6 Blue-Collar Jobs for Career Switchers

Occupations to consider if you're ready to bid farewell to the white-collar world.

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It's hard to believe, but nearly 20 percent of U.S. employers say they're having a tough time filling job openings, according to Manpower's 2009 talent shortage survey. (That figure, which is less than half of what it was in 2006, should rise again as the economy recovers.) The list of positions that are the hardest to fill can help serve as a guide for some of the best job opportunities in the future. Although engineers and nurses lead Manpower's list of the 10 most in-demand jobs in the United States, a large portion of the hard-to-fill positions are blue-collar jobs.

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The lure of a secure job may outrank the lure of high pay these days, but we consulted with Glassdoor.com to produce a list of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs—defined as occupations that involve manual labor and typically involve an hourly wage. Glassdoor considered data contributed by employees on both base annual pay and bonus money. We also took into account the Labor Department's outlook for the job over the next decade, so career switchers can make their moves with confidence.

[Also see 30 Great Careers for 2009 and 13 Overrated Careers.]

Manufacturing technician: Openings for technicians in production, engineering, and maintenance are some of the most difficult positions to fill, according to the Manpower survey. At a company like Intel, manufacturing technicians are in charge of operating and maintaining specialized processing equipment—a little preventive maintenance here, a little problem solving there. Base pay for manufacturing technicians averages more than $47,000 a year, and workers rake in average bonuses of more than $1,500, according to the Glassdoor data. The most common route to these jobs is obtaining an associate's degree from a technical institute, community college, or a university extension program.

Auto mechanic: Anyone involved in the repair industry has been keeping busy lately, as Americans have lost their appetite for new products and have been saving money by fixing and maintaining things they already own. The trend won't likely be short-lived, so demand for mechanics of all stripes should be fairly strong. (In addition, many skilled technicians of the baby boom generation are expected to retire in the near future, according to Labor Department data. That should help keep demand robust.) Pay for auto mechanics averages about $44,000 a year, including average bonuses of $415.

Truck driver: Workers in this occupation pull in an average of roughly $47,000 a year, according to Glassdoor, but the wide range of truck-driving jobs means that pay can vary greatly. Route drivers deliver and sell products such as restaurant takeout or laundry; meanwhile, heavy-duty and long-haul drivers can cover as many as 100,000 miles a year in their trucks. The job outlook for long-haul drivers is strong, since they can fill needs that can't be served by other forms of freight transportation.

Aircraft mechanic: At $52,000 a year, these workers are among the best paid in the blue-collar professions on Glassdoor. Aircraft mechanics generally do their training at one of 170 trade schools certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, which mandates that students complete at least 1,900 class hours. Most of the trade schools offer both two- and four-year programs. An alternate route to this career is through on-the-job training from an experienced mechanic, but that sort of arrangement tends to be the exception, the Labor Department reports.

General maintenance worker: Those in general maintenance can work their magic on everything from plumbing to mechanical equipment, roofs, windows, and air conditioners. But maintenance workers tend to specialize in a particular niche. Pay can average about $49,600 a year, with bonuses close to $1,000, according to Glassdoor data. Although job growth is expected to be fairly average, prospects look excellent on account of the large volume of retiring baby boomers.