The highest-paying trade jobs in the U.S. include one paying over $100,000 per year—but you’ll have to be comfortable with tight spaces and heights



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With AI threatening to steal corporate jobs and recent graduates finding themselves “unemployable”, trade jobs are becoming increasingly attractive—and lucrative, for that matter.

Despite “significant stigma” surrounding vocational careers and assumptions that grad jobs are the only path to success, a new report highlights that tradies in the U.S. can earn six-figure salaries without the added debt of a college degree. 

In fact, elevator and escalator installers are taking home just over $100,000 a year on average—and you just need a high school diploma to get started in the industry.

According to Pro Tools analysis of May 2023 wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s the highest-paid trade job in the country. 

But here’s the catch: Candidates must be willing to endure working in both cramped areas and high spaces. They must also be fine with getting on their knees to crawl on some jobs and being on call 24 hours a day.

Unfortunately, all of the top-paying trade jobs are physically demanding.

According to the report, electrical power-line installers make over $85,000 a year, and aircraft mechanics technicians have an average annual salary of $76,260. 

But the former often requires working at great heights or in adverse weather conditions, and the latter can expect working odd hours to keep up with flight schedules and enduring constant plane-associated noises. 

Want security over salary? Look at maintenance and repair jobs

Although elevator and escalator installers are the highest-paid tradies, they’re not the most common or in-demand workers—with just 2,100 job openings each year and limited employment growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

So, those wanting to hedge their bets and increase their chances of landing a blue-colored job may wish to look at general maintenance and repair jobs. 

Although maintenance and repair workers earn significantly less than elevator and escalator installers ($46,700 per annum on average), they’re the most common and in-demand trade jobs in America right now.

Those looking for job security over big paychecks have over 55,579 total job opportunities to choose from—and demand isn’t waning any time soon, with the employment of maintenance and repair workers projected to grow by 4% in the coming years.

What’s more, you don’t need any specific work experience or qualifications to join the industry, with most people learning on the job.

Recent grads: Time for a career pivot? 

After spending time and money (lots of it) on a college degree, it’s understandable to want to carve out a career in the field you studied.

However, grads might have better luck pivoting into trade jobs and making peace with being overqualified and in debt than pining for the dream corporate job.

Research highlights that highly educated students are finding themselves “unemployable” as employers launch a “wait and watch strategy” in the midst of AI advancements and economic uncertainty.   

But be warned: You’ll need to compete against a wave of young people who have skipped college, picked up the tools, and already racked up experience in the likes of welding, plumbing, and carpentry while you were studying. 

“People are starting to smell a rat,” Mike Rowe, the CEO of MikeRoweWorks Foundation, commented on the shift, adding that blue-collar jobs “are a straight path to a six-figure job” without the burden of debt.  

Take Chase Gallagher, for example.

The 23-year-old started his lawn mowing side hustle as a teenager, and it’s now generating more than $1 million in revenue.

“I just didn’t see the ROI in going to university,” the Gen Zer told Fortune. “You can still be a 1% income earner here in America and be a trades business owner.”



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