Ready for a career change but dread getting another desk job? Then how about trying your hand at, well, working with your hands?
"There is a blue collar renaissance going on right now," says Joe Lamacchia, author of "Blue Collar and Proud of It: The All-in-One-Resource for Finding Freedom, Financial Success, and Security Outside of the Cubicle."
"These are necessary jobs, and they’re not going to go anywhere. Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. We want to turn this country green, and we don’t have enough workers to do it. There’s a lot of opportunity here."
Following is a list of blue collar jobs experts say are most in demand this year, and their median annual salary according to online salary database PayScale.com. Training for many of these positions includes a paid on-the-job apprenticeship, and the work can be physically rigorous. None of these jobs require education beyond a two-year associate’s degree.
Plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter
"With all the alternative energy sources that people are coming up with — like solar heating, geothermal heat, and biofuel — there’s a big need for these workers," says Laurence Shatkin, co-author of "300 Best Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree." According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these occupations are among the highest paid in the construction industry. Most of these workers receive their training in a technical school or community college, in addition to a four- or five-year apprenticeship, the BLS reports. In most states and municipalities, plumbers need to obtain a license. Median annual salary: $49,773.
This is one of the best-paid blue-collar positions, Shatkin says. What’s more, he says, it’s incredibly recession-proof, as most of the work entails maintenance or repair. According to the BLS, most elevator technicians start their career in a four-year apprenticeship program and belong to a union. In addition, city and state licensing is often required. Median annual salary: $49,036.
Do you have a strong back, a propensity for math, and a love of power tools? Then you might enjoy carpentry. Although the construction industry took a beating during the recession, the demand for environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings has helped hasten the field’s recovery, the BLS notes. "These are the people who are going to green this country," Lamacchia says. In fact, the BLS expects carpentry opportunities to grow by 13 percent this decade. According to the BLS, a third of carpenters are self-employed. In addition, many acquire the necessary skills by training on the job, enrolling in a vocational program, or working as an apprentice for three or four years. Median annual salary: $38,473.
According to the BLS, employment growth in the field will increase 12 percent this decade. Those with the widest range of skills — such as voice, data, and video wiring — will be the most marketable, the BLS reports. Factor in the nation’s move to green energy sources, says Shatkin, and you have a thriving occupation. As the BLS notes, electricians usually get their training during a four-year apprenticeship. As with plumbers, state and municipal licensing is usually required. Median annual salary: $45,218.
No matter what the economy’s doing, this is one job in demand. "When a recession hits, people want to keep their cars running longer instead of buying new," Shatkin says. A vocational training program in automotive technology (often six to 12 months) or a two-year associate degree is usually needed to be competitive in the marketplace, the BLS reports. Median annual salary: $35,889.
Heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration mechanic/installer
Thanks to the government offering consumers tax incentives to upgrade their appliances to more energy-efficient models, the demand for such technicians remains generous, Shatkin says. In fact, the BLS estimates that job opportunities will increase by a whopping 28 percent this decade. To compete in the job market, the BLS says, a six-month to two-year vocational program or an apprenticeship are usually required. Same goes for state and local licenses. Median annual salary: $48,494.
If you’re strong, comfortable with heights, and don’t mind getting dirty, you might like this line of work. Since much of the work revolves around repairing or replacing outdated roofing systems, the occupation is fairly recession proof, the BLS says. Another variable that can keep roofers busy: "There’s more concentration now on making green roofs that keep buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter," Shatkin says. Training is often obtained on the job or through a three-year apprenticeship, the BLS reports. Median annual salary: $38,026.
Still not sure you can leave the cubicle life behind? Then, Lamacchia says, consider this: "You’re home in the evening. You’re not at the airport or living out of a suitcase. You can go to your daughter’s play or your son’s little-league game. It’s a nice life."