In today’s dressed-down workplace, collar color references have more to do with connotations about class and income than actual workwear. But, many blue-collar careers offer attractive wages and work environments that can contribute to high levels of job satisfaction and security.
"As the labor market continues tightening, we can expect to see blue-collar job seekers and job seekers of all types continue to fill open positions," said Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for the jobs and recruiting site Glassdoor.
Click through to see 10 high-paying blue-collar jobs that offer an attractive annual salary.
1. Construction Managers
- Median Annual Wages: $85,630
- Lowest 10%: Less than $50,990
- Top 10%: More than $150,250
Construction managers earned a mean annual wage of $94,590 and a median annual wage of $85,630, according to May 2014 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Depending on the industry, salaries for certain workers were higher. For instance, construction managers in the fabricated metal production manufacturing industry earned a mean annual wage of $135,630.
“In general, the highest blue-collar wages are almost exclusively in heavily unionized fields — such as longshoremen and pipe fitters — or in high-skilled positions such as manufacturing machine operators and finished carpentry,” said Chamberlain.
2. Power Distributors and Dispatchers
- Median Annual Wages: $78,240
- Lowest 10%: Less than $51,450
- Top 10%: More than $107,880
The utilities industry had the highest unionization rates in the private sector, with 22.3 percent of those employed holding a union card in 2014, according to statistics from the BLS. That fact probably helps explain the attractive salaries earned by power plant workers and others in the field.
3. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators and Gaugers
- Median Annual Wages: $62,830
- Lowest 10%: Less than $38,320
- Top 10%: More than $89,040
“Until recently, wages for blue-collar positions in oil field services were growing very rapidly, but that growth has slowed along with falling oil prices,” said Chamberlain. Still, according to the BLS's May 2014 occupational employment statistics for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers, the median annual wage was $62,830.
- Median Annual Wages: $59,860
- Lowest 10%: Less than $36,000
- Top 10%: More than $87,320
Boilermakers are not just needed to heat water in boilers; they're also tasked with fixing and installing tanks and vats that process and store other liquids, such as oil and beer. The BLS found that the May 2014 median wage for this profession was $59,860 — about $3,000 more than in May 2012. In 2012, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,400 while the top 10 percent earned more than $79,970.
5. Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers
- Median Annual Wages: $56,810
- Lowest 10%: Less than $33,030
- Top 10%: More than $92,450
Education requirements for police and sheriff's patrol officers can vary widely, ranging from a high school diploma to a post-secondary degree. The median wage for these blue-collar workers was $56,810 in 2014, while the mean annual wage was slightly higher at $59,560. And police and sheriff's officers working in state government earned more than those in local government with $65,270 and $59,430 annual mean wages, respectively.
6. Subway and Streetcar Operators
- Median Annual Wage: $62,130
- Lowest 10%: Less than $40,690
- Top 10%: More than $76,980
Unfortunately, not everyone in the country will make bank working as a subway or streetcar operator. The BLS was only able to find data on the number of these blue-collar workers in California, Texas, Florida, Maryland and, of course, New York. New York has the highest employment level of subway and streetcar operators with 3,220. And, these New York workers have the highest annual mean wage at $71,630.
7. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians
- Median Annual Wage: $56,990
- Lowest 10%: Less than $34,940
- Top 10%: More than $86,930
These skilled workers diagnose, adjust, repair or overhaul aircraft engines and assemblies, often in unionized work settings. “The best advice for blue-collar workers is [to] seek unionized workplaces whenever possible, avoid routine jobs that are easily automated, and add certifications and training to your resume on an ongoing basis to stay ahead of changes in workplace technology,” said Chamberlain.
8. Locomotive Engineers
- Median Annual Wage: $54,500
- Lowest 10%: Less than $39,580
- Top 10%: More than $77,600
The BLS estimates that there are 38,470 locomotive engineers in the country and in a majority of the states. These blue-collar workers work hard to drive locomotives needed to transport passengers or freight. And, they get paid a sizable salary to do so: The median annual wage is $54,500, and the mean annual wage is $57,000.
- Median Annual Wage: $45,970
- Lowest 10%: Less than $22,130
- Top 10%: More than $81,450
While the median annual wage, as well as the mean annual wage ($48,750), was less than $50,000, firefighters in three states — New Jersey, New York and California — brought home more than $70,000 a year as of May 2014. The state with the most firefighters is California with 30,440; Texas and Florida follow behind with 26,470 and 23,650, respectively.
10. Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers
- Median Annual Wage: $37,420
- Lowest 10%: Less than $25,510
- Top 10%: More than $58,590
While the median annual wage commanded by people in this blue-collar profession doesn’t seem that high, salaries can climb depending on the industry. For example, those in electric power generation, transmission and distribution earn annual mean wages of $69,120. And those in natural gas distribution make an almost equally high salary of $68,420.