This Guy Makes Six Figures as an Electrician — No College Degree Required

Danny Elmore, field superintendent from Cleveland Electric is standing in front of an electrical room at Tampa International Airport.
Danny Elmore, a field superintendent from Cleveland Electric, skipped college to become an electrician. He now makes 6 figures working in construction. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

You should really start looking into construction and infrastructure jobs.

Do it for yourself. Who doesn’t want to learn new skills every day while earning $50,000 outside the shackles of corporate drudgery?

But also, do it for your country.

President Donald Trump has promised to pursue a $1 trillion infrastructure plan in the coming years. The move comes in the same year as a harrowing derailment and flaring frustrations with the largest public transit system in the U.S., and the fiery collapse of a highway overpass in one of America’s largest cities.

There’s a great example of a major infrastructure project just down the road from The Penny Hoarder’s office: A $971 million master plan expansion at Tampa International Airport.

Tampa International Airport Communications Manager Danny Valentine points to where the new rental car facility is being built. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder.

Atlanta-based Cleveland Electric Co., one of hundreds of contractors on the project, has logged 175,000 hours so far — and this project is just a taste of countrywide construction spending.

Since the economy bottomed out in 2011, overall construction spending has jumped 50.4% to more than $1.1 trillion in 2016, according to estimates provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The need for this work is there — but the workers aren’t.

A worker is pictured in the interior portion of the new rental car facility that’s currently being constructed at TPA. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder.

“We do know that construction firms have been saying for years that they’re having a hard time filling positions,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America. “In our survey, 73% of the firms said they were having trouble filling (jobs), and companies have been turning more and more to both union apprenticeships programs and labor force development.”

An Electrifying Career Choice

The next generation of builders is making a good living without the burden of thousands of dollars of student debt.

Take Danny Elmore. Within 15 minutes of talking to Elmore, who is the field superintendent of Cleveland Electric, he nearly had me convinced to quit my job and and become an electrician.

“When I graduated from high school a long time ago, I had excellent grades and my dad wanted nothing more than for me to go to college,” said Elmore. “I wanted nothing less than to go to college.”

The 57-year-old journeyman electrician has never looked back.

As with a lot of jobs in the infrastructure and construction sectors, you start as an apprentice and spend three to five years working your way up to become a journeyman electrician, Elmore explained. Even better, you get paid for the work you do while learning on the job.

Elmore said the work is rewarding and you get to work outside with your hands — not to mention the six-figure pay he now earns annually.

Danny Elmore talks to Penny Hoarder writer Alex Mahadevan about how rewarding his profession is. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder.

“I have a skill nobody can ever take from me,” Elmore said. “And for the last 35 or 38 years, I’ve worked every day that I’ve wanted to.”

“I think construction has a much more promising upward career path (than other careers),” said Simonson. “You’re not staying in the same spot flipping hamburgers, you’re learning on the job every day, and people do move up from being helpers and laborers.”

Indeed, Elmore said he lives a comfortable middle-class life and is essentially in charge of his own destiny when it comes to taking on jobs. He had a little car trouble last week, but it’s a company vehicle they’ll take care of fixing — another perk in the life of a qualified electrician.

Elmore has worked on everything from train stations, to airports, to hospitals to schools. But even without a big push in public infrastructure spending, there are a plethora of jobs out there. He worked for three years on a Google Data center beginning in 2012.

Right now, he’s hard at work on a portion of the expansion at Tampa International. Cleveland Electric is overseeing the electrical side of the SkyConnect people mover that will connect a rental-car facility with the terminal.

A worker works on the in progress SkyConnect track that's being built at Tampa International Airport
A worker works on the new SkyConnect track that’s being built at Tampa International Airport. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder.

Elmore, as part of a 120-person team (now down to 80 as the job nears completion), is placing 130 miles of copper cable, 40 miles of fiber optic cable, seven miles of power rails and 3.8 miles of cables, according to Tampa International Airport Communications Manager Danny Valentine.

As Elmore walks through a concrete room stacked with 14,000-pound transformers and miles of colorful cables, he pulls one-year apprentice Michael McCarthy off the job to ask his hourly rate.

About $13 — 63% more than Florida’s minimum wage of $8.10.

McCarthy, 23, didn’t go to college and spent the last few years serving tables or working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now he’s on the same track Elmore started in the 1980s.

“Most of the people I know who went to college are moving back in with their parents now,” McCarthy said.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.