We commonly associate hefty paychecks with briefcases and neckties – but it turns out there's plenty of money to be earned by those who sport hard hats and coveralls.
This may be surprising considering the gradual decline of union memberships over the years and the fragile state of America's workforce, but plenty of talented and skilled blue-collar workers earn six figures doing electrical work, repair jobs, and other labor intensive trades.
Forbes combed through data gathered annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the Labor Department, to find the 20 highest-paying blue-collar jobs. The BLS culls its information from surveys it mails to businesses, and it releases its Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Data in May. The figures are for 2010.
What defines a blue-collar job? The American Heritage Dictionary says, "Of or relating to wage earners, especially as a class, whose jobs are performed in work clothes and often involve manual labor." We took that definition and excluded work that is largely managerial or supervisory.
Some of the professions on our list require only a high school education, but many call for extensive training and apprenticeships that can last as long as four years. To become an elevator installer or repairer, for example, you must complete a four-year apprenticeship, says John Dalton, a field operations manager for the Stanley Elevator Company. "It can take up to four and a half years, including final exams, but once you get your license, you're really qualified to do it all." Dalton says elevator installers and repairers are well-rounded trade workers who never stop learning. "There is always a new set of obstacles, a new set of opportunities, and the equipment is always changing. I've been in the business for 16 years, and I'm still learning."
He says safety training and education is continuous, too, because elevator jobs are dangerous by nature and it's crucial that workers be reminded of the hazards. "The risks and rewards of elevation repair and installation go hand-in-hand. Elevators are dangerous. We're working with live electricity, heavy equipment at extreme heights in some cases. But there are so many rewarding aspects, too," he says.
So what makes this job better than a traditional desk job?