Few careers can match the construction industry when it comes to the satisfaction of a job well done; the hours may be long and the conditions unpredictable, but the fruits of your labour are set permanently (and literally!) in stone for all to see.
There is also a lot of variety on offer. The locations change, the challenges differ and there is the opportunity to be involved in dynamic and exciting projects.
For many positions, it is not even necessary to go to university. Indeed, with the construction industry offering some of the best nongraduate salaries on the market, there is sure to be something that piques your interest and your skillset.
To help, we’ve compiled a handy list of the highest paying trades and professions on both sides of the Atlantic, so dust off your tools and read on: this is where the money’s at…
Sometimes referred to as dogsbodies or, perhaps less disparagingly, as jacks of all trades, labourers are a staple of all building sites. They carry out a wide range of tasks as required and are usually found assisting other skilled trade personnel in their work.
As the name suggests, much of this work is highly physical, with labourers expected to toil and carry heavy loads for long hours.
There are no formal education requirements to be a labourer.
Average Salary: $32,230 / £18,200
19. Painter and Decorator
If you enjoy spending time on ladders, painting and decorating may be an option. Don’t be fooled, though: things aren’t as simple as splashing on a few coats in between tea breaks.
Professional painters and decorators are required to prepare surfaces thoroughly and produce high-quality finishes on a wide variety of materials, often across large spaces and to client specifications. On the plus side, there are a lot more opportunities for smaller, independent contractor work.
Average Salary: $37,570 / £24,260
As you might expect, roofers are responsible for building and finishing roofs through the use of a wide range of techniques and materials, including asphalt, metals and shingles.
The large majority of roofers enter the trade via an apprenticeship, although you should also be patient (due to the craft nature of the work) and, of course, comfortable with heights.
Average Salary: $37,760 / £23,500
17. Flooring Installer
No prizes for guessing what these guys are responsible for!
Flooring installers lay a wide variety of materials internally and externally depending on the specifications of the client and the interior designer. Such materials can include laminate, linoleum and vinyl, as well as more traditional types of flooring like cement, carpet, real wood or tile.
They usually undergo informal apprenticeships and learn much of the trade through on-the-job training.
Average Salary: $39,150 / £28,195
16. Solar Panel Installer / Solar Voltaic Installer
Solar voltaic (or photovoltaic) installers work closely with roofers to assemble and install solar energy systems on roofs and other structures, taking responsibility for the measuring, cutting and bolting of structural frames.
As a relatively new technology, there is no defined entry pathway into solar installation, although many third-party education providers offer short and medium-term training courses. Many self-employed electricians also train in this field in order to widen their skillset.
Average Salary: $39,240 / £30,000
15. Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Removal Worker
Although this profession is fairly broad and is applicable across a number of industries, hazmat removal is an important part of construction work.
From identifying and removing any dangerous or destructive materials from a particular site to removing asbestos and other hazardous materials during renovation projects, a career in this field pays well and offers a wide range of employment opportunities.
Entry is typically through an apprenticeship scheme.
Average Salary: $40,640 / £29,015
Glaziers are the glass experts of the construction game, utilising the full extent of their knowledge and craftsmanship to install windows, skylights and shop fronts (as well as taking on smaller projects such as table tops, display cases and interior walls).
Glaziers must complete apprenticeships (usually at a minimum of three years) to become proficient in their trade.
Average Salary: $41,290 / £21,320
13. Bricklayer / Mason
Bricklayers are responsible for building walls to strict design specifications, as well as erecting other urban structures, including chimneys, arches and walkways.
Often portrayed as the stereotypical construction worker, they take great pride in the quality of their work, with many preferring to become self-employed as they gain experience and contacts.
Average Salary: $41,330 / £25,098
Despite being one of the oldest professions in the world, carpentry is also a core aspect of modern building design. Carpenters follow strict blueprints and designs to install various structures and fixtures (usually internally), including stairwells, frameworks and windows and doors.
Carpentry apprenticeships are highly popular, and prospective carpenters must possess strong mathematical skills in order to accurately measure, cut and shape materials.
Average Salary: $43,600 / £25,729
11. Equipment Operators
Equipment plant operators – or ‘planties’, as they are often known – are responsible for operating the heavy machinery on construction sites, from large cranes, bulldozers and JCBs to smaller forklifts and cargo trucks.
Each type of machinery requires a license to operate, and after starting as an apprentice, it is likely that you will be invited to attend further relevant training courses as and when required.
Average Salary: $45,040 / £27,699
Plasterers coat internal walls and ceilings with different types of plaster so that they are smooth and ready to be decorated; dexterity and speed are important skills to possess in this job in order to produce high-quality finishes across large spaces.
It’s not just an indoor job, either: plasterers are also required to coat external walls with a variety of materials such as cement or sand.
Average Salary: $45,050 / £23,529
9. Insulation / HVAC Technician
Whether you’re reading this in a cool office in the middle of July or in the cosiness of your warm home while snow rages outside, an HVAC technician has at some point made your current comfort possible.
Specialising in the installation of heating, ventilation, air quality and refrigeration systems, they are experts in a variety of systems that keep temperatures bearable at both ends of the scale.
Although HVAC technicians are usually apprentices, there are several related foundation degree pathways that can be pursued.
Average Salary: $45,910 / £26,605
8. Sheet Metal Worker
Sheet metal workers are skilled tradesmen that fabricate and install a large array of thin metal products, from guttering, signs and siding to heating ducts and air conditioning vents.
Like carpenters, their work requires great precision, as well as the ability to follow blueprints closely. They undergo medium to long-term apprenticeships to develop these essential trade skills.
Average Salary: $46,940 / £24,492
Unlike their more dexterous and flexible sheet metal brethren, ironworkers are concerned only with seriously heavy metal.
Working primarily with iron or steel, they design and build the girders and columns that form the load-bearing structures of entire buildings and bridges. Much of their work includes cutting, positioning and securing steel bars to reinforce concrete, as well as welding and cutting framework metals offsite.
Average Salary: $49,700 / £24,150
Regarded as one of the most secure career paths in any industry, plumbers are not just responsible for turning up at your home when your sink gets blocked; they also work on construction sites, where they install piping, drainage systems and other water, gas and air fixtures.
Construction plumbers also have to be able to read blueprints and building specifications carefully in order to map pipe layouts in the safest and most efficient way possible.
The traditional route of entry, meanwhile, is via an apprenticeship.
Average Salary: $51,450 / £29,136
Another secure and highly skilled apprenticeship option is to become an electrician.
‘Sparkies’, as they are also known, install wiring, control and lighting systems, with an emphasis on efficiency and safety. Aside from construction roles, many electricians also work in a maintenance capacity inspecting and repairing existing electrical systems, making this one of the most durable and versatile trades on the market.
Average Salary: $52,720 / £30,765
4. Building Inspector
Building inspectors take on several important responsibilities at different stages of the construction process, including the review of initial plans and designs to ensure that they adhere to legislature. They also inspect various systems during and after construction, such as plumbing and electrical systems, to ensure the work done meets relevant standards and regulations.
In most cases, this role requires a foundation or undergraduate degree in a relevant field, although it is possible to progress into this role from a related profession such as quantity surveying.
Average Salary: $58,840 / £33,750
Another trade focused on metalwork, boilermakers are responsible for the construction and assembly of steam boilers and boiler house auxiliaries; this involves using power tools and specialist equipment to construct frame tanks or vats to blueprint specifications.
Although boilermakers do exist in the UK, boilers and other standing heating devices are generally produced by specialist welders and maintained by registered gas engineers. All of these specialisms require an apprenticeship.
Average Salary: $62,060 / £26,000
2. Elevator Installer
Proponents of the idea that a high school diploma won’t earn you big bucks, pay attention: elevator installers are some of the top nongraduate earners in the world.
Responsible for assembling, installing and replacing elevators, escalators, chairlifts and other mobile walkways, they also have the luxury of supplementing their income with routine repair and maintenance jobs within existing buildings.
In most cases, you would be required to complete a long-term apprenticeship to get into this field, as well as possess basic qualifications in mechanical and electrical engineering.
Average Salary: $78,890 / £32,000
1. Construction Manager
It makes sense that the highest salary in the business is reserved for the person in charge, though – construction managers are, after all, the glue that binds the entire project together.
They work closely with architects, surveyors and engineers during the design phase to establish schedules, resources and costs, as well as handle all contractor and materials negotiations. They also make regular site visits to ensure everything is running smoothly and on time, and to tackle any issues as and when they arise.
Average Salary: $89,300 / £44,650
It should be noted that construction industries, in general, are often at the mercy of economic conditions and, as such, there are often peaks and troughs in activity. During the global financial crisis in 2008, for example, construction projects in the UK were scarce.
As the economy has recovered, though, investors are building again, with many construction companies again hiring tradesmen to meet project demands, and now is as good a time as ever to get involved in this fast-paced and exciting industry.
Which role would you be best suited to? Let us know in the comments below…
Still lost? Check out our handy guide on finding the right career!
The salaries here are intended as a guide; many trades are paid on an hourly or project-by-project basis. Depending on the size/complexity of the project and the condition of the market, rates offered can be drastically higher or lower at any given time.