Highest-paying jobs for high school graduates

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July 20, 2020
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Highest-paying jobs for high school graduates

Here’s a riddle: What do anesthesiologists, surgeons, lawyers, orthodontists, engineers, and financial managers have in common? They’re all listed as the highest paying jobs in America—and all at least require college degrees. Turns out, your guidance counselors were right when they said going to college would lead to a bright future.

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average college graduate earns $78,000 a year, while the average high school graduate takes home just $45,000. To put it in perspective, the average annual wage for all workers in the United States is $53,490.

Of course, not everyone wants to attend college. The average cost of tuition continues to increase year over year, with average tuition at a public, in-state university coming in at $10,116; tuition for out-of-state students at public schools, and for everyone at private universities, is significantly higher at $22,577 and $36,801, respectively. Just because you decide higher education isn’t in the cards doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of low-paying jobs. You just need to be strategic about the career you choose.

To discover which jobs pay high school graduates the most, Stacker consulted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, last updated in April. None of the 100 jobs on this list requires more than a high school diploma or equivalent. All jobs are ranked by their average annual income, and ties are broken by the number of employees on that job.

Any job titles that the BLS listed as “all other” in the name were excluded, as those are aggregates of multiple jobs and salary data is less accurate than the listed salaries for individual jobs. Jobs that did not pay a specific average wage per year were also excluded.

As this BLS data reflects the 2019 calendar year, the wages listed do not reflect any economic changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on to discover which jobs that only require a high school degree paid the highest annual wages in 2019, from highly-technical roles that require substantial on-the-job training to trades you can pick up quickly.

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#100. Correctional officers and jailers

- Average annual wage: $50,130 (6.3% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 423,050 (2.88 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Correctional officers and jailers guard inmates in prisons, in addition to shepherding them to jail, court, and other locations. State and local governments employ the most correctional officers—the federal government employs just over 15,000.

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#99. Security and fire alarm systems installers

- Average annual wage: $50,210 (6.1% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 71,600 (0.49 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

These specialized technicians install and maintain fire alarms and security systems, as well as check that their work is in accordance with local building codes. Most people with this job work in the security industry—construction comes in second.

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#98. Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists

- Average annual wage: $50,360 (5.9% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 266,330 (1.81 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists allow truckers to keep on truckin’ by keeping their vehicles running smoothly through regular maintenance and repairs. Unsurprisingly, trucking employs the largest number of these specialized mechanics.

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#97. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators

- Average annual wage: $50,490 (5.6% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 123,730 (0.84 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators control an entire system of machines to treat local communities’ water and wastewater. These professionals primarily work for local governments and waste treatment companies, but a small percentage works for other industries, like animal processing, architecture and engineering.

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#96. Postal service clerks

- Average annual wage: $50,610 (5.4% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 81,170 (0.55 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: short-term on-the-job training

Most everyone likely encounters a postal service clerk at their local post office: These workers help customers send mail and packages, as well as sorting and delivering the mail. Though the United States Postal Service (USPS) initially feared that the COVID-19 pandemic would put it at risk of financial ruin, the influx of e-commerce packages provided an unexpected lifeline.

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#95. Production, planning, and expediting clerks

- Average annual wage: $50,640 (5.3% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 370,380 (2.52 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Though production, planning, and expediting clerks might work in industries ranging from aerospace manufacturing to surgical hospitals, the basic job duties remain the same: coordinating and managing the flow of work through an organization. That could extend to reviewing production schedules, compiling progress reports, monitoring inventory levels, and discussing workflow with supervisors.

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#94. Legal secretaries and administrative assistants

- Average annual wage: $50,900 (4.8% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 168,140 (1.15 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Unlike a general secretary, legal secretaries and administrative assistants must understand legal terminology and procedures to do their jobs—which allows them to earn a premium. Legal secretaries perform filing, assist with legal research, and prepare papers, subpoenas, complaints, and motions.

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#93. Postal service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators

- Average annual wage: $51,190 (4.3% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 102,390 (0.70 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: short-term on-the-job training

After a postal clerk takes a letter or package, postal service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators make sure it starts the journey to its destination. These employees examine, sort, and route the mail, as well as operate the sorting machines that the USPS relies on.

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#92. Dredge operators

- Average annual wage: $51,340 (4% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 1,550 (0.01 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

These professionals operate massive machines called dredges to remove sand, gravel, and dirt from bodies of water so that they remain navigable by boat. Dredge operators can work for mining companies, civil engineering firms, or state and local governments.

 

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#91. Chemical equipment operators and tenders

- Average annual wage: $51,540 (3.6% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 87,120 (0.59 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

In the manufacturing of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, aluminum, and petroleum products, chemical equipment operators and tenders use complex equipment to control chemical changes and reactions. These skilled workers operate machinery such as devulcanizers, steam-jacketed kettles, and reactor vessels, and may need specialized on-the-job training.

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#90. Bailiffs

- Average annual wage: $51,840 (3.1% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 19,650 (0.13 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Bailiffs are often seen in courtroom dramas on TV. These professionals maintain order in the court, whether they’re protecting the judge, calling in witnesses, collecting evidence from legal teams, or securing a sequestered jury. 

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#89. First-line supervisors of gambling services workers

- Average annual wage: $51,850 (3.1% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 29,420 (0.20 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Given the large amount of winnings these supervisors can be responsible for, it’s no wonder they make relatively high salaries. First-line supervisors of gambling services workers typically circulate around the casino floor, observing operations, ensuring games are covered by employees, and even verifying and paying off jackpots. The COVID-19 pandemic caused all 989 casinos in the United States to close temporarily.

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#88. Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers

- Average annual wage: $52,050 (2.7% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 52,890 (0.36 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Whether they work in real estate or insurance, title examiners, abstractors, and searchers consult records to examine titles or summarize legal documents for their employers. Typically, these employees compile lists of mortgages, contracts, and other related insurance documents.

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#87. Postal service mail carriers

- Average annual wage: $52,180 (2.4% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 339,650 (2.31 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: short-term on-the-job training

Postal service mail carriers deliver letters and packages year round, in all conditions: As the USPS motto states, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can deter these workers from their duty. In 2020, Americans discovered that even a pandemic couldn’t stop these essential workers from delivering the mail.

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#86. First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers

- Average annual wage: $52,340 (2.1% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 103,580 (0.71 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers manage the landscapers and groundskeepers that maintain the beautifully-manicured lawns and gardens at homes, offices, and other buildings. They also might review contracts with vendors and clients, answer customer inquiries, and prepare price estimates.

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#85. Riggers

- Average annual wage: $52,420 (2% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 23,000 (0.16 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Riggers set up the systems of ropes, cables, chains, and wires used in shipbuilding and shipyards, the mining industry, and construction projects. These skilled employees can even work in the entertainment industry on complex sets for TV or film.

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#84. First-line supervisors of farming, fishing, and forestry workers

- Average annual wage: $52,520 (1.8% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 22,560 (0.15 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Like their peers who work in landscaping, first-line supervisors of farming, fishing, and forestry workers spend their time managing employees who work outdoors. The majority of these professionals are employed on crop farms, with smaller numbers in logging and animal farming.

 

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#83. Traffic technicians

- Average annual wage: $52,590 (1.7% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 7,470 (0.05 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Mostly employed by local and state governments, traffic technicians study the volume and speed of traffic to determine the effectiveness of traffic lights and signs. The New York-New Jersey metro area employs the largest number of traffic technicians in the country.

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#82. Rail yard engineers, dinkey operators, and hostlers

- Average annual wage: $52,690 (1.5% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 5,400 (0.04 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Kids who grew up playing with toy trains might be interested in becoming rail yard engineers, dinkey operators, and hostlers—these workers drive locomotives and other machinery at railroad yards, industrial plants, or other construction sites. Most jobs in this profession are clustered in the southern and eastern United States.

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#81. Fabric and apparel patternmakers

- Average annual wage: $52,740 (1.4% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 5,870 (0.04 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Fashion plates and keen crafters alike might be interested in this line of work. Fabric and apparel patternmakers cut and create the master patterns used to make all kinds of clothes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many fashion brands pivoted to producing cloth face masks instead of their normal apparel—an endeavor that relies on the work of patternmakers.

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#80. Carpenters

- Average annual wage: $52,850 (1.2% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 734,170 (5 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Though you don’t need a college degree to become a carpenter, you will likely need to complete an apprenticeship or additional on-the-job training. Carpenters work on everything from interior home remodels to the construction of bridges and highways. Furthermore, the number of carpenter jobs is expected to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028, thanks to a boom in homebuilding.

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#79. Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists

- Average annual wage: $53,350 (0.3% lower than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 2,160 (0.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Primarily employed by state and local governments, forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists play a crucial role in the prevention and management of forest fires. These employees not only inspect woods and forests for fire hazards, but they also enforce regulations and recommend fire control methods.

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#78. Choreographers

- Average annual wage: $53,590 (0.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 4,630 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Although some choreographers might choose to study dance at the university level, the profession doesn’t have any degree requirements. That said, most of these dance professionals will continue learning new types of dance throughout their careers. With Broadway performances canceled and other local theaters following suit, many choreographers and other performers were forced out of work due to the pandemic.

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#77. Insulation workers, mechanical

- Average annual wage: $54,120 (1.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 26,670 (0.18 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Mechanical insulation workers install and replace the insulation in homes, offices, and other buildings, often working in extreme heat or cold. Between 2018 and 2028, jobs for insulation workers are projected to grow 5%—mirroring the nationwide average for all occupations.

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#76. Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

- Average annual wage: $54,210 (1.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 405,750 (2.76 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

The job of operating engineers or other construction equipment operators likely involves some kind of heavy machinery, whether that’s a bulldozer, compressor, front-end loader, or something else. Given the scale of equipment involved, it’s no wonder that this job requires significant on-the-job training.

 

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#75. Sheet metal workers

- Average annual wage: $54,480 (1.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 131,300 (0.89 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Sheet metal workers typically learn how to create and install metal pieces like ducts, control boxes, and drainpipes through an apprenticeship. Most sheet metal workers are employed by contractors or companies that produce metal products.

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#74. Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

- Average annual wage: $54,650 (2.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 18,870 (0.13 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers are responsible for placing and securing steel bars and mesh in concrete to reinforce it. They primarily work on the foundations and structures of buildings, bridges, and highways.

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#73. Mobile heavy equipment mechanics, except engines

- Average annual wage: $54,840 (2.5% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 147,800 (1.01 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

What happens when the bulldozer breaks down on the construction site? Mobile heavy equipment mechanics diagnose the problem and repair the equipment. The majority of these skilled workers are employed by machinery wholesalers, though a smaller number work for contractors, local governments, and highway construction crews.

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#72. Wellhead pumpers

- Average annual wage: $55,080 (3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 12,970 (0.09 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Wellhead pumpers run power pumps and other equipment in oil fields to produce a flow of gas or oil. The highest concentration of wellhead pumper jobs are located in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Pennsylvania.

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#71. Brokerage clerks

- Average annual wage: $55,190 (3.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 47,990 (0.33 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

When stocks are purchased, a brokerage clerk is likely involved at some stage of the process. These clerks write orders for purchases and sales, compute transfer taxes, verify stock transactions, distribute dividends, and perform related recordkeeping duties.

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#70. Industrial machinery mechanics

- Average annual wage: $55,320 (3.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 387,630 (2.64 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Whether industrial machinery mechanics work at a chemical plant, machinery wholesaler, or plastics factory, their jobs usually entail installing, adjusting, repairing, and maintaining complex machinery. Wyoming has the highest concentration of workers with this job in the country.

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#69. Hearing aid specialists

- Average annual wage: $55,360 (3.5% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 8,210 (0.06 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

If a person needs a hearing aid, one of these specialists will likely help conduct a hearing test and help fit the hearing aid. Hearing aid specialists work alongside audiologists to do technical work like taking ear impressions and modifying ear molds, typically in a doctor’s office or hospital.

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#68. Refractory materials repairers, except brickmasons

- Average annual wage: $55,750 (4.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 820 (0.01 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Fewer than 100 refractory materials repairers work in the United States, typically in iron and steel mills, foundries, and mineral product manufacturers. They build and repair equipment like boilers, converters, furnaces, and kilns.

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#67. Flight attendants

- Average annual wage: $56,230 (5.1% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 120,840 (0.82 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Although flight attendants must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, they don’t need a college degree to do their jobs. The 10-year forecast for flight attendant jobs predicts a growth rate of about 10%, but that doesn’t account for the sharp decrease in the number of airline passengers and subsequent business turbulence that airlines faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Executives and investors remain cautious about the recovery of the industry.

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#66. Chefs and head cooks

- Average annual wage: $56,310 (5.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 128,190 (0.87 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

While some chefs and head cooks choose to attend culinary school, it’s certainly not a requirement to work in a restaurant kitchen. The combination of a hectic kitchen environment, long hours, and physically-demanding work means that becoming a chef isn’t necessarily an easy career path.

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#65. Terrazzo workers and finishers

- Average annual wage: $56,340 (5.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 2,970 (0.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

These workers produce terrazzo, a highly decorative building material known for its signature mosaic look. The dots of different colors within the terrazzo are the result of combining cement, sand, pigment, and marble chips. This specialized construction work isn’t particularly common in the United States, and the bulk of the jobs for terrazzo workers can be found in California and Illinois.

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#64. Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers

- Average annual wage: $56,460 (5.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 42,940 (0.29 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers fit and install parts like the tail, fuselage, and landing gear on airplanes, missiles, and spacecraft. Workers started to assess post-pandemic career options.

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#63. Occupational health and safety technicians

- Average annual wage: $56,470 (5.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 20,580 (0.14 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Occupational health and safety technicians collect and analyze data on the way a workplace runs to determine whether or not it’s a safe and productive place to work. Most work in local government, though management, technical, and scientific consulting firms had the second highest numbers of these technicians.

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#62. Brickmasons and blockmasons

- Average annual wage: $56,470 (5.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 60,650 (0.41 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Brickmasons and blockmasons build walls, arches, and other structures out of bricks or other blocks. Brickmasons tend to work primarily on residential properties, while blockmasons often work on larger commercial projects. The field is projected to grow 9.7% from 2018 to 2028.

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#61. Rail car repairers

- Average annual wage: $56,810 (6.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 25,930 (0.18 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

If a train breaks down, a rail car repairer will likely diagnose and repair the issue. Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York employ the highest numbers of people in this profession.

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#60. Private detectives and investigators

- Average annual wage: $57,000 (6.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 35,000 (0.24 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Most states require private detectives and investigators to obtain a license, but there’s no educational requirements for this field. Depending on the case, private investigators might spend their time performing research in an office, conducting interviews, or even carrying out surveillance in the field.

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#59. Millwrights

- Average annual wage: $57,050 (6.7% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 47,320 (0.32 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Millwrights are responsible for installing and moving equipment around a job site, according to a layout plan or blueprint. Texas, Michigan, and Ohio employ the highest numbers of millwrights in the country.

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#58. Rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators

- Average annual wage: $57,160 (6.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 16,180 (0.11 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators actually build and maintain the railroad tracks that passenger and cargo trains run on. Most hold jobs in the transportation industry, but mining operations and quarries also require this kind of work.

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#57. Model makers, wood

- Average annual wage: $57,320 (7.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 810 (0.01 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

As the name of the profession implies, wood model makers produce scale precision models of certain products. The vast majority of these professionals work in the furniture industry, but a small number are employed by architectural firms and the federal government.

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#56. Model makers, metal and plastic

- Average annual wage: $57,420 (7.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 4,300 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Similar to wood model makers, metal and plastic model makers use machinery to make scale precision models out of plastic and metal. Although many of these professionals also work in architecture, the automobile industry and machine manufacturing industry also employ hundreds of model makers.

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#55. Airfield operations specialists

- Average annual wage: $57,620 (7.7% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 10,680 (0.07 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

When a plane is coming in for landing or getting ready for takeoff, airfield operations specialists are the professionals who ensure everything runs smoothly. That includes coordinating with air traffic control and on-the-ground maintenance workers, implementing safety procedures, keeping flight records, and monitoring the weather. As states with some of the largest airports, California and Texas employ the largest numbers of airfield operations specialists in the country.

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#54. First-line supervisors of transportation and material moving workers, except aircraft cargo handling supervisors

- Average annual wage: $57,840 (8.1% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 455,390 (3.10 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of transportation and material moving workers, except aircraft cargo handling supervisors oversee the work of material movers and laborers in the warehousing, trucking, delivery, and wholesaling industries. Since there’s always a demand for this kind of work—pandemic or no pandemic—this profession has relatively high job security.

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#53. Aircraft cargo handling supervisors

- Average annual wage: $57,960 (8.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 9,500 (0.07 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Aircraft cargo handling supervisors are in charge of the workers moving suitcases, baggage, and all other cargo from planes to baggage claim. Importantly, they also ensure that any airplane cargo is secure and oriented properly for the plane’s center of gravity. 

 

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#52. Structural iron and steel workers

- Average annual wage: $59,170 (10.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 76,570 (0.52 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Structural iron and steel workers primarily work in the construction and contracting industry, placing iron and steel columns, girders, and structural pieces in buildings and other projects. The number of jobs for these workers is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, primarily due to the increase in commercial construction projects such as high-rise buildings. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the commercial construction industry to contract, but studies suggest that it’s well poised to recover from the crisis.

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#51. Roof bolters, mining

- Average annual wage: $59,560 (11.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 3,140 (0.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Although there are just a few thousand jobs for mining roof bolters in the entire United States, it remains a lucrative career path for high school graduates who are willing to undergo the job training needed. Most of these employees work in coal mining, with the bulk of the jobs concentrated in West Virginia and Kentucky. 

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#50. Telecommunications line installers and repairers

- Average annual wage: $59,670 (11.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 120,900 (0.82 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Telecommunications line installers and repairers lay the cable and fiber optic networks that bring internet, phone service, and cable to homes and offices. Demand for this job is predicted to remain steady from 2018 to 2028—no surprise, given the country’s reliance on the internet.

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#49. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

- Average annual wage: $59,800 (11.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 442,870 (3.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair the pipes that are so essential to indoor plumbing. Though only a high school diploma is needed to begin an on-the-job apprenticeship, some plumbers do attend vocational school. Additionally, most states require plumbers to be licensed.

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#48. Food service managers

- Average annual wage: $59,820 (11.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 235,470 (1.60 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Although food service managers work in restaurants, they don’t actually cook. Instead, they coordinate and direct every aspect of service. Many food service managers saw their work disrupted or lost their jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants across the country to close. Experts don't expect the industry to fully recover until 2022.

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Oil and Gas Photographer // Shutterstock

#47. Control and valve installers and repairers, except mechanical door

- Average annual wage: $59,920 (12% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 52,270 (0.36 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Thermostats, gas regulators, electric meters, and other mechanical governors are the domain of control and valve installers and repairers. Most of these professionals are employed by the natural gas industry, with the electric power industry coming in slightly behind.

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#46. First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers

- Average annual wage: $60,130 (12.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 1,487,870 (10.13 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

This massive job category employed more than 1.4 million Americans in 2019. The largest proportion of first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers work in the credit industry, but large numbers also work in doctor’s offices, local government, corporate management, and food and beverage stores.

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#45. Electricians

- Average annual wage: $60,370 (12.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 688,620 (4.69 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Most electricians learn the trade through an apprenticeship, though smaller numbers attend vocational school. Nearly all electricians must be licensed by their state. The growth rate for the profession from 2018 to 2028 is projected to hit 10%, driven in part by the construction of new homes.

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#44. Crane and tower operators

- Average annual wage: $60,530 (13.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 45,480 (0.31 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Crane and tower operators drive huge pieces of machinery and use them to move materials or products at a variety of job sites. Texas, California, and Florida employ the largest numbers of crane and tower operators in the country.

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#43. Real estate sales agents

- Average annual wage: $62,060 (16% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 162,330 (1.11 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

When shopping for a new home, a real estate sales agent will likely help the buyer find listings, tour properties, discuss the conditions of sale, and eventually draw up a contract. Although no college degree is required, it’s necessary to pass a licensing exam to become a real estate sales agent.

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#42. Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators and locomotive firers

- Average annual wage: $62,380 (16.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 11,080 (0.08 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators and locomotive firers literally keep the trains on the tracks. These workers operate railroad switches, uncouple or couple stock cars, break up trains, relay traffic signals, and watch for obstacles on the tracks to ensure everything runs smoothly. Illinois employs the largest number of these employees in the country.

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#41. Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators

- Average annual wage: $62,710 (17.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 3,440 (0.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators use engine-driven compressors to transmit or recover gases such as butane, nitrogen, hydrogen, and natural gas. Only a few thousand jobs exist nationwide, with the largest numbers in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and North Dakota.

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#40. Chemical plant and system operators

- Average annual wage: $62,710 (17.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 28,840 (0.20 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

The vast majority of chemical plant and system operators work in chemical manufacturing, although a smaller number work in petroleum products and pharmaceutical manufacturing. The highest concentration of these jobs can be found in Louisiana.

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#39. Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants

- Average annual wage: $62,920 (17.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 542,690 (3.70 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

The duties of executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants vary depending on the industry and the executive they support, but likely includes some combination of scheduling meetings, preparing correspondence, and conducting research. The largest number of executive secretaries and administrative assistance work in higher education, local government, and corporate management.

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#38. Patternmakers, wood

- Average annual wage: $63,490 (18.7% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 370 (0.00 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Wood patternmakers construct the models used to form sand molds for casting, primarily in the furniture manufacturing industry. Nearly all the jobs in this profession are located in Michigan, where Grand Rapids was once known as “Furniture City” and had a reputation as the global leader in fine wooden furniture.

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#37. Lodging managers

- Average annual wage: $63,570 (18.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 38,340 (0.26 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Anywhere that provides temporary accommodations for travelers likely has a lodging manager on site to direct and coordinate the staff’s efforts. The vast majority work at hotels, motels, and resorts, but some lodging managers also operate campgrounds and RV parks.

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#36. Subway and streetcar operators

- Average annual wage: $63,770 (19.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 10,730 (0.07 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Anyone who takes public transportation regularly likely has a strong appreciation for the subway and streetcar operators that help get passengers to their destinations. Most are employed by state or local governments—California boasts the highest number of these employees.

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#35. Construction and building inspectors

- Average annual wage: $64,390 (20.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 110,420 (0.75 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Anyone who’s ever watched a home renovation TV show knows that passing inspection is a crucial part of the process, and a construction and building inspector needs to sign off on a home before construction can be considered complete. No college degree is required to become an inspector, but you might need to become licensed or certified by your city or state.

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#34. Advertising sales agents

- Average annual wage: $64,660 (20.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 129,740 (0.88 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Although some advertising sales agents have bachelor’s degrees, there’s no higher education requirement to do this job. These salespeople work at radio stations, TV networks, internet publishing companies, ad agencies, and other industries, but all work to meet their quotas by selling a certain number of advertising spots to clients. 

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#33. Boilermakers

- Average annual wage: $65,040 (21.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 15,820 (0.11 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

After completing an apprenticeship, boilermakers install, assemble, repair, and maintain boilers in buildings ranging from apartments to offices to construction sites. This work is physically demanding and can require lots of travel, so prospective applicants will have to think carefully about whether they want to take it on.

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#32. First-line supervisors of production and operating workers

- Average annual wage: $65,220 (21.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 631,100 (4.30 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of production and operating workers usually work in manufacturing, whether of plastic products, motor vehicle parts, machinery, or metal products. They oversee the work of a team of production workers, including inspectors and precision workers.

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#31. Stationary engineers and boiler operators

- Average annual wage: $65,970 (23.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 32,520 (0.22 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Regardless of the industry, stationary engineers and boiler operators work on mechanical equipment such as boilers and stationary engines. Many work in manufacturing, hospitals, and government facilities, and often work night and weekend shifts.

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#30. Police and sheriff's patrol officers

- Average annual wage: $67,600 (26.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 665,280 (4.53 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Duties of police and sheriff's patrol officers range from something as mundane as issuing a parking ticket or directing traffic to apprehending suspects and patrolling neighborhoods. The vast majority are employed by local governments, and often must pass an entrance exam, fitness test, polygraph exam, and meet other requirements before entering the police academy.

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#29. Insurance sales agents

- Average annual wage: $67,780 (26.7% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 410,050 (2.79 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Insurance sales agents typically work at a brokerage or insurance carrier and contact potential clients to sell them life, property, renter’s, automotive, and other types of insurance. Most states require insurance agents to be licensed, but requirements vary from state to state.

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#28. Railroad conductors and yardmasters

- Average annual wage: $68,350 (27.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 45,710 (0.31 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Railroad conductors and yardmasters take charge of rail yards, coordinating crews, reviewing train schedules, and generally coordinating workers’ activities. The largest number of railroad conductors work in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio.

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#27. Claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators

- Average annual wage: $68,940 (28.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 287,960 (1.96 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

After an insurance claim is made, claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators review them to determine that payments and settlements are made accurately and in accordance with company policies. Most of these professionals work at insurance carriers or brokerages, with smaller numbers working for the federal government or state governments.

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#26. First-line supervisors of correctional officers

- Average annual wage: $69,000 (29% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 46,430 (0.32 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of correctional officers oversee the activities of correctional officers in jails and prisons. Most are employed by state and local governments. California and Texas boast the largest number of jobs for these supervisors.

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#25. Pile driver operators

- Average annual wage: $70,230 (31.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 3,540 (0.02 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Pile driver operators drive large machines used to place piles, or vertical elements of deep foundations, for the construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures. As the construction industry grows from 2018 to 2028, jobs for pile drivers and other construction professionals are likely to become more prevalent.

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#24. First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers

- Average annual wage: $70,550 (31.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 485,700 (3.31 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers oversee the work of those professionals at automotive repair companies, real estate projects, building equipment contractors, and car dealerships. These jobs will likely remain steady as Americans remain dependent on cars.

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#23. Gas plant operators

- Average annual wage: $71,050 (32.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 14,410 (0.10 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Gas plant operators distribute natural gas for utility companies through a system of pressurized pipelines. Natural gas consumption in the U.S. was lower across most sectors in 2020, but global demand, including the United States, is expected to stay stable or grow through 2025.

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#22. Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

- Average annual wage: $71,110 (32.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 1,344,530 (9.15 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

A good salesperson can sell just about anything: The trick of the trade lies in knowing your product well and knowing how to market it to prospective clients. As long as sales representatives have the soft skills necessary, they don’t need any education beyond a high school diploma.

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#21. Transit and railroad police

- Average annual wage: $71,120 (33% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 4,690 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Transit and railroad police protect railroad and transit property on behalf of transportation agencies or state and local governments. Most transit and railroad police jobs are located in New York, likely as part of local transit agencies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the New York City subway system.

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#20. First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers

- Average annual wage: $71,440 (33.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 626,180 (4.26 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers supervise workers at construction sites for residential homes, commercial properties, civil projects, and more. Like all jobs in the construction industry, employment opportunities for first-line supervisors are projected to grow alongside the industry.

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#19. Locomotive engineers

- Average annual wage: $71,570 (33.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 35,520 (0.24 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

All aboard! Locomotive engineers drive trains used to transport passengers or freight, as well as interpret signals and comply with railroad rules and regulations. COVID-19 forced some Americans to question whether rail travel was safe, but freight trains and their locomotive engineers continued to play a crucial role in moving goods across the country.

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#18. Property, real estate, and community association managers

- Average annual wage: $71,720 (34.1% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 220,750 (1.50 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

When touring a prospective apartment or office space, a property, real estate, or community association manager might be the person leading the way. These professionals also liaise with tenants and owners, inspect the grounds, and lease properties. Although some employers might favor applicants with college degrees, a high school diploma is the only job requirement for this profession.

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Luisa Leal Photography // Shutterstock

#17. Electrical power-line installers and repairers

- Average annual wage: $71,960 (34.5% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 111,660 (0.76 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Whether they’re repairing lines and cables or erecting huge poles, electrical power-line installers and repairers install and maintain the power lines that bring electricity to homes and businesses. Most of these workers are employed by utility companies, electric power companies, or local governments.

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#16. Signal and track switch repairers

- Average annual wage: $72,690 (35.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 6,860 (0.05 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Signal and track switch repairers install and maintain the electric gate crossings, signals, signal equipment, track switches, section lines, and other systems within railroad tracks. New York employs the largest number of these employees in the country.

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#15. Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers

- Average annual wage: $73,830 (38% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 40,370 (0.28 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

The overwhelming majority of petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers work for petroleum and coal products manufacturing companies, though a smaller number work in the oil and natural gas industries. Texas employs the bulk of these workers, thanks to its position as the leading producer of crude oil in the country.

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#14. Transportation inspectors

- Average annual wage: $77,530 (44.9% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 30,020 (0.20 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Transportation inspectors monitor freight trains and passenger trains for safety, and typically work for either railroad companies or federal, state, or local governments. Jobs for this occupation are expected to grow 5.9% between 2016 and 2026.

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#13. Postmasters and mail superintendents

- Average annual wage: $78,220 (46.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 13,850 (0.09 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Postmasters and mail superintendents orchestrate the operations of an entire post office, from administrative tasks to coordinating workers’ activities. However, as automated systems take over the jobs of some postal workers, jobs for postmasters and superintendents might also become less common.

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#12. Power plant operators

- Average annual wage: $79,370 (48.4% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 33,620 (0.23 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Power plant operators generate electric power by using specialized machines, and typically work for either electric companies or local governments. States with large populations—and heavy demand for electricity—like California and New York boast the highest number of jobs for this occupation.

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#11. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

- Average annual wage: $80,360 (50.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 5,060 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers. The closures of huge food processing plants due to outbreaks and loss of business from shuttered restaurants and commercial kitchens caused the industry to take a dip, but experts say it’s poised to bounce back. Over the past few decades, job growth for farmers has held steady as increased agricultural efficiency has consolidated the country’s food production into a smaller number of large farms.

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#10. Real estate brokers

- Average annual wage: $81,450 (52.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 42,730 (0.29 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Although real estate brokers often work alongside real estate sales agents, brokers oversee the transactions that sales agents bring in—leading them to earn a higher average annual wage. Brokers must also complete additional education beyond the sales agent level and pass a state licensing exam.

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#9. Elevator and escalator installers and repairers

- Average annual wage: $83,250 (55.6% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 28,350 (0.19 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: apprenticeship

Elevator and escalator installers and repairers work on the elevators and escalators in residential buildings, offices, malls, airports, and all other locations. After learning the skills they need through an apprenticeship, most of these workers will also have to become licensed through their state.

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#8. Gambling managers

- Average annual wage: $84,700 (58.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 4,450 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

In a casino, gambling managers take charge of the entire gambling floor, from staffing needs to the house rules. California, home to 69 casinos, and Nevada, home of gambling haven Las Vegas, employ the largest numbers of gambling managers in the country.

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#7. Detectives and criminal investigators

- Average annual wage: $86,030 (60.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 105,620 (0.72 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

Detectives and criminal investigators work for federal, state, or local governments to prevent and investigate crimes. In most police departments, the only way to become a detective is through first becoming a police officer and being promoted through the ranks.

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#6. First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers

- Average annual wage: $86,180 (61.1% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 249,090 (1.70 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

Budgeting, hiring, accounting, and personnel management are just a few of the duties of first-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers. Electronics and appliance stores, creditors, and wholesalers employ most of these supervising employees.

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#5. Power distributors and dispatchers

- Average annual wage: $88,910 (66.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 10,770 (0.07 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Power distributors and dispatchers work for power companies or local governments to coordinate, distribute, or regulate electricity or steam. Although the country’s dependence on electricity continues to grow, jobs in this field are expected to decline as technological advances make the nation more energy-efficient.

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#4. First-line supervisors of police and detectives

- Average annual wage: $94,950 (77.5% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 121,340 (0.83 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

First-line supervisors of police and detectives supervise and coordinate the overall operations of a police force, whether they work at the local, state, or federal level. Smaller numbers of these supervisors also work at junior colleges and four-year universities on university police forces.

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#3. Nuclear power reactor operators

- Average annual wage: $100,990 (88.8% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 5,050 (0.03 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: long-term on-the-job training

Talk about a high-pressure job. Nuclear power reactor operators are responsible for controlling the equipment and controls at nuclear power plants, as well as responding to any abnormalities or emergencies when needed. New York employs the highest numbers of nuclear power reactor operators in the country, and gets more than a third of its electricity from nuclear power.

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#2. Commercial pilots

- Average annual wage: $102,870 (92.3% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 37,830 (0.26 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: moderate-term on-the-job training

For anyone who dreams of taking flight, a career as a commercial pilot might be the right choice. Aspiring commercial pilots must log at least 250 hours of flight experience, hold a second-class medical certificate, pass the Federal Aviation Administration written exam, complete additional flight training, and pass a checkflight to earn their license. Unlike airline pilots, commercial pilots might also fly helicopters, cargo planes, or backcountry flights.

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#1. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers

- Average annual wage: $103,320 (93.2% higher than average U.S. income)
- Employment: 132,040 (0.90 per 1,000 jobs)
- Job training: none

The most lucrative job for high school graduates in the United States is as a transportation, storage, and distribution manager. These employees plan and coordinate transportation, storage, and distribution of products according to their employer’s best practices as well as laws and regulations. Most of these managers work in either warehousing, trucking, or company management, although smaller numbers work for local governments or the federal government.

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