Highest-Paying Trades


Their jobs may be low on glamour, but tradespeople do the important stuff. They build roads and skyscrapers, fix broken-down machinery, and keep America moving over roads and waterways. Careers in the trades offer a chance to work with your hands, and often let you earn while you learn through apprenticeships or on-the-job training.

Right now, federal green initiatives are driving up demand for workers in many traditional trades including electrician, pipefitter and sheet-metal worker, says John Gaal, vice president of the trade and industrial division of the Association for Career and Technical Colleges. These new-economy jobs mean tradespeople often need additional skills, and are flocking to new certification courses in green technology. The demand for more highly-trained trade workers is keeping pay rates high despite the general construction downturn, Gaal says.

Here's a look at some of the best-paid jobs in the trades:

1. Commercial diver-- $74,100

This is a great career for folks who love to be in the water. Demand should be high for years to come, especially for workers near the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, notes Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis for online salary database PayScale.com.

-- Find diver jobs.

2. Plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter -- $63,500

The differences between these three roles lie in the location where work is done – plumbers tend to work in homes, while pipefitters work in commercial buildings, and steamfitters work mostly in commercial plants where gas, steam or water are under pressure. Along with electricians, plumbers command higher pay because they must be state licensed. Today's plumbers also need to learn electrical and sheet-metal skills to work with today's more high-tech plumbing products.

"When's the last time you bought a heater and it didn't have an electrical panel on it?" Gaal asks.

-- Find pipefitter jobs.

3. Sheet metal worker -- $52,300

Metal fabricators are playing a vital role in building and installing clean-energy equipment such as wind turbines and solar panels. To earn more, Lee says, look for work on the commercial/industrial side, rather than on home installations.

-- Find sheet metal worker jobs.

4. Captain, mate, or pilot of water vessels -- $51,200

Many workers in maritime trades get started in the U.S. Navy. Most jobs outside the military are with state or private ferry, touring, tugboat or shipping companies, says Lee. If you don't want to be separated from friends and family long, he adds, be a harbor pilot – there's demand for people who know local currents, tides and waterways to guide boats into port.

-- Find water vessel jobs.

5. Millwright-- $50,900

A job with an old-fashioned title, millwrights are essentially the trade equivalent of a mechanical engineer, says Lee. This is the trade for people who love to tinker with and repair machinery. Most millwrights work in factory settings.

-- Find millwright jobs.

6. Certified electrician -- $50,400

For better pay as an electrician, seek out commercial work, be state licensed, and belong to a union, notes Lee. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes job prospects are best for workers with new-technology skills including expertise in video wiring, voice, and data lines.

-- Find electrician jobs.

7. Kitchen & bath installer -- $46,900

Contractors in this field are well-paid because of the wide variety of jobs they handle -- installing vinyl flooring and tile, hanging cabinets, and updating light fixtures and plumbing. They need expertise for installing countertops made of stainless steel, marble, tile, concrete or modern surfaces such as Corian.

-- Find installer jobs.

8. Fire inspector/investigator -- $44,600

Fire inspectors make sure homes and commercial buildings comply with fire codes, checking that fire exits are clear and required fire alarms are in place. Then, Lee notes, after a fire, investigators determine the cause and figure out how to prevent future problems.

Next: Blue Collar Job Search >>

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

Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. 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.

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and i just finished school, and have 2 years in the trade, so when im making 50k a year, i think and a lot of people will agree that i deserve it. electrical is not just running a wire from point A to point B, their are codes you have to follow. theirs theory, you have to know how to size a wire( a lot of homeowners think they know how but are often dead wrong). and Dave your absolutely right, its often a homeowners mistake with wiring that burns down the house, sizing breakers wrong, overloading circuits, extension cords are one of the highest causes of fires from what ive heard (dont quote that). anything electrical and even a generator hookup should always be installed by a qualified licensed electrician.

January 27 2013 at 8:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@russell actualy i know for a fact because im an apprentice electrician that you need to go to school for 2 years, or so many hours, along with 5 years of work experience to get your masters. after you get your masters, you have to take a 10hr class every code change as a requirement for your license. so all thees guys have to work real hard for years, to make this money. just because yo went to school dosnt make you special. so don't be hatin

January 27 2013 at 8:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm thinking elevator constructor's are one of the top wage packages out there from what i gather on the job sites . also dangerous work being performed each day such hoisting and rigging of heavy loads ,welding ,electrical,carpentry not to mention the heights they work at they get my vote for one the top paid trades out there hands down how do i get into that trade

August 28 2012 at 10:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave Pettie

Hmmm, I'm a Plumber/Gas Fitter and I had to have a high school education before I went to College for each of my first four years of Plumbing and Gas Fitting. I think we're paid what we are worth. Our trade is a necessity unless you feel comfortable fixing your leaking pipes, installing your gas appliances, and running your own gas lines. Many people in my trade still think that we're underpaid for what we do, yet customers still complain when we bill them. I know if I had a problem with the electricity in my house, I would want to have a professional Electrician do it for the peace of mind that it's done properly and my house won't burn down.

July 22 2012 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Russell, I understand your frustration, but you have to realize that a lot of these jobs are very dangerous. Especially a lineman. We work with 12000 volts with about an 1/8'" insulation between our hands and the energized equipment. Not only do we work with high voltage, but we also must climb to heights of 100' on a wood pole with nothing holding us up but a small piece of metal called a gaff. A lot of people think that we keep our belts on the whole time, but that is a myth. We normally free climb the pole and belt in when we get to where the work is.

July 02 2011 at 1:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know that a lineman at Comed in Chicago makes over $91,000/ year without overtime. The average lineman at Comed works between 500-1000 hours of overtime each year. It is very easy for a lineman to make $130,000 per year.

July 02 2011 at 1:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What do all of y'all do with your money?

July 04 2010 at 6:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So here we have blue-collar workers with no college making six figures a year in this economy, while I have a master's degree and can't find a full-time job. Is it any wonder our country is in the state it's in?

June 28 2010 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Russell's comment

Or maybe, Russell, you are more deserving than we are???

June 28 2010 at 6:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am an Interior Designer and make $95 an hour. I also make over $100k a year, even in this tough economy.

June 27 2010 at 11:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Monica White

Please don't criticize the AOL writer. Smart, business savvy and resourceful freelance writers can make over $100,000/yr. also.
This article did not claim to list each and every job that, without a high school diploma, could yield over $100,000/yr., it merely listed some of the jobs.
From some of the touchy comments it's very obvious that some of the respondents are definitely blue collar and without a college degree. In these uncertain times & economy we all should be thankful to have a decent job with steady income. Enough said!

June 27 2010 at 11:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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