pleasantly surprised when presented the bill. But plumbers don’t only work in houses and apartments. They are also critical to industrial sites, new construction and in industrial environments where hydraulics play a prominent part. Perhaps it’s this wide variety of assignment that partly explains the fairly generous pay. Plumbers earn a median pay of about $50,000 per year.

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