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Best Paid Skilled Labor Jobs

By Lydia Dishman, PayScale.com 

Skilled labor jobs can pay well, even very well. Yet, many young people feel the pressure to get a college degree and don’t consider hands-on labor. Fortunately, a growing movement hopes to get younger workers enthused about building, fixing, and installing.

Mike Rowe of the popular TV series “Dirty Jobs” says, “Tradesmen need fans, regular people who understand the magnitude of their work, the impact of their chosen profession, and the importance of their skill.” What this country needs, according to Rowe are more people willing to take the time to master heating and air-conditioning, electricity, creating solid foundations, smooth roads, and functional plumbing.

Ross Porter, President of IRWIN Tools based in Huntersville, North Carolina asserts, “A job in a skilled trade is a solid, decent and admirable way to support a family. To work with one’s hands—to build something—always has been and always should be commendable.”

Are you interested in earning high pay while working with your hands? Here’s a list of the top 10 most highly-paid jobs that have the most potential for growth, according to PayScale.

Wind Turbine Technician - $67,500 per year

Wind turbine service technicians, also called wind techs, are responsible for repairing and maintaining the complicated machinery inside wind turbines. Their work can be as simple as changing light bulbs or as complex as repairing a circuit board. The field is so new there isn’t an official certification track yet, however according to the American Wind Energy Association, the amount of energy provided by wind turbines grew by 39 percent each year between 2004 to 2009. Get ready to be blown away by your pay. With five to eight years of experience some techs can earn over $84,000 per year.

Plumber - $51,600 per year

This career is about much more than fixing leaky toilets. Plumbers install and repair the water, waste disposal, drainage, and gas systems in residential, commercial and industrial buildings using a variety of materials from copper to cast-iron. They must be able to follow building plans or blueprints and instructions from supervisors, lay out the job, and work efficiently with materials and tools. There’s room for creativity as plumbers have become more involved in the design process of water and waste systems. No wonder highly-skilled professionals can take home over $92,000 per year.

HVAC Controls Technician - $51,000 per year

Without workers skilled in the science of heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration systems, we wouldn’t be able to control the temperature, humidity, and the total air quality in residential, commercial, industrial, and other buildings. They also help with the storage and transportation of food, medicine, and other perishable items. Many HVAC technicians will specialize in either installation or maintenance and repair, but must first train to do both. High school students interested in this career should take courses in shop, math, mechanical drawing, applied physics and chemistry, electronics, blueprint reading, and computer applications.

Elevator Mechanic -$49,900 per year

Mechanics are responsible for assembling, installing, maintaining and replacing elevators, escalators, chairlifts, dumbwaiters and moving walkways in new and old buildings. They must complete a four-year apprenticeship offered by local joint educational committees representing the employers and the union—the International Union of Elevator Constructors. The good news is that job prospects and salaries are looking up in this industry. Top earners make about $96,700 with over five years experience.

Maintenance Supervisor - $48,800 per year

You’ll find maintenance and repair workers in almost every industry, and with them comes their supervisor. Responsibilities include supervising, troubleshooting and project management of machines, mechanical equipment, buildings, plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning and heating systems. Many supervisors get their start right out of high school. Courses in mechanical drawing, electricity, woodworking, blueprint reading, science, mathematics, and computers are useful and education at a technical college is an important part of training.

Construction and Building Inspector - $48,000 per year

Got an opinion on those potholes on the interstate? How about your neighbor’s sloping porch? If so, a career as an inspector is right up your alley. You’ll examine buildings, highways and streets, sewer and water systems, dams, bridges, and other structures for compliance with building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, and contract specifications. About 44 percent of inspectors worked for local governments but plenty of home inspectors are self-employed and make their own hours.

Project Supervisor, Construction - $46,600 per year

Independent types who want to manage a team and a project yet still work for themselves will be in good company as the BLS finds over half of construction supervisors are self-employed. Far from working alone, managers work with owners, engineers, architects, and others to coordinate and supervise construction from the concept through final build,the project gets completed on time and within budget.

Bricklayer - $46,200 per year

Talk about staying power: the buildings, fences, roads and footpaths crafted by brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons often outlast the individual because of the durability of concrete, stone and brick. The work itself ranges from simple masonry on walkways to complex installations of exteriors on a highrises. Training often happens on the job as an assistant to carry materials, move scaffolding and mix mortar. Learning restoration skills such as cleaning and pointing are essential to becoming a full-fledged craftsman. Registered apprenticeship programs usually last between three and four years.

Refrigeration Mechanic - $45,600 per year

You won’t have to worry about becoming a desk jockey if you pursue a career as a refrigeration mechanic. Your “office” can be in any number of places including homes, stores, hospitals or factories that need installation, service, and repair of refrigerating systems. On the job, mechanics are required to read blueprints, design specifications, and manufacturers' instructions to install motors, compressors, condensing units, evaporators, piping, and other components. Systems must also be charged with refrigerant and checked for proper operation and leaks.

Biomedical Equipment Technician (BMET) - $45,500 per year

If you are fascinated by how things work, this could be the job for you. BMETs maintain, adjust, and repair every kind of healthcare machinery from patient monitors and defibrillators, to X-rays, electric wheelchairs and eye testing equipment. With the strength of the healthcare industry, this is a great occupation to pursue. Be prepared to head back to school if you want to work in this field. Employers generally prefer applicants with an associate’s degree in biomedical equipment technology or engineering. Go for a four-year degree if you want to advance.

Source: Salary data is provided by online salary database PayScale.com. Salaries listed are annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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