There was a time when those who opted for skilled trade jobs training instead of a college degree were looked down upon. Somehow, Americans began to believe that a four-year degree was the only way forward on a path to economic prosperity.
Two things are wrong with that point of view. The first is that most Americans do not have a bachelor's degree. As of 2019, the Census Bureau estimated that only 32.1% of Americans held one. The second is that skilled trades are a lucrative career, with most tradespeople earning more than the U.S. median income of $61,937.
The estimated 200,000 veterans leaving the military this year will have to consider their post-military careers. Any service member separating might want to consider a career in a skilled trade. There's currently a lack of talent as older tradespeople have begun to retire, and they're very critical skills, in demand year-round -- and that means a high wage for those who pursue those skills.
Most importantly, there are so many ways to get into a skilled-trade training program. For veterans, most of them are free or are covered by the GI Bill. Some even can be started during their last six months in the military. The only tough call is which trade to learn.
So here's a list of the highest-paid skilled trades for 2021 to help make that decision.
1. Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters
This group of skilled trades install, repair and assemble piping systems to move liquids and gases in many economic sectors and industries. Government, manufacturing and construction are just a few areas that require them.
As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says the median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was $58,580, but in some area of the country, the top 10% of wage earners were making upward of nearly $99,000 per year.
2. Elevator Mechanics
From the title, it sounds like a very specific kind of job, but while they work on elevators, they deal with all kinds of people movers. Elevator mechanics are tradespeople who are repairing, installing and maintaining elevators, escalators and moving walkways.
But working in the confined spaces required of them means they also make good money while doing it. According to BLS, elevator and escalator installation and repair workers made a median income of $88,540 in 2020.
3. Power-line Technicians
The median income for the people who install and repair power lines for electrical systems, telecommunications and fiber optics made a median income of $68,030 in 2020. This is a job that is hazardous because of its working conditions and the work being done.
Power-line installers and repairers work with high-voltage power lines and can work in a cherry picker on very high poles, meaning the risk of electrocution or falling is just as high. Those working in telecommunications and fiber optics don't earn the same as the power-line workers, but they still earn more than the U.S. median income.
4. Aircraft Mechanics
Since the basic function of many military jobs is to maintain aircraft, this should be a job of interest to many veterans. Luckily, it's high on the list of high-paying, skilled trade jobs.
The training and certification required for those working on aircraft means they can earn around $66,680 every year, as long as they have a Federal Aviation Administration certification to maintain and repair them.
A boilermaker isn't just a shot of whiskey dropped into a beer. It's also not just a graduate of Purdue University. A boilermaker is a skilled job, assembling, installing and maintaining boilers, vats and other containers for liquids and gasses. Since the scale of the work can be very large, it can require travel and time away from loved ones.
But for a median salary of $65,360 per year, and the ability to learn the skill through on-the-job training alone, it's a great way to start earning large when you get out of the military.
6. Geological and Petroleum Technicians
These skilled tradespeople assist their scientist counterparts in exploring areas for natural resources. They also build, maintain and repair the equipment and machinery used to extract those resources for use in manufacturing, energy and other industries at a median salary of $53,630 per year.
Unlike many of the other skilled trades on this list, geological technicians might need at least a two-year degree or relevant training, but veterans still can find free training opportunities to get into one of these careers.
Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?
Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.