The 15 Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates

Not every career requires a bachelor's degree. If you're considering entering a vocation, check out these popular — and lucrative — trade school jobs.

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by Chinh Ngo

Published on February 1, 2022 · Updated on May 26, 2022

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The 15 Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates

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

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

The 15 Best Trade School Jobs and Salary

In this section, we introduce 15 of the highest-paying trade school jobs. The numbers included below should give you a clear idea of the different earning potential of these vocations. Note that your actual salary will vary depending on several factors, like location, employer, and your own qualifications.

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

Trade Job Median Salary (2020) Job Growth Rate (2020-30)
Elevator Installer and Repairer $88,540 6%
Radiation Therapist $86,850 9%
Web Developer $77,200 13%
Dental Hygienist $77,090 11%
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer $70,380 14%
Respiratory Therapist $62,810 23%
Electrician $56,900 9%
Plumber $56,330 5%
Wind Turbine Technician $56,230 68%
IT Technician $55,510 9%
Ironworker $53,210 6%
Legal Assistant $52,920 12%
Geological and Petroleum Technician $50,630 9%
HVACR Technician $50,590 5%
Licensed Practical Nurse $48,820 9%

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.

Elevator mechanics typically work as contractors.

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 and earn a median annual salary of $88,540. The BLS projects that elevator installation and repair positions will grow 6% through 2030, adding about 1,500 new jobs. 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.

Radiation therapist is one of the best-paying trade jobs.

According to the BLS, radiation therapist positions are projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. These professionals earn a median annual income of $86,850, making radiation therapist the best-paying trade job on this list. Around 65% of therapists work for private, public, or state hospitals; the remainder find employment with doctor 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 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.

Most web developers hold an associate degree in web development.

The BLS projects that web development careers will grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, translating to 25,500 new positions. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $77,200. They can raise their pay, however, 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, as well as 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.

Over 9 in 10 dental hygienists work in dentist offices.

According to the BLS, dental hygienist positions are projected to grow 11% through 2030, adding 23,100 new jobs to the U.S. workforce. Over 9 in 10 dental hygienists work in dentist offices, where they earn a median annual salary of $77,090.

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.

Sonographers help detect and identify abnormalities in the human body.

The BLS projects that jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers will grow 14% between 2020 and 2030. The average sonographer makes about $70,380 a year, with the potential to earn up to $96,780 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 prepares them for advanced academic training down the road.


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.

Respiratory therapy positions will increase a whopping 23% through 2030.

BLS data projects that respiratory therapy positions will increase a whopping 23% through 2030, translating to 31,100 new jobs. Over four-fifths of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, with most earning about $62,810 per year. Just 1 in 10 of these health specialists makes over $89,170 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.

Most electricians do a paid apprenticeship that lasts 4-5 years.

Electrician positions are projected to grow 9% through 2030. These technical professionals earn a median salary of $56,900, with the top 10% making over $98,720 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.

Plumbers need to complete a four-to-five-year apprenticeship.

According to the BLS, jobs for plumbers are projected to grow 5% through 2030, translating to roughly 23,400 new jobs. Nearly two-thirds of plumbers work for a contracting company, earning a median annual salary of $56,330.

To become a plumber, you'll typically need to complete a four-to-five-year apprenticeship. Many plumbers also hold a certificate or associate degree. Most states require plumbers to apply for licensure before they can work independently.

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.

Wind turbine technician is one of the most in-demand green jobs.

Wind turbine technician is one of the most in-demand green jobs, with positions projected to grow a staggering 68% through 2030. Wind techs make a median annual pay of $56,230, 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.


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.

The highest-paid IT technicians work for telecommunications companies.

Employment for IT technicians in the U.S. is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030. These professionals earn a median income of $55,510. The highest-paid technicians work for telecommunications companies and make a median salary of $74,220 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.

Ironworker

Working for contracting companies and construction firms, ironworkers install steel and iron to strengthen buildings, bridges, and roads. These technicians usually work on new construction projects but may also be employed as part of a demolition or rehabilitation team. Ironworkers can specialize in structural steel and iron, erecting and joining columns, girders, and other framework components, or they may focus on reinforcement through rebar and iron mesh.

Ironworkers install steel and iron to strengthen buildings, bridges, and roads.

According to the BLS, ironworker positions are projected to rise 6% between 2020 and 2030, adding about 5,400 new jobs. While the median annual wage is $53,210, these professionals can access higher pay by pursuing civil and heavy engineering construction projects.

Most prospective ironworkers enroll in a certificate program and/or complete an apprenticeship that ranges 3-4 years. They can strengthen their employability by earning professional certification from organizations like the American Welding Society and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.


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.

Around three-fourths of legal assistants work for lawyer offices and law firms.

The BLS projects that jobs for paralegals and legal assistants will grow 12% through 2030. 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. These professionals earn a median annual wage of $52,920.

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.

Geological and Petroleum Technician

These professionals work on teams with petroleum engineers and scientists to find, identify, and extract natural resources like gas, coal, and oil. Geological and petroleum technicians who work primarily in the field collect material samples for evaluation, whereas those who specialize in lab work analyze these samples for traces of metals and hydrocarbons to assess the productivity of a certain site.

These technicians find, identify, and extract natural resources.

BLS data shows that geological and petroleum technicians earn a median yearly wage of $50,630. They can make $76,120 by working in the oil and gas extraction field and may further increase their pay to $85,530 by advancing into management positions. Geological and petroleum technician positions are projected to grow 9% through 2030.

To access entry-level positions, you'll need to have at least an associate degree in geosciences or geographic information systems. Many technicians go on to obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in petroleum engineering.


HVACR Technician

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration 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.

Two-thirds of HVACR technicians work as professional contractors.

HVACR technicians earn a median annual wage of $50,590, with 66% working as professional contractors. They can bolster their pay potential by working in wholesale trade, which offers a median salary of $53,310 per year. The BLS projects that HVACR occupations will increase 5% between 2020 and 2030.

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.

Nursing careers enjoy some of the highest growth rates in healthcare.

Nursing careers enjoy some of the highest rates of occupational growth in the healthcare sector, with LPN positions projected to increase 9% through 2030. They earn a median annual wage of $48,820 and usually work at hospitals, home health services, physicians 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.

Trade School vs. Four-Year College

How exactly does a trade school differ from a 4-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 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.

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 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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School Jobs

How long are trade school programs? true

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, also known as vocational schools or technical colleges, 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 schools? true

Trade schools specialize in skilled trades, such as mechanical engineering and welding. Because these types of trades require hands-on training, there are limited options for online trade schools. However, some career fields have a much better chance of being taught online or in a hybrid form, such as healthcare majors, culinary arts, and cosmetology.

What are the highest-paying trade jobs? true

The highest-paying trade jobs include construction manager, elevator and escalator installer, and radiation therapist. The median salary in 2020 for a construction manager was $97,180, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Elevator installers made a median salary of $88,540, and radiation therapists earned $86,850. However, some of these higher-paying roles require an associate degree.

What is the difference between trade and technical school? true

The differences between trade and technical school are minimal, as both prepare students for careers in the skilled trades. Trade schools often provide more hands-on instruction that benefits the mechanical trades, such as welding, electrical engineering, and HVAC technology.

Technical school focuses on the technical skill sets that lead to careers in healthcare, public service, and math and science fields. Their programs are a mix of hands-on training and theoretical knowledge. Both trade and technical schools offer grants, loans, and scholarships to students. Financial aid can be harder to qualify for if the program is not accredited.



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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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