Recession-Proof Jobs in Infrastructure


Looking for a job that can't be outsourced and that could provide a good income for years to come? Think infrastructure. In the 21st Century, infrastructure isn't just roads, bridges, railroads, and water or sewer plants – it's high-tech electrical grids, high-speed Internet cable and wireless networks.

Several factors have come together to make now a great time to get into infrastructure jobs. One is demographic – a generation of baby boomers who've spent their careers maintaining water, sewer, and power plants are hitting retirement age. Another issue is America's longtime habit of deferring maintenance on its roads, bridges and other infrastructure systems, says executive recruiter Stephen Hinton of Hinton Human Capital in Atlanta.

This has recently come home to roost with prominent infrastructure failures such as the 2007 Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis. With infrastructure crumbling, many cities are launching massive infrastructure-repair programs, Hinton says, sometimes under federal-government order.

"The U.S. has 50 to 60 years' worth of work that needs to be done just to bring things up to date," he says.

Two more reasons why infrastructure is a hot job niche: The growth of high-tech communication and the federal stimulus bill signed earlier this year. Stimulus funds should help spur everything from new light-rail development to more efficient electrical transmission to the spread of high-speed Internet.

A raft of infrastructure jobs that pay in the low- to mid-$40,000 range are well-known – plumber, electrician, concrete mason, welder, HVAC technician. These so-called "skilled manual trades" topped Manpower's list of tough jobs to fill in both 2008 and 2009, and will continue to be in demand for years to come, says Joel Leonard, a self-proclaimed "maintenance evangelist" in North Carolina who helps infrastructure companies find skilled workers.

Below, we look at a range of other infrastructure-related jobs that have a promising future.

1. Construction project manager

Every construction project the stimulus bill funds will need someone overseeing it to make sure it's staying on budget and going according to plan. Hinton says workers with past work experience in some aspect of construction can often find opportunities to move up without additional training.

Average Salary: $69,500 per year

2. Computer aided designer

Before anything can be built, the engineering plans have to be created and then drawn using computer software. Each plan revision brings more work, notes Hinton. In some cases, a short community college course can get you started.

Average Salary: $51,300 per year

3. Land surveyor

Also known as a geomatic technician, surveyors are the folks you see standing with a tripod taking measurements at proposed development sites. Surveyors create digital maps engineers and designers use to plan building projects. Hinton says it's an entry-level job that pays better than most.

"Lots of folks get into it straight out of high school, or while they're in college," he says.

Average Salary: $55,000 per year

4. Water treatment operator

It's the definition of unglamorous, but someone has to keep cities' water clean and flowing, 24 hours a day. Hinton says operators take a four-level certification course, but can get started with just a few months of training. Most jobs are with municipalities, but Hinton says jobs at private corporations and independently operated utilities pay better.

Average Salary: $41,100 per year*

5. Field engineer, telecommunications

In telecom, rather than a four-year degree, engineers may do better breaking in with certification training from a major provider such as Cisco, says executive recruiter Paul Lipman of Lucas Group in Atlanta. Field engineers work on installations of broadband, telephone and wireless networks.

Average Salary: $75,500 per year

6. Security consultant

As companies and governments expand their use of the Internet, security engineers make sure their data is safe. An engineering degree is nice to have, Lipman says, but not all employers require it.

Lipman says, "Information security is going to be hot, and pays well."

Average Salary: $85,200 per year

7. Reliability engineer

"Reliability" is the new industry term for "maintenance," says Leonard. Forward-thinking companies and municipalities are hiring engineers to troubleshoot their infrastructure and prevent problems – for example, using infrared cameras to spot heat loss in buildings. Like most engineering jobs, this one requires a college degree.

Average Salary: $86,800 per year

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Business reporter Carol Tice ( <> contributes to several national and regional business publications.

Source: Salary data is from The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

* Base salary for water treatment operator. Does not include and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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July 07 2010 at 8:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff Foster

As of today, still no interviews. Very few positions opening up either. I appreciate the notes many of you have made, and for anyone who is requesting info from me, please be sure to include an email address so I can respond.


November 13 2009 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama has the biggest staff in the history og the USA all appointed by him by passing the senate /congress and starting off at $175,000 per year

October 17 2009 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ray Janisch

As a previous comment states; "once again; another article without proper research". We are in a deep depression and construction is clearly one of the failing service sectors. Every industry across the board is laying off people by the hundreds of thousands of people. Worse yet, and closely related to construction, manufacturing has been completely gutted and re-established in China. In 2000 the U.S. had a 29 billion dollar net surplus export of high tech goods. In 2007 the U.S. had a 54 billion dollar net DEFICIT (NEGATIVE) of high tech goods. By now (2009) our deficit is probably about 100 billion. On top of that almost our entire auto industry has collapsed. The only groups of people perhaps doing well are the politicians, lawyers, medical doctors, and stock broker types (like Madoff). The entire rest of us are permanently screwed. This economy is a complete disaster which must be completely reconstructed - starting with tort reform and bringing back high tech, and manufacturing, which are the only real path to a decent middle class standard of living.

October 16 2009 at 9:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Manpower is hiring for skilled trades? Really? In my area, Manpower is known as Mancan. Applied, and gave them a resume. Just want $11.00 an hour, to match my unemployment. As a UNION Ironworker who make $23.46 plus benefits, I think I'm dropping my price considerable. No calls for ANYTHING in over a month since I went to them. Over 200 apps and resumes out(mainly online) and nothing. I also have done heat treat, and have a host of certs for that. I can't even find work as a welder(how do you think all these buildings go together). But I keep hearing how the economy is coming back. Media was in the tank for Obama during the election, and they still are. $50k for a detailer(guy who makes prints on a computer)? The managers for those guys only get $40k. I know, I work with them. Oh yeah, most telecomute these days, so they could live in the Congo and still do their job.

October 16 2009 at 8:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Man quit blaming Obama, this is what Capitol greed can do to any economy, 8 years of sticking your head in the sand can do for our country. People times are hard face it, but lets not point fingure at the last and certainly not the new President, but to call for our congressmen and senators to fight hard for unions that hire Americans, stimulus that will creat enginnering and construction jobs and approve loans for renovation project for homes and business.

October 16 2009 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All of Connecticut's Department of Transportation Inspectors are from OTHER COUNTRIES. Not US citizens. The State of Connecticut doesn't allow infrastructure inspectors who aren't minorities or even Americans.

October 16 2009 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karla Kaspereit

We already lost everything once thanks to Enron, Then after just five years, my husband got laid off from OXY. Its been 8 months and hundreds of applications, he has a BS in Computer Sci and fits so many job descriptions exacto.....we're wondering if maybe there is some age discrimination going on. I just wish he had, had a green card then he'd still be working at OXY. Yep, I'm seriously depressed

October 16 2009 at 7:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gary Mayer

The common denominator is that most of these jobs don't require a college degree. Too many parents push their kids into college, spending a fortune and ending up in debt.

I had to graduate in order to pursue my desired career, but my son didn't - he dropped out three times and he earns three times as much as I ever did. Now I'm retired and, all I have is memories.

October 16 2009 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jan Preli

My son's business is in a pre-construction related industry. Historically it has been an indicator that a recession is recovering when his work picks up. We know that this recession is far deeper than the government tells us and that without more construction related work (i.e attention to the infastructure, etc.) a full recovery is a lot longer away and will affect many more types of businesses.

October 16 2009 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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