THE BLOG

10 Cold Hard Cash Careers That Don't Require a Degree

Not everyone should go to college.

Once upon a time, every proud mama and papa wanted their precious little cherub to grow up to be a rich doctor, lawyer, or banker. Today's landscape has changed. These days it can pay to be a blue-collar worker. And I mean that literally: the U.S. is on track to generate millions of jobs over the next decade, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an additional 2.7 million new blue-collar jobs will exist by 2020.

There's no shame in a blue-collar job. I can't tell you how many people I've met who started on the shop floor and ended up in the chairman's suite. Upward mobility is incredibly possible in the trades, unlike the business world where it's a slow and arduous climb. The trades are a cold hard cash industry!

If you think a cold hard cash career might be for you, you'll be interested in this list of 10 of the fastest growing and best paid jobs in the nation.

1. Aircraft mechanic and service technician.
Average annual salary: $54,500. These are the men and women who make sure our airplanes and helicopters are ready to fly. They diagnose, adjust, repair and overhaul helicopter and aircraft engines. If you're someone who loves tinkering with machines, this could be a great fit. And if you're a U.S. citizen, you don't even need a high school diploma. You must be eighteen, fluent in English, and have either 18 months of practical experience or certification from an FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Pass the oral, practical, and written tests, and you're well on your way. The top 10 percent of people in the field make $74,210 a year--now that's flying high.

2. Rotary drill operator, oil and gas.
Average annual salary: $58,540. Oil and gas is a big industry; why not get a piece of it? Rotary drill operators set up and operate a variety of drills, removing core samples for testing during oil and gas exploration. Alaska is the best-paying state, so if you've always wanted to see the northern lights, this could be the job for you. Stay in the industry long enough and you could be making $94,540 a year.

3. Commercial diver.
Average annual salary: $58,640. You've seen them on TV: they're the ones who get sent into the bay to locate the car that went plummeting off the bridge. In real life the work may be less glamorous, but the pay certainly isn't: the top 10 percent of divers make an average of $94,630 a year. These men and women suit up in their gear and work below the water's surface to inspect, repair, remove and install equipment and structures. Commercial divers use a variety of power and hand tools, such as drills, torches and welding equipment, doing everything from rigging explosives to photographing marine life. If you're a certified diver or have always wanted to work underwater, it might be worth considering. California's the best-paying state, so when you're not diving for work, you can surf for pleasure.

4. Subway and streetcar operator.
Average annual salary: $59,400. The ones you've seen may seem grumpy, but they shouldn't be--they're netting close to 60k each year, and the top 10 percent make $73,280. These workers operate subways, elevated trains and electric-powered streetcars, navigating their passengers through cities big and small. You'll need a high school diploma or equivalent, no previous work experience required.

5. Electric power-line installer and repairer.
Average annual salary: $59,450. There are 105,570 employees currently in this sector, with 36,200 more jobs expected to open up by 2020. As a line installer and repairer, your job would be to install cables and wires used in electrical power and distribution systems. You don't need a college degree to apply and will receive moderate-term job training onsite. I don't care who you are or where you live: there will always be a need for the people who install power-lines. Is that a light bulb I see going on above your head?

6. Registered nurse.

Median salary: $65,690. Never before have RNs been in such high demand; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 711,900 new nursing jobs before the decade's close. Today's nurses enjoy an unemployment rate of only 2 percent--much lower than the national average. And nurses' salaries keep on going up. If you love helping people and want to actually make a life-or-death difference, this could be a great career for you. Most RN positions do require a bachelor's degree, though, so keep that in mind.

7. Transportation inspector.
Average annual salary: $65,770. Transportation inspectors come in all stripes, including freight inspectors, rail inspectors and other inspectors of transportation vehicles. These are the people who inspect equipment and goods in connection with the safe transport of cargo and people. At 65k, the average annual salary ain't bad, but for the top 10 percent it's even better: $110,210. The best-paying area is Washington, D.C., so if you're aching to be in the nation's capital, think about donning an inspector's cap for the ride.

8. Dental hygienist.
Median salary: $69,280. This sector has experienced a phenomenal increase in recent years, and it continues to grow much faster than the national average. Hygienists today have a very low unemployment rate (2.8 percent), which means 97.2 percent of them currently have jobs--and the BLS projects nearly 70,000 new positions in this field by 2020. Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health. The perks are great: you'll earn a comfortable salary while working fewer than 37 hours each week. Here's the really good news: you'll need an associate's degree (two-year) but not a bachelor's (four-year), so you may be able to sidestep a pricey college degree and still make a killing by drilling.

9. Elevator installer and repairer.

Average annual salary: $73,560. Did you know there's a whole industry around elevators? It shouldn't come as a surprise, considering how frequently we use them in everyday life. Elevator installers and repairers assemble and maintain electric and hydraulic freight and passenger elevators, escalators and dumbwaiters--and they get paid extremely well for it (over $105,000 for the top 10 percent in the field). You only need a high school diploma or equivalent, and most installers and repairers get their on-the-job training through an apprenticeship. This one's a little-known gem in the world of maintenance and repair.

10. Physical therapist.
Median salary: $78,270. As people continue to live longer, there will be an ever-increasing need for qualified PTs to work with our aging population, as well as with people who have been injured on account of accidents or illness. The BLS forecasts 77,400 new jobs for physical therapists this decade--the sector is growing at a rate of 39 percent, more than three times faster than the national average. As a PT, your job would be to test, measure and build the coordination, motor function, range of motion and muscle strength of your patients. It's fulfilling work, as you're actually helping people get their lives back. This one won't be easy on the bank, though--you'll most likely need a doctoral or professional degree--so only go this route if you can do so without incurring heavy debt.

If any of these cold hard cash careers pique your interest, I strongly suggest you drill deeper and see what you might find. Forget about the stigma of not having a college degree, and follow the cash flow!

Read more in my newest book, Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids and Money!