January 14, 2019
The high-paying jobs that don’t need a degree
Kelsey Segar oversees the movement of millions of people every day. She is a train controller, and she directs trains that pass through Flinders Street Station, the busiest suburban railway hub in Australia.
From her cubicle at Metro’s train control centre, she monitors every suburban train that passes through the station, and whenever there is an issue on the network – such as an ill passenger, a track fault or a faulty train – she is tasked with keeping things moving.
She can see a network map that shows all the train tracks in and out of Flinders Street. It updates in real-time as trains make their way through the area, and she can plot out the paths a train can take if it needs to be diverted or see if it is running behind schedule.
If a section of track is damaged it shows up on her screen, and she can instruct the driver to take an alternative route.
It’s like a puzzle getting all the trains in position, Ms Segar says, and every time she makes a platform change she has to weigh up the impact on passengers.
“It’s about looking for the best option to make the trains move properly and what is going to work best with the restrictions for routing.”
You don’t need a university degree to become a train controller, and it takes five weeks of training to learn the key skills, followed by 12 weeks of supervised on-the-job experience.
There’s also a three-hour exam in which you’re put in charge of a control panel during the morning or evening peak.
Ms Segar says she was “shaking like a leaf” during the exam and during her first solo shifts as a train controller: “It was very intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, like all jobs, you’re like a duck to water after a while.”
The job pays incredibly well too for one that doesn’t come saddled with a massive higher education debt. The starting salary in Victoria is $120,000 and senior network controllers earn $180,000 on average.
Data from the tax office shows the median annual income for a train controller is $122,018, which ranks it 52 out of more than 1000 occupations, for highest median incomes.
Train controllers earn more on average than school principals ($112,075) and dentists ($109,457), but a bit less than general practitioners ($131,982) and pilots ($127,355).
But being a train controller carries a lot of responsibility and it is not for everyone.
It can be stressful at the best of times and when there are disruptions on the train network, controllers must keep a cool head and figure out solutions.
“You need to have the right thinking patterns,” Ms Segar said. “You need to be able to pick up the information, understand the importance, the complications and the damage if the job is not performed correctly.
“You can’t slack off – you need to be on the ball at all times.”
Other high-paid jobs that do not require tertiary qualifications include air traffic controllers ($143,571), miners ($116,056), train drivers ($114,125), crane operators ($91,649) and tanker drivers ($91,082). But none of these are easy to do, and some are far riskier than your average job.
These median annual taxable-income figures include not only the job’s salary, but any possible additional earnings from rent, bank interest, dividends and bonuses.
They are based on the amounts people stated as their earnings before tax but after deductions on their 2015/16 tax returns.
Air traffic controllers make the top 10 list of high-paid jobs in Victoria by average income, and whenever there is a job opening there are thousands of applications.
But to even make it to the interview stage you have to take a test that assesses your logical and numerical reasoning, pattern recognition, processing speed and ability to visualise in three dimensions.
Only 3 per cent of applicants manage to pass it, and from there you have to prove that you have what it takes to direct planes to the runway using a simulator.
First published by The Age
$6.1 Billion Spent on VET in 2017