The term “blue-collar” was first coined in the early 20th century when laborers donned durable fabrics like blue denim or chambray. The dark color would help disguise the dirt and grease, which were a part of their job.
These non-office workers are involved with physically demanding tasks, working outdoors in inclement weather, using heavy machinery and relying on their hands and strength.
Their jobs are typically in the trades, such as electricians, welders, carpenters, plumbers, builders, landscapers, farmers, miners and manufacturing, factory, construction and maintenance workers.
While many blue-collar workers earn a handsome living and are not buried in tuition debt, they are considered the “working class” and compensated by the hour or job assignment, as opposed to office workers who are paid salaries and bonuses. A large number of this cohort had to train, apprentice or go to school to learn their trades, and are unionized to provide relative job security, good pay and benefits.
The top blue-collar jobs tend to be skilled trades that require technical skills and training, but not necessarily a four-year degree, and have strong earning potential in the six figures. Workers for these jobs are in high demand and have future growth opportunities.
The Job Functions, Qualifications And Wages Ranked
Below is a ranking of the 10 most, well-paying blue-collar jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. The May 2022 OEWS estimates were released on April 25, 2023, and are calculated using data from employers throughout the United States. The wages for these blue-collar jobs vary depending on location, experience, and industry.
- Job Function: Operate subway or elevated suburban trains with no separate locomotive or electric-powered streetcar to transport passengers
- Mean Annual Wage: $75,880
- Annual Wage Range: $49,260- $89,180
- Qualifications: The minimum education requirement for a subway and streetcar operator is a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED). Employers often require professionals to undergo specialized training during their employment onboarding process.
- Job Function: Protect and police railroad and transit property, employees or passengers
- Mean Annual Wage: $76,380
- Annual Wage Range: $50,080- $114,310
- Qualifications: To become a transit and railroad police officer, you need law enforcement officer qualifications, which vary by state and the transit authority employer. Typically, you need a high school diploma or GED certificate, a completed transit and railroad police training program and a passing grade on a law enforcement exam from your state. You can complete training through a college or university program or on-the-job training with a transit authority company.
- Job Function: Inspect buildings to detect fire hazards and enforce local ordinances and state laws, or investigate and gather facts to determine the cause of fires and explosions
- Mean Annual Wage: $76,910
- Annual Wage Range: $42,930- $125,610
- Qualifications: The minimum education requirement to work as a fire inspector is a high school diploma. Most fire inspectors have experience working as firefighters and have post-secondary degrees and certifications related to that work. To work as a fire inspector, you must fulfill your state’s training requirements. Typically, this training combines classroom and practical work, covering topics such as building safety codes, proper handling of hazardous materials and fire alarm installation and inspection. You must be certified by the National Fire Protection Association and may complete additional training.
- Job Function: Install, inspect, test, maintain or repair electric gate crossings, signals, signal equipment, track switches, section lines or intercommunications systems within a railroad system
- Mean Annual Wage: $77,370
- Annual Wage Range: $50,020- $92,900
- Qualifications: Signal and track switch repairers typically enter the occupation with an associate’s degree in electrical or electronics equipment installation and repair or a related field.
- Job Function: Distribute or process gas for utility companies and others by controlling compressors to maintain specified pressures on main pipelines
- Mean Annual Wage: $78,430
- Annual Wage Range: $46,190- $107,700
- Qualifications: Most jobs for a gas plant operator require a high diploma or GED certificate. Some positions require additional math and science coursework. Employers typically provide training for entry-level positions. Higher positions require previous experience working with gas plant equipment.
- Job Function: Control or operate entire chemical processes or system of machines
- Mean Annual Wage: $79,290
- Annual Wage Range: $45,930- $107,680
- Qualifications: Some employers may prefer an associate degree in chemical process technology or a bachelor’s degree in business administration to be a chemical plant and system operator.
- Job Function: Install or repair cables or wires used in electrical power or distribution systems; may erect poles and light or heavy duty transmission towers
- Mean Annual Wage: $82,770
- Annual Wage Range: $47,070- $114,590
- Qualifications: Most companies require electrical power-line installers and repairers to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Electrical line installers and repairers must complete apprenticeships or other employer training programs. These programs, which can last up to three years, combine on-the-job training with technical instruction and are sometimes administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers.
- Job Function: Operate or control petroleum refining or processing units; may specialize in controlling manifold and pumping systems, gauging or testing oil in storage tanks, or regulating the flow of oil into pipelines
- Mean Annual Wage: $84,140
- Annual Wage Range: $52,920- $107,810
- Qualifications: The minimum requirement to start your career as a petroleum pump system operator is a high school diploma followed by over one year of on-the-job training. However, more companies in the Gulf Coast region are working toward a requirement for individuals to obtain an associate’s degree in process technology.
- Job Function: Inspect, test, repair or maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations and in-service relays
- Mean Annual Wage: $88,770
- Annual Wage Range: $55,170- $117,220
- Qualifications: To get hired as an electrical and electronics repairer, powerhouse, substation and relay, employers often prefer applicants who have taken courses in electronics at a community college or technical school. Courses usually cover AC and DC electronics, electronic devices and microcontrollers. In addition to technical education, workers usually receive on-the-job training on specific types of equipment. This may involve manufacturer-specific training for repairers who will perform warranty work.
- Job Function: Control, operate or maintain machinery to generate electric power (includes auxiliary equipment operators, as per BLS)
- Mean Annual Wage: $88,960
- Annual Wage Range: $52,000- $119,880
- Qualifications: For most power plant operator positions, earning a high school diploma or GED equivalent satisfies the education requirements. Most companies require prospective employees to take exams that assess their qualifications and aptitude for the job. Some power plants require employees to pass the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exams provided by the Edison Electrical Institute. Power plant operators complete extensive training, which typically includes a combination of on-the-job experience and classroom learning.