11 High-Paying Blue Collar Jobs with Mike Rowe

No One Knows Blue Collar Jobs Better than Mike Rowe

At one point or another, you've probably seen someone performing a "dirty" job and said to yourself "You couldn't pay me enough to do that." But Mike Rowe, host of TV's Dirty Jobs, gets paid to do exactly that. And, in an interview with Salary.com last week, said he thinks more people should follow suit.

Rowe says America is in the midst of a skilled labor shortage, as hundreds of thousands of available blue collar jobs go unfilled because workers lack the necessary training. But even more upsetting, Rowe said, is the attitude of many Americans that the trades are merely a last-ditch alternative when college doesn't work out.

Parents have long relied on examples of certain unattractive jobs to motivate their children academically, sending a message of "If you don't get good grades and go to college, you could end up doing that."

But Rowe, with his website www.mikeroweWORKS.com, is out to change that message.

What is a Blue Collar Worker?

Rowe, along with a growing group of economists, claims in today's world, college may not make sense for everyone. A quick peek at the paychecks that go along with certain jobs indicates that for some individuals, short-term vocational and career training may be the smartest investment.

This article highlights 11 sometimes icky yet essential jobs that don't necessarily require a college degree, but yield Salary.com median salaries of at least $40,000 a year.

1. Bricklayer

Median annual salary: $45,965

Bricklayers work with materials such as concrete, cinderblocks, tile, terra cotta, marble, and brick to build and maintain walls, buildings, industrial furnaces, and fireplaces.

The work is heavy, dusty, and very physical. But it's also ideal for those in good shape who enjoy variety in their work, have good manual dexterity, and possess a natural aptitude for math.

Bricklayers are high-school graduates and many complete apprenticeship programs with a local trade association or union.

2. Chemical Plant Operator

Median annual salary: $40,473

Chemical plant operators, who supervise the mostly-automated equipment that produces adhesives, paints, medicines, synthetics, and other chemicals, typically work in environments that are hot, loud, smelly and potentially toxic.

Fortunately, chemical plant operators rarely need a Silkwood Shower.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that chemical manufacturing plants have some of the lowest injury rates in the U.S. thanks to stringent and heavily monitored safety regulations.

On-the-job training is typically given to high school graduates.

3. Dental Hygienist

Median annual salary: $62,220

There's nothing pretty about getting up close and personal with other people's mouths.

Dental hygienists deal with dirty teeth, bad breath, and appallingly poor hygiene on a daily basis. On the other hand, they get to feel good about helping patients develop and maintain necessary oral health.

Although a bachelor's degree is not always necessary, most states require dental hygienists to earn an associate's degree, special licensure, or both.

4. Derrickman

Median annual salary: $46,072

Do you have a fear of heights? Then this job isn't for you.

One of the most demanding jobs on an oil rig crew, a derrickman works on a platform (called a "monkeyboard") attached to the mast of the oil rig, suspended about 85 feet above the floor of the rig. Attached by a safety harness, the derrickman leans out from the platform in order to manipulate the drilling pipe. When the derrickman isn't suspended high in the air, he's getting down and dirty conducting mud density tests.

The job is physically demanding, dirty, and dangerous. But the flip side is that it yields a decent pay and requires only on-the-job training.

5. Executive Housekeeper

Median annual salary: $44,459

We've all seen those television shows where someone shines an ultraviolet light around the room, exposing invisible stains we wish we didn't know were there.

Being an executive housekeeper isn't life-threatening, but cleaning up after strangers definitely falls into the "dirty jobs" category at times.

Fortunately, the nastiest tasks can be delegated to the housekeeping staff, allowing the executive housekeeper to focus on "big picture" items such as lining up clients and ensuring customer satisfaction.

6. Firefighter

Median annual salary: $44,597

You've seen them and you know who they are. But in case there's any doubt, firefighters are the ones running into a burning building while everyone else is running out.

In addition to the obvious duties of saving burning properties and the people inside them, firefighters are often called on to help people during other emergencies, such as car crashes, drownings, and even ice rescues.

The work of a firefighter is physically demanding, very dangerous, and stressful. Of course, there's nothing more rewarding than saving a life.

A high school diploma is required for this job, but some municipalities may require additional education and EMT training.

7. Locomotive Engineer

Median annual salary: $62,995

Most little kids dream of one day driving a choo-choo train. What they probably don't know, however, is how physically and mentally demanding the job is.

Locomotive engineers must not only know how to guide their trains along a variety of grades in all kinds of conditions, they are also responsible for the mechanical condition of their trains.

This hands-on, physical job is perfect for those who are strong, mechanically inclined, and love to travel.

Trade school courses and certifications are typically required.

8. Medical Laboratory Technician

Median annual salary: $41,737

If the sight of blood or other bodily fluids grosses you out, you might want to take a pass on this one.

Medical laboratory technicians perform a variety of tests on blood, skin, cells, and other human matter. Then they prepare the specimens for examination.

Generally, an MLT must have at least an associate's degree, and in some cases, a bachelor's degree.

This job does require the completion of an accredited MLT program, as well as obtaining a license and certification from an accredited program such as the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology.

9. Personal Trainer

Median annual salary: $53,056

We put this on the dirty jobs list because it involves other people's sweat and occasionally some...um...heavy lifting. You also have to work hard to keep yourself in shape at all times, and you spend most of your time hanging around a locker room at the gym.

However, there's a lot to be said for helping others adopt healthier habits. You might not get the praise and instant hero-worship of a firefighter, but if the Biggest Loser has taught us anything, it's that personal trainers can sometimes be the difference between life and an early grave.

Whether you're affiliated with a gym or working independently, some states require personal training certification.

10. Police Officer

Median annual salary: $50,089

Charged with the responsibility of preventing and solving crimes, police officers often find themselves in dangerous situations dealing with dangerous people.

Since criminals typically don't work 9 to 5, police officers work long, irregular hours in unpredictable and unique situations ranging from domestic disturbances to hostage situations.

This is an ideal job for those with a sense of adventure and a desire to see justice served.

Police officers typically have at least an associate's degree in criminal justice, but many cities and towns offer additional pay for advanced degrees. All officers must pass their academy training as well.

11. Plumber

Median annual salary: $40,334

Plumbers have to unblock a lot of bath drains and toilets while hoping the thing causing the blockage is something more like a tennis ball instead of--well, you know. But all too often, it isn't.

Fortunately, plumbers also spend a good amount of time on "cleaner" endeavors, such as installing plumbing and water supply networks, ensuring clean drinking water and installing and fixing heating systems.

Some states require certification, an apprenticeship, or both.

Don't Be Afraid to Get Dirty

Make no mistake, a college education is a great thing and if that's what you want, then go for it.

But attending a vocational school and learning a trade shouldn't be looked at as some sort of failure. Instead, it should be encouraged because, as Mike Rowe pointed out in front of Congress, this country has a 9 percent unemployment rate, yet there are hundreds of thousands of jobs out there going unfilled simply because there aren't enough skilled laborers to fill them.

If you want to make a good living but college isn't in the cards, consider blue collar jobs.

Recommended Reading/Watching (try an ebook)

Dirty Jobs, Collection 7: See Mike Rowe work in the industries most people avoid.

Blue Collar and Proud of It: Freedom, Financial Success and Security Outside the Cubicle

300 Best Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker 

The Case for Working with Your Hands: Why Office Work is Bad For Us and Fixing Things Feels Good

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