The 15 Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates

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  • Top trade jobs include radiation therapist, web developer, and electrical line worker.
  • Trade schools teach the technical skills needed to pursue a specific occupation.
  • Vocational programs typically take from eight weeks to two years to complete.
  • Trade schools typically don't require you to take general education classes.

For many high school graduates, trade school offers a more affordable and secure path to career entry and professional development than a traditional four-year university. Also often referred to as technical colleges and vocational schools, trade schools focus on specialized job training in high-demand fields, assisting students in finding gainful employment.

This guide introduces the best trade jobs, detailing each position's requirements, earning potential, and general duties and responsibilities. We will also discuss the projected growth of these top trade school jobs.

Trade School vs. Four-Year College

How exactly does a trade school differ from a four-year college?

Unlike a traditional four-year university, which provides students with a broad education rooted in the liberal arts and humanities, a trade school program trains students in the technical knowledge and skills needed for a specific occupation, such as welding and mechanical repair.

Trade schools can be either public or private, with many operating as for-profit businesses. As you research potential postsecondary schools, be sure to check that the institution has been accredited before applying.

Vocational programs normally range from eight weeks to two years depending on whether you want to earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Graduates may then go on to sit for licensing exams, become apprentices, or seek immediate employment.

Vocational programs normally range from eight weeks to two years depending on whether you want to earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree.
Quotation mark

Popular trade school jobs include plumber, electrician, pharmacy technician, and paralegal. Students can also train to become restaurant cooks and private chefs by enrolling in a culinary arts program, or work as auto mechanics by earning a certificate in fields such as automotive technology, service management, or collision repair/refinishing.

Though many community colleges offer technical programs, students are still required to fulfill general education requirements that can enable them to transfer to a four-year college or university. Trade schools, by contrast, only ask learners to complete coursework relevant to their chosen occupation. This focus is ideal for individuals with clearly defined career goals.

The 15 Best Trade School Jobs and Their Salaries

Let's dive into 15 of the highest-paying trade school jobs. The numbers included below can give you a clear idea of the different earning potentials of these vocations. Note that your actual salary will vary depending on several factors, like location, employer, and your own qualifications.

Job security, or how likely an employee is to keep their job over many years and maintain a consistent income, is also addressed. Each career profile includes information on its future growth based on projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

TRADE JOB MEDIAN SALARY
2021 (2021)
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH RATE (2021-2031)
Elevator Installer and Repairer $97,860 3%
Radiation Therapist $82,790 6%
Web Developer $78,300 23%
Dental Hygienist $77,810 9
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer $75,380 10%
Electrical Line Worker $74,530 6%
Respiratory Therapist $61,830 14%
Electrician $60,040 7%
Plumber $59,880 2%
Mortician $58,900 8%
IT Technician $57,910 6%
Wind Turbine Technician $56,260 44%
Legal Assistant $56,230 14%
HVACR Technician $48,630 5%
Licensed Practical Nurse $48,070 6%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Elevator Installer and Repairer

These technical professionals assemble, maintain, and fix elevators, escalators, moving walkways, chairlifts, and other automotive lifts. They read building blueprints to determine what type of machinery and related components to use before installing and testing the elevator for functionality.

In addition to troubleshooting problems, elevator mechanics conduct routine maintenance to ensure compliance with building codes and government safety standards.

Elevator mechanics typically work as contractors for private equipment companies.

+3%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$97,860
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

To become an elevator installer and repairer, you must complete a four-year apprenticeship.


Radiation Therapist

Working with nurses, physicians, and oncologists, radiation therapists treat serious diseases like cancer. These healthcare workers oversee radiation therapy sessions, using machines like linear accelerators to shrink and destroy cancerous tumors. They also monitor patients during treatment for any negative reactions while adhering to strict safety protocols.

+6%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$82,790
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Radiation therapist is the best-paying healthcare trade job on this list. Around 65% of therapists work for private, public, or state hospitals; the remainder find employment with doctor's offices and outpatient care centers.

Radiation therapists must hold either an associate or bachelor's degree from a school that has been accredited by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Most states require these practitioners to apply for and maintain government licensure as well.


Web Developer

These information technology (IT) professionals create websites, designing the overall aesthetic and layout of the pages. Depending on their role, web developers also oversee back-end technical aspects, including the site's performance speed and traffic capacity. Additionally, they can act as webmasters, updating content, monitoring usability, and fixing issues such as broken links.

+23%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$78,300
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Web developers can raise their pay by working for software publishers and companies that handle proprietary electronic networks.

While some web developers are self-taught, most hold an associate degree in web development that covers both computer programming and graphic design. To pursue a specialized position in an area like full-stack development or to occupy a management role, you will likely need to have a bachelor's degree in web development or even a graduate degree.


Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists help patients maintain good oral health through preventative procedures and hygiene education. They use a variety of hand and ultrasonic tools to remove plaque, tartar, and stains. They also search for signs of oral diseases like gingivitis and oral cancer. Depending on the state, these professionals can complete additional training to become dental therapists who are equipped to extract teeth and install crowns.

+9%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$77,810
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

To work as a dental hygienist, you must complete a three-year associate degree program that's been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. You must also earn licensure through your state's board of dental examiners.


Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers assist physicians and surgeons with diagnosing illnesses and other medical conditions and preparing patients for operations. Using imaging machines to produce sonograms and ultrasounds, sonographers help detect and identify abnormalities in the human body. These professionals may specialize in a specific area of the body, such as the heart, blood vessels, female reproductive system, or abdominal cavity.

+10%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$75,380
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sonographers have the potential to earn around $100,000 by working in an outpatient care center.

Medical sonographers typically hold a technical certificate from a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Alternatively, they can earn an associate in sonography, which can prepare them for advanced academic training down the road.


Electrical Line Workers

Electrical line workers, also known as line installers and repairers, utilize their training to oversee the installation and repairs of electrical power lines, telecommunication cables, and fiber optics. Additionally, these workers assess the integrity of lines through inspections and testing. Line workers must hold at least a high school or GED diploma and traditionally complete an apprenticeship or training program.

+6%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$74,530
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists support patients with breathing difficulties and cardiopulmonary conditions. As medical professionals, they interview patients before assessing their lung function and conducting other diagnostic tests. They also collaborate with physicians to identify treatment plans, which may include aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy.

+14%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$61,830
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Over four-fifths of respiratory therapists work in hospitals. Just 1 in 10 of these health specialists makes over $95,540 annually.

Respiratory therapists typically hold an associate degree from a trade college that's been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. You can also prepare for a career in this field by earning a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy.


Electrician

Primarily working for contractors, licensed electricians install and test power-based apparatuses, such as communication networks, control grids, and lighting systems. They analyze blueprints to identify the proper placement of circuits and breakers in buildings. When maintaining an existing system, these professionals identify solutions for fixing hard-to-reach wiring, motors, and other electrical components.

+7%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$60,040
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The top 10% of electricians make over $99,800 a year. They can also pursue self-employment, installing and repairing electrical systems at residential sites.

Most electricians develop their skills through a paid apprenticeship program that lasts 4-5 years. Upon completion, they are considered journey workers and can apply for licensure through their state electrical licensing board.


Plumber

Professional plumbers install and maintain piping systems that carry liquid and gas in homes, office buildings, and industrial facilities. For residential clients, plumbers conduct inspections and prepare cost estimates for tasks like installing a bathtub and replacing a broken pipe or fixture. Construction plumbers work in teams to ensure a site's plumbing satisfies building codes and federal standards.

+2%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$59,880
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nearly two-thirds of plumbers work for a contracting company. To become a plumber, you'll typically need to complete an apprenticeship, which lasts 4-5 years. Many plumbers also hold a certificate or associate degree. Most states require plumbers to apply for licensure before they can work independently.


Mortician

Morticians and funeral service workers oversee an array of details surrounding the deceased. These professionals typically need to hold an associate degree and must be 21 years old. Morticians, also known as funeral directors, manage funeral services and work closely with religious representatives, cemeteries, and families, all while handling administrative tasks. These workers may also embalm bodies and utilize cosmetic training to prepare the deceased for viewings and funerals.

+8%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$58,900
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


IT Technician

Commonly called computer support specialists, IT technicians work on departmental teams to install and maintain WANs, LANs, and internet networks. They also perform security functions, defending against cyber criminals and recovering stolen digital assets. IT technicians may sometimes occupy a customer support role, teaching people to use new software or hardware and helping them troubleshoot common problems.

+6%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$57,910
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The highest-paid technicians work for telecommunications companies and make a median salary
2021 of $76,910 per year. To become a computer support specialist, you can earn either an IT certificate or associate degree in IT, or complete a professional training program through providers like Google and CompTIA.


Wind Turbine Technician

Also known as wind techs, wind turbine technicians oversee the functions of turbines that turn wind energy into electricity. Typical tasks include locating and repairing problems related to the major turbine components, such as the tower, three blades, generator, and brake systems. These technicians may also work with substations, fiber optic controls and sensors, and subterranean transmission systems.

+44%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$56,260
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Wind turbine technician is one of the most in-demand green jobs, with most working on rural wind farms.

To establish a career in this area of sustainability, you'll need to obtain either a certificate or an associate degree in wind technology. Many employers also require wind techs to complete a year of on-the-job training.


Legal Assistant

Legal assistants and paralegals support lawyers by performing administrative tasks such as maintaining digital filing systems, creating official documents like mortgages and contracts, and facilitating communication among witnesses, law enforcement, and external vendors. They also assist with trial preparation, conducting research on relevant regulations and personal histories.

+14%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$56,230
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Around three-fourths of legal assistants work for lawyer offices and law firms, while the remainder find employment with government agencies and financial institutions, like banks and insurance companies.

Legal assistants and paralegals typically hold an associate degree; however, many employers prefer candidates who possess a bachelor's in paralegal studies and have completed a certificate program backed by the American Bar Association.


HVACR Technician

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) technicians install and fix systems that control a building's air quality and temperature. HVACR mechanics also perform routine maintenance, replacing filters and cleaning ducts so that the system satisfies government regulations. These professionals can hone their skills by specializing in a subfield like commercial refrigeration, solar paneling, and radiant heating systems.

+5%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$48,630
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sixty-seven percent of HVACR technicians work as professional contractors. They can bolster their pay potential by working in educational services, which offers a median salary
2021 of $55,640 per year, according to the BLS.

Many HVACR professionals complete either a six-month certificate or two-year associate degree program. They may also work as an apprentice to get the practical experience needed to apply for state licensure.


Licensed Practical Nurse

Also called licensed vocational nurses in certain states, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic patient care, working under the guidance of registered nurses and physicians to take care of infants, feed patients who have trouble eating, and monitor vitals like heart rate and blood pressure. Experienced LPNs may occupy leadership positions, supervising nonmedical staff and new practical nurses.

+6%
Projected employment growth
2021-2031

$48,070
Median salary
2021

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nursing careers enjoy some of the highest rates of occupational growth in the healthcare sector. They usually work at hospitals, home health services, physician's offices, and residential care facilities.

To become an LPN, you must complete a one-year certificate or diploma program. You will then need to earn state licensure by passing the NCLEX-PN examination.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School Jobs

How long are trade school programs?

Trade school programs can often be completed within a year or less, a much shorter commitment than a four-year degree. However, earning a vocational certificate or associate degree can take up to two years.

Trade schools are designed to train students in technical knowledge and skills. Unlike four-year colleges, trade schools do not teach general education courses. Instead, they focus on providing hands-on experience directly applicable to the students' specific trade. This cuts down the course list significantly.

Can you attend online trade school programs?

Accessing online trade school programs typically depends on the type of program.

Due to the hands-on learning component of many trade school programs, 100% online learning just is not a practical teaching option. That said, vocational programs can utilize virtual learning for theoretical coursework while requiring in-person learning for technical training.

Programs for electricians, plumbers, and nurses all lean on hands-on training to ensure students gain the proficiencies needed to begin their careers. Before students can gain a vocational certificate, many programs ensure that they complete an internship to practice learned skills and build professional relationships.

What are the highest-paying trade jobs?

Professionals tackling elevator installation and repairs top the list, making a median annual salary of nearly $100,000, as of May 2021, according to the BLS. Additionally, specialized jobs in healthcare can provide some of the top trade salaries, with radiation therapists and dental hygienists making median annual salaries of over $77,000, the BLS reports.

It's important to note that earning potential can vary widely depending on factors like experience, licensure, and geographic location.

What is the difference between trade and technical school?

Often lumped together under the terms vocational-technical (vo-tech) or center for employment training (CET), considerable differences exist between trade and technical schools.

For students potentially wanting to pursue higher education in the future, a technical school program may offer hands-on training along with more traditional college coursework.

Trade schools tend to prioritize on-the-job training, offering hands-on training instead of classroom-based learning.

When deciding between trade or technical schools, students should consider cost, time, certificates, and the quality of instruction.

Feature Image: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images