Physical labor jobs that do not involve a large amount of communication.
February 16, 2017 3:31 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for physical labor careers which adhere to specific criteria that are detailed in my post.

I have been working as an electrical engineer for the past two years as a design contractor. It pays well, but the job is extremely communication-oriented and I am sick of people's horseshit and fuckery. I am also sick of corporate adderall junkies saying phrases such as "identify a success path."

Do any of you know of physical labor jobs that:
• Pay at least 40k a year on average.
• Involve working with my hands (hence physical labor).
• Are mostly solitary and/or do not involve talking to people.

Please do not tell me to simply find a less-people-oriented engineering job. Every engineering job I have seen is the same corporate nonsense with everyone having a stick up their asshole. Thank you.
posted by Evernix to Work & Money (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I know several engineers who envy the millwrights, welders, and other technicians who work for the same power company they do. Almost as much money, significantly less corporate nonsense. The work is much more risky and physically taxing, though; that's probably something to consider for any skilled trade.
posted by xylothek at 3:50 AM on February 16, 2017

Garbage Collector?
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:43 AM on February 16, 2017

Xylothek: Skilled trades generally involve a fair amount of communication. When you're doing a crane pick, for instance, you have to communicate with the crane operator. When you're a foreman, you read prints and communicate with your crew, and vice versa. All the trades have to communicate with each other for a variety of reasons: safety, where are you going to put your ductwork and will my pipes fit, when are you going to be out of this particular area. And when the work is boring, people tend to chat with fellow workers (but it depends on personality and it's not *required*).

Per the OP, there is significantly less corporatey bullshit and no one ever says "identify a success path" because they would be ruthlessly mocked.

In my area, the skilled trades generally make more than $40,000; electrical/sheet metal/piping make around $42/hr plus benefits (after a 5-year apprenticeship).

The only job I can think of that might fit your criteria is welding. You might have a fitter who works with you, and you'll still have to do some amount of communicating about that task at hand, but you will be spending large amounts of time alone inside your welding hood focusing on your puddle of molten metal. Welding pays well and is highly in demand, especially pipe welding. You can do an apprenticeship in a particular trade, or take a community college course and get your weld certs that way.

Source: I'm a municipal policy consultant turned plumber, have done a little bit of welding, and have worked with lots of welders in the pipefitting industry.
posted by cnidaria at 5:05 AM on February 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

coming from an engineering standpoint look at mining, shipyards, oil platforms, welding (industrial / underwater). There is *no* time for superfluous bullshit talk when the work has got to get done, and you will be exhausted when you get a chance to sleep (3-shift system). There will be a lot of safety seminars and procedure runthroughs, but not much "synergizing". If you are specialist-grade, you are in demand and will get paid quite well.
posted by alchemist at 5:23 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Has this all been at one company? It might actually be that you found a particular job with a toxic level of those things you mentioned. Smaller companies seem to involve lower doses of those things, especially that tendency to speak "corporate" instead of english.

To make a suggestion per your question, I'd agree about welding, which is often cited by economic development wonks I've known as a hard position to fill statewide.

Also, anything to do with industrial maintenance - being an electrician, electronics testing and repair, etc. Factory production jobs are scarcer due to automation, but for that same reason it's harder than ever to find enough people with the training to work on these things that want to -- live a life just like you're describing. As a EE, you might need some specific training or licensing, but obviously you've been down the same path already.

I'll even mention an area to look at - you're in the SE already, so look at opportunities in the Mobile Alabama area. There has been a lot of tech manufacturing growth there in the last decade (aviation and steel production, to name two)
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:26 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to the sparks/visor, welding is also generally really loud. Your work environment tends to become isolated. Also, welding tasks just seem to require less back and forth with supervisors and other workers (go figure). High demand, good pay leading to great pay, plus there are so many types of welding and so much specialization that there's always something new to learn. Get some skills and in a few years the higher end jobs pay absurdly well. On preview, what cnidaria said.

Machinists also tend to be left to their own devices for the most part, but the jobs are scarcer, getting automated, don't pay as well. Electricians, pipefitters, HVAC types regularly have to communicate with foremen, architects, engineers, not constantly but often. Good luck.
posted by certs at 5:37 AM on February 16, 2017

Following up on xylothek, you might check out your local power and cable companies for jobs involving maintenance and installation of all those wires on all those poles.

In a similar vein, you could look into working for a company doing home theaters. Or possibly marine electronics. Big boats have lots of inter-connected electronics, and since the the interfaces are only partially standardized, getting the boxes to all play nicely can be tricky. (I do worry that this path would involve trading asshole management for asshole owners.) Certification might be required, but you have the background for it.

You could be the "hardware guy" for a company IT department.

In general, you want to move from doing "something new" to doing something routine. The more routine the job, the less communication necessary.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Something to look into might be aviation maintenance. I think there's a long process to certification but I have a friend who loves it.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:55 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

My BIL runs a custom farming operation. He pays $25+/hour and guys can get 2500 hrs or more per year, almost all between March and December, down for 2-3 months. It's physical, dirty work, with long hours when they're running, but not overly strenuous or particularly dangerous. Most of it is operating equipment, spreaders, tractors, combines, meaning sitting in a comfortable cab and paying attention. A dependable worker for him is gold, and he pays well for those who work out as operators. He has the most trouble keeping young folks turning up each day. Most of his best workers are 40+.
posted by bonehead at 6:10 AM on February 16, 2017

Underwater welder.
posted by sammyo at 6:14 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

A coworker's husband had a great job testing and maintaining power lines up in the mountains. Said it was a great job for someone who liked solitude -- he'd climb up 30 feet or so, work on the boxes, and take in the view.
posted by mochapickle at 6:26 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Several people have mentioned welding. It can be great, and it can be terrible. You have to wear heavy clothing to prevent getting sunburn from the arc, this can be miserable if the work needs to be done in a non-AC environment when it it 100F (I remember sweat dripping off my nose and pooling in the helmet). Many places don't have sufficient fume exhaust or dust (you need to use an angle grinder all the time) control. On the other hand, a friend worked for a dairy/creamery where all the piping was stainless steel and had to be free from imperfections internally so as not to provide a place for bacteria to grow. When they needed welding on these pipes, a guy would fly in with a tig welder in a suitcase, fix the pipe, and then fly home. Tig welding is generally a nicer experience - very little smoke (everything needs to be very clean), no spatter or flux, low noise, but because it is slow it is reserved for when it is needed (exotics, high strength, thin wall, etc).
I highly recommend watching this video by Jody from the "welding tips and tricks" youtube channel, he goes over his career and how he morphed into weld inspection/material testing (this could be a way to leverage your engineering background).
posted by 445supermag at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to go back to school / train, I'd suggest plumbing. You still have to deal with people, but it's also a lot of solo work, and there's good money in it.
posted by Mchelly at 7:24 AM on February 16, 2017

Electrician. Solar panel installer. Windpower installer. You've already got the electrical know-how so why go into something completely different.
posted by mareli at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

(If you end up TIG welding stainless steel and other exotic metals, I recommend wearing a respirator to prevent hexavalent chromium poisoning and similar other toxicity hazards. Proper PPE is a little annoying to wear but it keeps you healthy.)
posted by cnidaria at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many heavy equipment operators I know can not go back to the motel to sleep without an hour or two of bullshitimg at a diner or bar.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2017

Data point - my husband is a union welder and pipefitter and he needs to be in constant communication with his coworkers throughout the shift. It's very much a collaborative job.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2017

Evernix: " I am also sick of corporate adderall junkies saying phrases such as "identify a success path.""

I'm a construction electrician mostly doing industrial projects and on the sites I've worked on in the immortal words of Lawrence: No. No, man. Shit, no, man. I believe you'd get your ass kicked sayin' something like that, man.

The work is really varied on how much communication you need to do. On many jobs you'd only really talk to your crew members and your partner. Most days there is a toolbox meeting where Forepersons talk and everyone else listens and then you are assigned a task and work usually with one other person. However you are also going to be instructing apprentices (this will be true for most trades at least some of the time) which you may not find acceptable.

Small residential building crews don't involve much communication except between you and your foreman. But it will be hard to balance small enough to not be working with a half dozen people and large enough that you have a foreman who deals with the other trades. Residential pays relatively poorly but you should still be able to eck out 40K.
posted by Mitheral at 5:41 PM on February 16, 2017

Many heavy equipment operators I know can not go back to the motel to sleep without an hour or two of bullshitimg at a diner or bar.

As long as you are on prevailing wage jobs, or with a union, you can earn very good money as a heavy equipment operator. It is hard on the body, though, just like other manual labor jobs, and in a lot of cases you earn your money in six or eight months and spend the rest on unemployment, so you need to budget appropriately. There is definitely still necessary communication, but it isn't in corporation-speak, and a lot of the day you are completely on your own.

And yes, a lot of the guys drink away most of their wages every night, partly to be social and partly as pain management for chronic joint injuries.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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