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A Complete Guide to Manual Labor Jobs

A Complete Guide to Manual Labor Jobs

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Manual labor jobs are those that rely on using physical strength to manage your workload.

It's a type of job that has historically been viewed as an entry-level job but has evolved to become increasingly complex.

Often referred to as blue-collar jobs, those working in manual positions often find that they are in high demand.

Gone are the days when manual jobs offered minimum wage. Instead, many manual workers are now benefiting from higher salaries as they have highly sought-after specialist skills.

Over the last 30 years, the trend to move towards academic qualifications has meant that many trades (such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters) can demand high salaries because there aren't as many available, qualified workers.

Are Manual Workers Skilled or Unskilled?

There are many different manual workers, often classed as skilled or unskilled.

An unskilled manual labor job is typically a role such as a farmhand, a cleaner or a refuse collector.

Commonly, these jobs do not need any formal education to do them.

In contrast, skilled manual workers usually need to gain additional qualifications to do the job at hand.

For example, electricians, plumbers, plasterers and mechanics are all classed as manual workers because they do not work behind a desk. However, they do need extensive training to work effectively.

There are also semi-skilled manual jobs that rely on some training and experience but no formal qualifications.

Below is a brief example of how manual jobs can differ:

Unskilled Manual Jobs Semi-Skilled Manual Jobs Skilled Manual Jobs
Farmhand Security guard Electrician
Window cleaner Carer Plasterer
Cleaner Hotel porter Plumber
Refuse collector Caretaker/janitor Mechanic
General operative Typist Butcher

What Skills Are Needed for Manual Labor Jobs?

A manual labor job is defined as a job that requires your physicality. Manual jobs are highly hands-on and need you to get your hands dirty – sometimes in a literal sense.

There is no singular skill set or route into employment with such a broad range of jobs. After all, a plumber will need vastly different skills from a janitor, who will differ from a security guard.

However, although we can surmise that no formal qualifications are needed for many roles, it's clear that the evolving world is changing how we work.

As technology changes, so do the capabilities required to work in some of these jobs.

Let's take a car mechanic as an example.

Twenty years ago, being a mechanic was an extremely manual job that required an understanding of different engines and car parts.

These days, electronic components have now replaced many previously manual elements in cars. Many mechanics now have to upskill themselves to learn how to service newer makes and models and the emerging electric vehicles.

Many companies are now investing in manual workers.

Big brands (such as USPS) understand that manual workers can play a huge role in an organization. And as such, these brands have dedicated career development pathways to ensure that these workers have the right skills at each level of their career.

Apprenticeships have also become mainstream.

If you know that you are looking to work in a manual job role, it's relatively simple to gain employment via an apprenticeship.

This is where you can combine practical work with theoretical learning to develop your skills and gain a relevant qualification.

What Are the Advantages of Working a Manual Labor Job?

Many people love working in manual jobs because each day is different.

There are many sectors and opportunities. For example, an electrician could work in-house for a large brand, working across multiple outlets. They could work for an agency providing commercial or domestic services or work independently as contractors.

Regular activity can be good for your physical health. Those who move around much more are less likely to be affected by issues such as a bad back.

Manual workers also report that they are less stressed and can enjoy a better work-life balance.

Since they are physically active and do not need to take their stress home with them, they are also far more likely to have a better night's sleep than their white-collar counterparts.

What Are the Disadvantages of Working a Manual Labor Job?

There's no sugarcoating the fact that manual labor jobs are physically demanding.

You may find that you are forced into early retirement because you are physically not up to the job after a certain age.

There's also a concern that wages may stagnate. Manual labor jobs don't have the same elements of career progression as white-collar job roles, so there is a high chance you could reach a performance ceiling early on in your career.

This could lead to a lack of motivation or desire to push yourself continually.

Top 15 Skilled Manual Labor Career Paths

Here are 15 skilled manual labor jobs that may interest you.

We've provided a brief overview as to the type of job requirements and average salary.

1. Firefighter

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $47,944 per annum

Essential tasks: Firefighters protect communities by putting out fires. They also undertake community education work, helping to prevent fires from starting in the first place.

There are many different types of firefighter roles including firefighter paramedic, firefighter engineer, forest firefighter, air force firefighter and wildland firefighter.

This is a career with lots of variety and significant career progression opportunities.

Education requirements: You will need a high school diploma. To work in the fire service, you may need to complete additional exams and pass a physical assessment.

Some firefighters choose to achieve a degree in fire science or work as emergency medical technicians.

It's also a common career choice for many people who may have left the military.

2. Plumber

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $24.81 per hour

Essential tasks: Plumbers are responsible for installing and maintaining pipes. These may carry water or gas.

Plumbers are often heavily involved in construction work (ensuring that housing developments have access to water) and can work with big businesses and independent contractors.

Domestically, plumbers are often involved in installing bathrooms, toilets, washing machines and maintaining septic tanks.

Education requirements: Many vocational schools and apprenticeships allow you to gain plumbing qualifications.

You may find that your local state requires you to have a specific license to practice.

3. Construction Worker/Laborer

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $16.07 per hour

Essential tasks: This is someone who works on a construction site, primarily involved in building work.

Activities could include installing/dismantling scaffolding, bricklaying, unloading materials and moving debris out of the way.

You will also have to adhere to strict safety procedures.

It's a highly manual job that requires lots of physical labor.

Education requirements: You will need a high school diploma or GED equivalent. There may be opportunities for two to four-year apprenticeships to help you develop new skills.

You may benefit if you have taken high school classes such as woodwork, welding and math.

4. Construction Foreman

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $23.12 per hour

Essential tasks: This is a management or supervisory role on a construction site. Construction foremen will take responsibility for leading projects and ensuring that everything completes on time and on budget.

As well as being involved in the manual building tasks, they will also have to manage and lead teams, manage supplies and work closely with external partners such as architects and clients.

They will also liaise closely with local councils to ensure that planning permissions are granted, and work is in line with legislation.

Education requirements: Most begin with a high school diploma. Some construction foremen may have project management qualifications or degrees in construction management, but it's often a natural progression for those who have worked their way up their career ladder.

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A Complete Guide to Manual Labor Jobs
A Complete Guide to Manual Labor Jobs

5. Telecommunications Technician

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $23.38 per hour

Essential tasks: This is a technical role that ensures that telecoms are kept up and running.

You may be responsible for a business’s telecoms services, including phones, computers and video conferencing software.

You may work in a domestic or commercial environment, helping individuals as well as businesses.

Education requirements: You may need an associate's degree in information technology or computer science, easily achieved through a community college.

This will help you understand how telecoms lines are installed and how they work.

6. Electrical Lineworker

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $80,463 per annum

Essential tasks: Electrical lineworkers are responsible for ensuring that electrical lines are installed in new developments.

You may work for private or public utility companies and be responsible for installing and maintaining electrical poles.

Education requirements: You will need a high school diploma and will likely be asked to complete an apprenticeship.

It typically takes up to three years to qualify as an electrical lineworker.

7. Automotive Mechanic

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $20.96 per hour

Essential tasks: This is someone who diagnoses and fixes issues with cars and other vehicles.

You may have to run performance inspections or routine maintenance checks to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy.

You may specialize in a specific manufacturer, or you could work on many different makes and models.

Education requirements: You should have a high school diploma and have credits in automotive repair or electronics courses.

You will likely need a qualification in automotive service technology and a professional certificate from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

8. Aircraft Mechanic

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $27.99 per hour

Essential tasks: Aircraft mechanics ensure that aircraft are carefully maintained and looked after.

You will identify and diagnose any issues and ensure that all tools are up to standard.

Education requirements: Many people begin work as aircraft mechanics after leaving the military. You will need to have a professional certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration and have 18 months of experience working in airframes or power plants.

To obtain your license, you will need to pass a comprehensive exam covering 43 different technical areas that takes approximately eight hours to complete.

9. Oil Rig Worker

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $24 per hour

Essential tasks: Oil rig workers are responsible for oil rigs.

They will have a wide range of responsibilities such as maintaining productivity from the rig and knowing how to handle explosive chemicals, and will need to ensure that entire teams work together effectively.

They will need to maintain safety standards and comply with all regulations and policies.

Education requirements: You will need to complete a Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training program, which will take three days.

Employers may also require a Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) certificate or a Further Offshore Emergency Training (FOET) certificate.

10. Welder

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $18.04 per hour

Essential tasks: This requires significant experience and expertise in welding materials such as metal. Once the welder has fused two pieces of metal, they need to make a seamless transition.

Often welders work on large architectural jobs such as highway maintenance, bridges and other forms of construction.

As well as inspecting materials, the position requires an understanding of blueprints and diagrams to follow instructions correctly.

Education requirements: You may need to complete a 12 to 18-month welding program and achieve a professional certificate to demonstrate your competence.

There may be opportunities to sign up for apprenticeship programs.

The American Welding Society has published detailed information on the entry criteria.

11. Carpenter

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $20.97 per hour

Essential tasks: Carpenters work with wood. They may be involved in housing construction (such as building wooden frames for houses) or commercial and domestic furniture building.

Carpenters can do everything from building kitchen cabinets to making garden furniture or other small goods.

Education requirements: Many community colleges offer carpentry training qualifications.

You are also advised to participate in an apprenticeship where possible and pass an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety course.

12. Electrician

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled Average salary: $25 per hour

Essential tasks: Electricians are responsible for installing and maintaining power supplies to houses, commercial properties and other buildings.

They need to understand how to install the power lines carefully and adhere to strict safety protocols.

Much of the work is about undertaking inspections and making sure that electrical lines remain safe and secure.

Education requirements: Electricians can start their careers with a high school diploma.

To qualify, they will need to complete a four-year apprenticeship working with a journeyman electrician to ensure they are carefully supervised.

13. Transportation Supervisor

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $25.72 per hour

Essential tasks: Transport supervisors are responsible for coordinating all transport drivers (such as truck drivers).

Typical duties include managing budgets, leading teams of drivers and maintaining safety standards across the fleet of vehicles.

Education requirements: You need a high school diploma, although some decide to study for a business or supply chain management degree.

14. Truck Driver

Skilled/unskilled: Semi-skilled
Average salary: $21.83 per hour

Essential tasks: Truck drivers ship cargo across short or long distances. You will be responsible for driving to different locations, maintaining communication between all stakeholders and ensuring that deliveries are recorded and delivered on time.

Education requirements: You will need to be at least 21 years of age and have a commercial driver's license.

15. Personal Trainer

Skilled/unskilled: Skilled
Average salary: $62,377 per annum

Essential tasks: A personal trainer will help someone improve their health. They may devise workouts and push clients to improve their physical fitness, or offer dietary and nutritional advice and support.

Education requirements: Beyond your high school diploma, you will need to pass personal trainer courses that demonstrate your expertise.

You will need an in-depth knowledge of the human body and how muscle groups work and know how different medications may affect the body differently.

PTs often spend considerable time continually upskilling themselves.

Final Thoughts

Manual jobs offer a vast wealth of opportunities across a variety of sectors.

It's also apparent that many blue-collar jobs provide significant financial incentives, with many hourly rates far exceeding federal minimum wage legislation.

Manual jobs will continue to increase in popularity as we are entering a skills shortage. The focus on academia has led to a lack of skills needed for many of the traditional trades.

This means that there are new opportunities to earn good salaries and benefit from a wide-ranging career.

If you're ready to apply for a manual job, make sure you read through our articles on how to make the most of your cover letter and your resume.

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