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There are many misconceptions about skilled trades. One of the most common is that skilled trade jobs are monotonous, repetitive, and have no opportunities for advancement. In reality, skilled trades offer dynamic and rewarding careers with great potential for advancement and specialization. Those who pursue skilled trade careers are part of an innovative community continually working to challenge the status quo and advance their respective industries. Here are a few examples of highly specialized skilled trade jobs taken on by only the best and brightest in the industry.

1. Structural Iron and Steelworkers

Number of jobs: 98,600

Expected growth: 11%

Average salary: $53,970

These workers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel in skyscrapers, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure. While most of the work is on new projects, ironworkers are also needed in the demolition, decommissioning, and rehabilitation of older buildings and bridges. These jobs usually require a high school diploma and on-the-job training or an apprenticeship. Iron and steelworkers are a vital part of the economy as they are responsible for building future infrastructure.

Iron and steelworkers must be comfortable with heights and able to do physically demanding work. They must be able to identify problems, monitor and assess potential risks, and use logic and reasoning to safely accomplish their tasks. With under ten thousand workers in the United States, these jobs offer a rewarding career with lots of potential for growth.

2. Elevator Installers and Repairers

Number of jobs: 27,000

Expected growth: 10%

Average salary: $79,780

With an expected job growth of 10%, the number of elevator installers and repairers is closely tied to nonresidential construction like office buildings, stores, and hospitals. These workers are responsible for installing new equipment and maintaining older elevators, escalators, and other lifts. Workers must complete a four-year apprenticeship and are required to be licensed in some states.

These jobs are highly technical and require knowledge of blueprint reading, mathematics, applied physics, electrical and digital theory, hydraulics, and electronics. Workers must have critical thinking skills and be able to work in cramped spaces. Ongoing training and certification is important because elevator installers and repairers must keep up with technological development throughout their careers.

3. Solar Panel Installers

Number of jobs: 9,700

Expected growth: 63%

Average salary: $42,680

Technically termed “solar photovoltaic installer”, these workers assemble, install, and maintain solar panels on rooftops and other structures. Becoming a solar panel installer usually requires a high school diploma, on-the-job training, and technical courses at a trade school or community college. Electricians and roofing workers may find themselves especially adept for this job and can complete photovoltaic-specific training modules through apprenticeships. Some solar panel manufacturers may even provide training on specific products.

While there are currently only 9,700 jobs, this occupation is expected to grow 63% over the next ten years. The growing adoption of solar panel installation will be the main driver of new jobs. As solar panels and shingles become more affordable, more residential households are expected to utilize these systems, resulting in a greater demand for these workers. Additionally, the popular method of leasing solar panels (in which homeowners lease rather than purchase systems) should drive even more demand.

4. Wind Turbine Technicians

Number of jobs: 6,600

Expected growth: 57%

Average salary: $54,370

Sustainable energy continues to expand in the U.S., both in terms of improving technology and implementation. Land-based and offshore wind energy has seen massive growth. In 2010, there was a total of 40.18 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity across 27 states. (One gigawatt is equal to about 110 million LED light bulbs.) In 2020, wind capacity has almost tripled (113.43 GW) and is used in 36 states. By 2050, wind capacity is projected to quadruple (404.25 GW) and be utilized across 48 states.

Wind turbine technicians will be a vital part of this expansion. These workers are responsible for installing and maintaining turbines and for incorporating new technology as it becomes available. With average salaries of $54k, there are currently only 6,600 of these jobs in the U.S. Workers may need a certificate or associate degree in wind energy technology from a trade school or community college. This job is expected to grow by 57% over the next ten years, and offers many opportunities for advancement.

5. Underwater Welders

Number of jobs: 3,380

Expected growth: 7%

Average salary: $59k-108k

Underwater welders have one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. These highly skilled workers are responsible for repairing pipelines, offshore oil rigs, ships, dams, underwater habitats, and nuclear power facilities. Underwater welders must complete the American Welding Society (AWS) training and obtain a commercial diving certification. More involved than a recreational SCUBA certification, commercial divers are trained to work in industrial settings and in dangerous conditions.

There are an estimated 3,380 commercial divers in the U.S. The median wage for commercial divers is 59k, but divers can earn as much as 108k per year. Top paying states are Alaska, Washington, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Many divers begin by working on offshore oil rigs. Those who wish for more time at home work on dams, bridges, ports, and shipyards. Most candidates are attracted to diving by a sense of adventure as well as the promise of a well-paying career.

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