According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BSL), blue collar and service occupations consist of those positions that include “precision production, craft and repair operations; machine operators and inspectors; transportation and moving occupations; handlers; equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers; and service occupations.” Meanwhile, Merriam Webster dictionary provides a simple definition as jobs that require physical work, or a full definition of “of relating to, or constituting the class of wage earners whose duties call for wearing of work clothes or protective clothes.” Investopedia, on the other hand, is a lot more descriptive saying that blue collar refers to “a working-class person historically defined by hourly rates of pay and manual labor” and further explains that the term “blue collar” has historically implied a certain lack of worker education though those stark lines are blurred today.
As these definitions clearly reveal, the umbrella of “blue collar” work is quite wide. Today, blue collar workers are often formally educated, skilled and highly paid, often earning more on an annual basis than white collar workers. Forbes recently looked at the most recent Occupational Employment and Wages data from the BLS to reveal some of the best paying blue collar jobs in the United States.
Among the top paying blue collar jobs were nuclear power reactor operators who made a mean annual wage of $88,820. In the top-paying state for this occupation, New York, workers earned a mean annual wage of $104,430.
Among the ten highest paying blue collar jobs, median wages varied though each exceeded $60,000 per year.
Ten Highest Paying Blue Collar Jobs
Source: Forbes & BLS
Older Blue-Collar Workers
Throughout the country there is a trend of older workers returning to the workforce, often taking up positions as independent consultants or freelancers. It’s no different for blue collar workers, entering the job market again because they either can’t afford to or don’t want to retire. These workers however don’t generally return to their old positions, as most blue-collar jobs are hard work and require too much wear and tear. They instead switch to jobs that require less manual labor but still take advantage of their accumulated knowledge and skills.
One common avenue is mentorship for apprenticeship programs, which allows older skilled workers to teach their craft to younger entry-level workers. There is a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers nationwide. For instance, the Department of Labor projects an employment gain of 24 percent nationwide for carpenters. Community and technological colleges are regularly hiring older skilled workers to train and educate students.
Another common path is self-employment. While the transition to self-employment for those over the age of 50 is more common among college-educated workers, approximately 10 percent of older workers without a college degree are self-employed.