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Best high salary careers in the UK

Best high salary careers in the UK

By: Anne East | 22nd May 2020

At school, most of us dream of a career that’s not only fulfilling but financially rewarding too. But while a handful of lucky souls will climb the greasy pole of success, most of us will be content with a job that pays the bills while we daydream what might have been if only we’d concentrated a bit more in lessons.

Just to make you feel even better about that ‘meh’ pay cheque, here’s what you could be earning instead.

The top 10 high salary careers

It’s official: out of nearly 500 jobs listed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), chief execs and other senior officials take home the biggest pay packets.

Figures are based on mean full-time earnings for the year ending April 2019 and also take into account ‘outliers’ who earn enough big bucks to sway the overall figure (lucky them). In the interests of not getting too carried away, we’ve also included median salaries (in brackets) to give a more accurate picture of what people are taking home.

1. Chief executives and senior officials: £156,209 (£97,708)
2. Air traffic controllers: £93,955 (£94,431)
3. Marketing and sales directors: £93,372 (£80,411)
4. Legal professionals: £90,791 (£74,701)
5. Financial managers and directors: £87,855 (£66,353) 
6. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers: £86,204 (£78,570)
7. Dental practitioners: £82,839 (no data available)
8. Transport associate professionals: £80,166 (£78,992)
9. Functional managers and directors: £79,807 (£62,595) 
10. Medical practitioners: £79,767 (£72,019)

Biggest movers (and losers)

According to the stats, the enigmatically titled ‘collector salespersons’ (in plain English, door to door sellers) enjoyed a 32% pay increase from 2018 to 2019. The next closest rise was for railway workers like signal operators, who saw mean salaries rise by 25%. Driving instructors were also winners, with a 22% salary boost.

Sadly, rag trade workers specialising in embroidery, sewing or manufacturing saw a 19% fall in mean earnings. Police community support officers also didn’t have much to celebrate, as average salaries dipped 12%.

And it was no change at all for just two groups of workers: transport managers and IT operations technicians, who took away mean earnings of £45,993 and £34,169 respectively.

Lowest earning jobs

Bar staff might serve bottles of Cristal but it is far from a champagne lifestyle, with a (literally) mean salary of £16,055 – the lowest of all the jobs with recorded data.

Faring slightly better were waiters and waitresses (earning £16,286), kitchen staff (£16,604), leisure and theme park workers (£16,766) and educational support assistants (£17,170).

Plus, in stark contrast to their dental practitioner colleagues, dental nurses took home a mean average of £18,791 in 2019; there’s nothing like pay discrepancy tension to sour staffroom chat.

Highest paying part-time jobs

Rather pleasingly, it’s not just full-timers who have star earning potential; some part-timers pack away some serious salaries. Notably, part-time senior educational professionals (aka head teachers, principals and bursars) took home a far from mean average of £50,488 last year.

Hot on their heels were legal professionals (£45,714) and, interestingly, part-time jobs in scaffolding and sheet metal, could mean taking home an average and not-too-shabby £30,660 and £30,138 respectively.

The part-time jobs that saw the greatest percentage rises were architects (64%) and environment professionals such as engineers and consultants (52%) – perhaps unsurprising given the importance of sustainable design. In the meantime, their full-time equivalents saw respective salary increases of only 2.6% and 3%.

Average earnings

If the sight of what top earners are taking home is more than a little demotivating, don’t fret. Mean annual pay for all full-time employees was £37,428, just a 2% rise from 2018.

And if that’s still not much consolation, then here’s a nugget of schadenfreude – more than 70% of higher earners taking home £40,000+ and nearly a quarter of senior management suffer from work-related stress.

So, although bigger earners might bring home more bacon, a hefty salary is not without its downsides. After all, money buys a lot of things, but unconditional happiness isn’t always one of them.


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