The New Blue Collar Worker – Part 3

Blue Collar Worker 3

Three more DCTC programs, three more Forbes’ jobs, 70K and up

If you’ve been following parts one and two of The New Blue Collar Worker, you have been introduced to the top blue collar jobs with the highest annual salaries in the United States. Many of them begin right here at Dakota County Technical College.

In part one of The New Blue Collar Worker, the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Technology program was directly related to the number 11 job, Signal and Track Switch Repairers. Afterall, Computers and Electronics top the list of required knowledge (

According to Don Spano, railroad conductor instructor explains that this $72,000 a year job also falls under the Railroad Conductor Technology program.

Railroad Conductor Technology
  • No. 11 Signal and Track Switch Repairers
  • Annual Pay for Top 10%: $72,450

Spano explains that certain jobs within the railroad industry deal specifically with the physical movement of train traffic:

  • Track − includes building and maintaining the tracks and surrounding items, such as electronic signal systems and track construction.
  • Mechanical − involves railroad cars and locomotives, to include rail car repair and locomotive maintenance.
  • Train and Engine − relates to trains moving on the tracks, consisting of conductors and locomotive engineers.

The Signal and Track Switch Repairer is an occupation that has to do with railroad tracks. This specific occupation specializes in the installation, inspection, and repair of electric gate crossings, track switches, or intercommunications systems within a railroad system.

The Railroad Conductor Technology program preps students to be freight conductors, who are responsible for the smooth operation of the freight train. To become a locomotive engineer, the individual must have current certification as a conductor. “This has been the standard since the 1980’s,” said Spano.

The movie Unstoppable is based on a real-life event involving a runaway train in Ohio back in 2001. Chris Pine’s character played the conductor and Denzel Washington acted as the locomotive engineer who drives the train.

“Since the program’s inception in 2005, former students have been hired as conductors and promoted to locomotive engineers by their employing railroad within two to five years of their initial start time,” explains Spano.

Railroad Conductors didn’t make Forbes’ list, but the median annual wage is near $50,000, with the top 10 percent earning more than $76,270 (

To date, DCTC has supplied conductor candidates to 17 different railroads in 13 different states. “Railroads come to DCTC looking for candidates for other blue collar occupations as well,” said Spano. “Many students completing other programs at DCTC receive complimentary skills that easily transition into railroad industry jobs, such as welding, electrical, equipment repair, and diesel mechanics.”

For more information about the Railroad Conductor Technology program at DCTC, contact:
  • Donald Spano
    Railroad Conductor Technology Instructor

One program that Spano is referring to is the Heavy Duty Truck Technology program. Students learn all there is to know about heavy-duty truck repair and maintenance. One important facet of the program is the course HDTT 2228 for the Minnesota State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Inspector Certificate. Heavy Duty Truck Technology prepares students for this eight-hour course at the Minnesota State Patrol.

“Through this course, students will have the opportunity to become a State of Minnesota vehicle inspector, providing they pass the final Minnesota State Patrol Inspectors exam,” said Ken Klassen, Heavy Duty Truck Technology instructor. “They can also become certified vehicle inspectors to perform annual federal and Minnesota D.O.T. inspections.”

In order to retain their inspector credentials, inspectors are required to re-certify every two years and pass the inspection exam. “This annual vehicle inspection is very important to help maintain vehicle safety standards,” explains Klassen. “Certified inspectors are responsible for identifying and repairing vehicle problems before they become failures, which effect the safety of everyone using our roadways.”

Heavy Duty Truck Technology
  • No. 3 Transportation Inspectors
  • Annual Pay for Top 10%: $110,210

In order to qualify for a certificate, individuals must complete training through a truck operation and maintenance program. To sweeten the deal, DCTC’s Heavy Duty Truck Technology program recently received the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation Master Accreditation, an achievement only four post-secondary schools in Minnesota have earned.

For more information about the Heavy Duty Truck Technology program, contact:
  • Ken Klassen
    Heavy Duty Truck Technology Instructor
  • Brent Newville
    Heavy Duty Truck Technology Instructor

Skip down to number 19 on Forbes’ list, Brickmasons and Blocksmasons, the 12th occupation that relates to a program at DCTC.

The description of the Concrete and Masonry program reads: This program prepares students for careers as cement, brick and block masons in both residential and commercial construction.

Concrete and Masonry
  • No. 19 Brickmasons and Blocksmasons
  • Annual Pay for Top 10%: $80,570

Brickmasons and Blockmasons, one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., is projected to increase 60 percent by 2020. “That’s what we’re here for, is education for employment, that’s what we do,” said Paul Geisler, Concrete and Masonry Instructor. “Our students are trained in all areas — bricklaying, blocklaying, and concrete finishing.”

Geisler considers the program pre-apprenticeship training, so students are set up to continue onto a two to four year on-the-job apprenticeship. Oftentimes, a students’ apprenticeship is shortened by nearly one year because of the credit they receive from DCTC. Not to mention, they start at a higher pay scale after completing the Concrete and Masonry program.

About one-third in the industry were self-employed in 2010 and starting pay is usually between 30 to 50 percent of what fully trained workers earn ( The more trained they are, the higher their annual salary becomes. The top 10 percent earn over $80,000. That’s how much an Analyst makes on average, but without a suit.

“It’s a good trade and a good paying job,” said Geisler. “It’s also a beautiful thing to go around and see the buildings you’ve worked on, remembering exactly what you’ve done.”

For more information about the Concrete and Masonry program at DCTC, contact:

So, whether you’re a sentimentalist and want to see your work years later (Concrete and Masonry) or you want a multitude of options on your plate after graduation (Electrical Construction and Maintenance technology), there’s a chance you’ll be stepping into some nice paychecks. What’s the key? Education, education, education, and Dakota County Technical College at the top of the list. Forbes list, that is.

Missed something? Go back to The New Blue Collar Worker and The New Blue Collar Worker — Part 2.