Remember Career Day back in school? You spent a couple of hours circling a gymnasium, talking to firefighters, salesmen, nurses and more, learning about possible career paths. You might have taken an aptitude test to determine your best profession. What is almost certainly guaranteed, however, is that after all that searching and planning, you probably didn’t sit down with your folks and say, “Mom, Dad, I’ve finally decided. I want to be…an undertaker!”
But, being a funeral director is nothing to sneeze at — you can make a surprisingly nice living hanging out with the dearly departed. In fact, GOBankingRates found 15 jobs — all a little out of the ordinary — that pay above the U.S. median wage of $45,760. The careers were ranked from lowest to highest paying. Also, to give you a holistic picture, GOBankingRates found each profession’s education and training requirements, essential job duties and projected job growth from 2021 to 2031.
So, sure, you might not have grown up thinking you’d spend your lunch hour with someone who wasn’t exactly, well, “alive.” But after you see your potential salary, you might just consider making a career change.
15. Billboard Installer
- Median hourly wage: $22.90
- Median annual wage: $47,610
Ever dreamed of seeing your name up in lights? Well, while you wait for your big break, you can always put other people’s names up instead. Billboard installation has no education requirements — you’ll be doing long-term training on the job instead — and is set to see 3% job growth from 2021 to 2031.
- Median hourly wage: $22.93
- Median annual wage: $47,700
Fallers, better known as lumberjacks, use their knowledge of tree characteristics and cutting techniques to take down trees Paul Bunyon-style. It’s a somewhat easy business to break into — woodsmen and women only need a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.
Logging workers in general are set to see negative job growth (-4%) through 2031, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 7,200 job openings per year during that time. If you score one, you might come away looking like the Brawny paper towel guy, who everyone knows is a total fox.
13. Acoustic Ceiling Tile Installer
- Median hourly wage: $23.24
- Median annual wage: $48,350
Ever heard a musician say, “Wow, the acoustics are great in here”? Well, you could be responsible for making the acoustics great in there. With no education requirements and just some moderate on-the-job training, you’ll be ready to put acoustical tiles and other shock-absorbing materials on walls and ceilings to reduce or reflect sound.
- Median hourly wage: $23.53
- Median annual wage: $48,950
Ah yes, the undertaker. Though it might not have been your first choice on career day, this job is a respected and essential one that helps those in mourning. Also known as funeral directors, you need an associate’s degree, postsecondary certification and moderate to long-term training to have this job. You’d be responsible for arranging and directing funeral services, coordinating the transportation of bodies to the mortuary, interviewing family members, selecting pallbearers and more. It’s a tough job that requires boundless compassion, but in the end, you’d earn a salary well over the national median.
11. Earth Blaster
- Median hourly wage: $25.50
- Median annual wage: $53,040
If you’re a bit of a pyromaniac, consider a job as an earth blaster, setting off explosives that loosen the earth. Blasters can work in a number of different industries, but nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying pays best — an annual median of $65,140. You need a high school diploma, up to five years of experience in the industry and long-term on-the-job training in order to blow things up like a pro.
Earth blasters are set to see a slight 1% rise in job growth between 2021 and 2031.
10. Bulldozer Mechanic
- Median hourly wage: $25.85
- Median annual wage: $53,770
Sure, you can be a regular old mechanic who works on regular old cars. But why do that when you can work on a truly unique beast — the bulldozer? Used in mining, logging and construction, bulldozers require regular maintenance and repairs like any other vehicle. The real difference is you’ll encounter slightly fewer infant car seats in the back. A high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training is needed to land this job.
- Median hourly wage: $27.05
- Median annual wage: $56,260
Are you the type to go where the wind blows you? Well, consider letting it nudge you toward a job as a windtech. People with this job inspect, diagnose, adjust and repair wind turbines. They also perform maintenance on turbines, fixing any mechanical, electrical or hydraulic issues. You need a postsecondary award for this job and long-term training, but the job security makes it all worth it — windtechs will see a 44% increase in job growth from 2021 to 2031.
8. Underwater Demolition Driver
- Median hourly wage: $29.02
- Median annual wage: $60,360
When you attend your high school reunion, there are going to be few things as satisfying to say to your former bully as, “Oh, what do I do now? I’m an underwater demolition driver.” Like something out of a Bond film, these folks use scuba gear and tools to rig explosives underwater for detonation. They also inspect, repair and install equipment and structures beneath the surface.
You need a postsecondary nondegree award — meaning a formal certification — and moderate on-the-job training for this career. Commercial diving can also expect a 15% bump in job growth from 2021 to 2031.
7. Court Reporter
- Median hourly wage: $29.03
- Median annual wage: $60,380
When the convicted serial killer stands up unexpectedly, turns with wild eyes to the jury and shouts, “You’ll pay for this! Mark my words!” — well, someone needs to mark his words. As a court reporter, you would use equipment to capture and transcribe all of the pretrial and trial proceedings, as well as other important information. The role requires postsecondary education and certification, and some states require a license and continuing education.
6. Dinky Operator
- Median hourly wage: $29.37
- Median annual wage: $61,090
Who knew something so important could have such a silly name? Dinkey operators work with dinkey engines, operating power controls and levers to transport rock, timber, coal and other materials. You’ll find this job in railroad yards, industrial plants, quarries, construction projects and similar locations. It just takes a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.
5. Fire Investigator
- Median hourly wage: $30.33
- Median annual wage: $63,080
Did the town mill burn down from a lightning strike to its roof, or was Old Man Withers trying to cash in on the insurance money? As a fire investigator, you would be the judge. You’ll inspect buildings to detect fire hazards and gather facts to determine the cause of fires and explosions — potentially uncovering crimes.
With a postsecondary certification, prior experience as a firefighter and moderate on-the-job training, this isn’t the easiest job to land, but it sure pays well. The industry also has a projected job growth rate of 6%.
4. Algae Scientist
- Median hourly wage: $38.11
- Median annual wage: $79,260
If you ever had fish as a kid and neglected to clean the tank, you might have prepared yourself for work as a phycologist, or algae scientist. This green gunk is actually an important part of wildlife ecosystems. It also has numerous applications, from the creation of biofuel to use in wastewater treatment — ahem, you’re welcome, wastewater treatment plant operators.
- Median hourly wage: $40.23
- Median annual wage: $83,680
Some people like crystals because they’re pretty and make good paperweights. Some like them because a lady in a head shop once told them they’d bring peace and healing. Others, known as crystallographers, like them because the study of their composition can make major advances in the fields of science and medicine. You get to pick which person you are in this scenario, but only the last one makes over $83,000 a year.
Crystallographers need a bachelor’s degree and little else to get started. The profession is set to see a 5% rise in job growth from 2021 to 2031.
2. Escalator Installer
- Median hourly wage: $47.05
- Median annual wage: $97,860
Known to take things one step at a time, escalator installers start out with an apprenticeship to learn their craft. But once they have the gig down, these workers can make more than double the national median wage assembling, installing, maintaining and repairing escalators. The job is set to 3% growth, proving there is nowhere to go but up.
1. Theatrical Makeup Artist
- Median hourly wage: $64.78
- Median annual wage: $134,750
Theatrical makeup artists make a good living applying cosmetics to actors, singers and dancers for their performances. There is a 7% projected rise in job growth for this position, and it’s easy to see why — according to OwlGuru’s poll, theatrical makeup artists report “very high” job satisfaction.
Photos are for illustrative purposes only. As a result, some of the images may not reflect the occupations listed in this article.
Methodology: For this study, GOBankingRates analyzed the Bureau of Labor Statistics data to find high-paying jobs that are often overlooked. To be considered high-paying, each job had to have estimated median hourly and annual wages above the national median for all occupations. All job titles included in the final ranking are either tracked as an occupation title by the BLS or explicitly identified as an example of a specialized task included within a larger category in the category’s Occupational Employment Statistics or Occupational Outlook Handbook entry. GOBankingRates also provided information on each job’s projected growth rate from 2021-2031, typical level of on-the-job training for new employees and entry-level education and experience requirements, all from the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Data on the most specific larger category available was provided for jobs for which OOH data was incomplete. Jobs were ranked from 1-15 with No. 1 being the job that pays the most. All data was collected on and up to date as of March 31, 2023.
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