The Best Jobs Without A College Degree 2017 (In One Simple Chart)

Tyler Durden's picture

The Great Recession destroyed the job market for workers without college degrees, and the situation hasn’t gotten any better.

This begs the question - can you still enjoy a high standard of living without a college degree? And what are the highest paying jobs for people without a traditional higher education?

This new chart, from, sheds some light on these pressing questions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks which professions do not require a college education, how many people currently hold those jobs, and their median salaries. We combined this information into a scatter plot graph. The more dots you see, the more people work in that profession. And the higher the dots on the vertical axis, the more money they make.

You can quickly see some pretty interesting trends. There are a lot of people without college degrees who make a great living. The median household income in the U.S. is $56,516. By that standard, all the jobs on our chart pay well above average.

Specialization is the key to earning a high wage, especially in an area that cannot be outsourced. Elevator installers, power plant operators, transportation inspectors—these are all professions that require a high level of skill and must be done in person by someone with years of experience and certifications. Regardless of how automation affects the economy, you won’t ever be able to replace jobs like firefighting and law enforcement, despite what futuristic movies like Minority Report may have you believe.

Top Ten Highest Paying Jobs Without Needing a Degree 

1. Nuclear power reactor operator - $91,170 (salary) & 7,170 (workers)

2. Transport manager - $89,190 (salary) & 113,270 (workers)

3. Police supervisor - $84,840 (salary) & 100,200 (workers)

4. Power distributor - $81,900 (salary) & 11,380 (workers)

5. Elevator installer - $78,890 (salary) & 22,240 (workers)

6. Detective - $78,120 (salary) & 104,980 (workers)

7. Commercial pilot - $77,200 (salary) & 38,980 (workers)

8. Media equipment worker - $75,700 (salary) & 18,620 (workers)

9. Electrician - $75,670 (salary) & 23,060 (workers)

10. Power plant operator - $74,690 (salary) & 35,010 (workers)

And now, a word of caution. The top 25 professions where you don’t need a college degree only employ about 1.4 million people. That’s a lot of people, but the entire working population in the U.S. is over 205 million people. In other words, these jobs not only demand years of experience and specialization, but they’re also pretty rare. And don’t be mistaken: you may not need a college degree, but you do need some type of post-secondary training. You can’t just graduate high school and start your own electrical company. You have to work as an apprentice or join a training program first.

That being said, it’s still possible for people without a formal college education to earn a respectable salary. The big takeaway from our chart is that you want to be in a position that can’t easily be replaced through automation or outsourcing. If you can find a career like that, then you’re in good shape to enjoy a high standard of living.

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Stackers's picture

Left crane operator off there. Good crane operator can make six figures easy.

TuPhat's picture

I know a lot of people that make more than number 1 without degrees but if you  want those jobs today you will have to have at least an associate degree.

idea_hamster's picture

Most of these jobs are highly unionized, so way to plug unions ZH.

totenkopf88's picture

Police and Firefighter lieutenants make $120K+ in a lot of shitty little suburbs across America. 

SafelyGraze's picture

multilevel marketing

recruit people to join your organization for a monthly fee

then they recruit others to join your organization, sharing the monthly fee with you

and so forth

make money fast


Goldennutz's picture

Qualification # 1--- Must be a scumbag


Qualification # 2--- See qualification # 1 

greenskeeper carl's picture

If i could do it all ove again, Id have gone straight into a welder type trade school right out of high school and never set foot in a college. Buying the truck and all the equipment is an expensive investment, but many of those guys are self employed and work 40-60 hours a week or more and make a killing. No boss, no employees, just them and their equipment. Underwater welders make a killing too, but thats a good bit more dangerous.

Anteater's picture

You didn't miss anything. Welding is like needle-point, and if

you're in ship repair, welding is like fiery needles stabbing your

body from hot slag. I was in a bar in Alaska telling some guy

I was a welder-fitter on the fishing boats, and showed him the

slag pockmarks burned into my arms. He smiled and pulled

his shirt up, his entire chest from collar to sternum looked

like silly putty, pockmarks on pockmarks. AK pipeline welder.

You're much better off to be a CNC tool-and-die machinist.

That was where I had my most fun. Got up to 5-axis mill,

but the office fuckers would never pay me more than $28.

Now I think they have Hindus in Mumbai write CNC code,

and the machine is automated, all you do is change parts.

Learn any trade that isn't connected to the Hindu internet.

Anteater's picture

Hitched a ride crosstown in NYC with the guy who owned FHS

(Feminine Hygiene Spray). He offered me a better than newbie

slot on his upline, if I could convince hippie chicks that their

pussy smelled and crack that new market for him. Plus bene's!


consider me gone's picture

While I am no fan of unions, a man has got to feed and care for his family one way or the other. That's just life pure and simple. That's the rationale for much injustice but it's a massively powerful motivation. 

greenskeeper carl's picture

Im no big fan of unions either, but I reserve most on my endemnity for public sector unions. They are the scourge of the job market. Many otherwise honest jobs require joining one.


The sea vessel captain one is a bit misleading, the range of pay for that is huge. You can get a license in a week or two, but it will be for a very small vessel starting out, and unless you know someone, you aren't getting a captain job, and even if you do, the pay is often shit on smaller boats. In order to move up to bigger vessels where the pay is good, you will have to have time on larger boats as something other than a captain to move up on your license. The 500 ton is where you start to get to the real money, and it can take years, decades to get there, and you aren't making 72k, not even close, on your way up.


The lack of offshore oil activity has also made those jobs much more scarce, at least here in the gulf coast region. You go to an out of the way place on the water, and you will see dozens of OSVs just sitting there, wasting away, with no work to be had. Louisiana is the worst, driving down to Port Fourchon and Grand Isle, there are hundreds of the things, many of which haven't left the dock in years. Tough business to get into right now.

gatorengineer's picture

Left union iron worker pipe fitter millwright operating engineer etc off.  These are 125k a year jobs with unreal bennies.  These are construction site 6 10 jobs...

totenkopf88's picture

You only find those top-pay union jobs in some big Midwest, NE and CA metropolis areas. You don't make $40-an-hour as an ironworker in Memphis or Little Rock.

Stackers's picture

Yeah, but the cost of living is so much cheaper that you dont need to make $50/hr... I know plenty of non-union operators throughout the south making $30+/hr plus time and half and a nice company truck to drive

blown income's picture

I am a collision refinish tech, also do fiberglass and light body work and maintain a income better than the top on that chart ...But , you have to work hard , constantly trying to improve work flow and use time very wise.


long hours ..

SubjectivObject's picture

watch those synthetic solvent aerosols

i'd need a respirator

dirty fingernails's picture

I'm an operating engineer and I'll top out in my job at 61k. I'm not complaining, and I could make more, but its close to home, I work alone, and its stupid easy with lots of free time.

buzzkillb's picture

Yeah another engineer always mentions how the pipe fitters make more than most of the engineers. And adds to that they don't need college degrees. Sounds good to me.

HRClinton's picture

Left out:


Spec Ops trained Contractor


Gen. Ripper's picture

Federal workers all make around 100k - even the illiterate negroes

migra's picture

They didn't liost air traffic controllers either. They can make 100 to 120k with over time.

Bonaparte's picture

That may be so now, but in 1972 I went to school to be a crane/dragline operator there were few entry jobs then. I was offered $408 per month then and I left that on the table. I took another low paying job for twice that as a welder. 

TuPhat's picture

Here's the answer: Yes, but you have to be smart and work hard.

Tegrat's picture

I hear bankers get well into 6 digits 3 years


NoDebt's picture

Underwater welder!  (If I had it to do all over again I would be an underwater welder.  No joke.  Mentioned it many times on ZH.  Money is good and if anything goes wrong you're dead in less than a second.  Either way, you're set for life.)


Sector Catalyst's picture

Most underwater welders have a shelf life of about 10-12 years.

Jack's Raging Bile Duct's picture

As someone connected to the industry, it's dead. Very little to weld underwater anyway--mostly just inspect. Demand for any sort of underwater work has been gone for a long time and is not poised to return any time soon. There is a glut of divers chasing very little work. There is actually more work inland inspecting things like water towers than there is off-shore. Right now if you're doing diving work offshore, it's probably for the military.

Anteater's picture

I built my own business inspecting water towers and reservoirs, and did

fairly well, the only business I had where I was able to hire an employee,

but a string of horrible fatalities from the nincompoop wannabes getting 

sucked into the water piping, or telling someone they peed in the water

killed that business. It's all done by ROV now, for the most part, as it's

way too bulky to climb a 100-foot tower with a hookah setup SuperLite.

Had some great memories from that, swimming slow spirals in a pitch

dark tank, with a Nikonos and a wet suit and no haul-back out rigging,

even when you went into deco, and had to hang there in the darkness.

We snorked out the mud from the bottoms of the tanks too. My buddy

was cleaning out one tank, totally in darkness except for his headlamp,

and found a pile of mummified bat bones. I actually heard him scream.

consider me gone's picture

As a diver, I thought about that for a while till I talked with one at length. Decompression just is not my thang. Plus, the bends and permanent brain  damage from repetitive high pressure dives didn't exactly thrill me to action. Maybe it's just me.

BlindMonkey's picture



You can make more than that and most employers (outside Silly Valley) will only care that you can code or do sys admin work.

Overleveraged_and_Impatient's picture

People if you want to make decent money you have to get into sales. Automotive, real estate, insurance, medical equipment, forklifts, printers/scanners, whatever. A solid base play + commision sales job can get you into the 6 figures. All you need is a decent place to work that is relatively busy, phone/email skills and be hungry for money. Sometimes it's slow, other times its too busy to handle. Save money and have good habits.



Manipuflation's picture

Yeah, I have been in sales for years.  What are we selling? 

roddy6667's picture

Most people would starve to death as a salesman. It is not for everybody. I sold houses, cars, insurance, mutual funds, electronics, and more. Most sales trainees wash out early.

MsCreant's picture

I did sales for a while. I carry the skillset with me as an educator. I sell my students the material. I am immodest saying this, but I get excellent feedback and know it is the sales background. I am not boring or afraid of them. 

Theosebes Goodfellow's picture

I have to agree with Roddy & Ms. Creant. Having sales skills means you can use them elsewhere for the rest of your life. Trump may have written a book called "The Art of the Deal", but sales is a science. If you learn the science you can apply it to any product or service. Dr. Donald Moine proved that using NLP and wrote several books about it. Once you master it, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

"Wouldn't you say that everyone could be better if they had better sales skills?" 

Framing for the "yes".


Umh's picture

My mother could sell almost anything and over the years she did well. The part that always amazed me was that she sold herself on the products. She convinced herself that these were the best cars, furniture ... in the world.

meterman's picture

I hired and trained salesman for my rep business for over 40 years. Only one in 100,000 has the skills and intelligence to sell - regardless of the amount and quality of the training they receive. BELIEVE IT.

Manipuflation's picture

Black Market Trader is number one. 

chubbyjjfong's picture

I dont see the dude who coins 7k a month on the interweb. There must be some kind of mistake!

indaknow's picture

This was the wrong chart. If you send me a hundred bucks I'll provide  you with the correct one. 

mkkby's picture

A lot of Homer Simpsons making 90k. We are doomed.

consider me gone's picture

He retired. But he'll be back when his mom wakes him at noon.

c2nnib2l's picture

Lumberjack can make a good living, tank drivers, crane operators as already mentioned, I've heard prostitutes can earn a fortune from $500-$1000K per day ;)  

hmmmstrange's picture

"I've heard prostitutes can earn a fortune from $500-$1000K per day ;)" 

I call bullshit. No way a prostitue makes a million a day.

kermudgen's picture

I could see it happening. Say a former high level gov. twat decided to create an organization that would fund all her dreams.  If she gave speeches at Goldman, Chase, BoA and DB, I could see that enterprising old hag bringing home a million bucks. And maybe some hard cash earned the old fasion way.


Just saying... 


consider me gone's picture

I tried make prostitution, but my crazy female clients kept insisting I owed them money when it was over. Well, I had had enough of that. I quit.

buzzardsluck's picture

Anyone else see this chart and think that we are fucked?