Requirements for a Career in Trades

Did you know many well-paying careers require only a vocational school education? Discover more about the best trade careers and how to start one.

portrait of Thomas Broderick
by Thomas Broderick

Published October 14, 2022

Edited by Margaret Weinhold
Share this Article
Requirements for a Career in Trades
Image Credit: Srinophan69 / Moment / Getty Images


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that many skilled trades will grow significantly from 2021-2031. Trades with the highest projected growth include home health and personal care aide, restaurant cook, and medical assistant.

So what's needed to start your career in one of these fields? Well, many trades careers require only a vocational school education.

www.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.

Ready to start your journey?

Trade schools feature programs with a career-aligned curriculum that focuses on job-related knowledge and skills.

Other programs awarding an associate degree require general education classes and qualify graduates for a bachelor's-completion program. Plus, some grads enhance their vocational school education with an apprenticeship.

Learn about in-demand trade jobs, educational programs, and the importance of internships and apprenticeships.

What Are Common Trades Careers?

The skilled trades include jobs in all sorts of different fields, such as healthcare, welding, and paralegal.

Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses monitor patients' vital signs and perform basic care duties. These professionals also maintain patient records and collaborate with other healthcare providers.

Other opportunities for workers interested in the healthcare field include respiratory therapy. But unlike other trade professionals, these workers must hold an associate degree and a state-issued license. Respiratory therapists help patients with breathing exercises.

Some of the best trade jobs for learners wanting to work with their hands include welder and HVAC technician.

The BLS reports that welders working in May 2021 earned a median $47,010 annual salary, slightly higher than what the average U.S. worker made at $45,760. And HVAC technicians made an even higher median annual salary of $48,630, as per BLS data.

Plus, many lucrative trades careers, such as paralegal, don't require intense physical labor. The latest BLS data shows that paralegals in 2021 earned a median annual salary exceeding $56,000. Typical job duties include performing research for lawyers and organizing documents.

If you're unsure what to select from the long list of trades, you can work with a vocational school advisor. These professionals help learners perform research and make an informed decision.

What Degree Should You Get to Work in Trades?

You can explore many ways to prepare for a career in the trades, such as earning a professional certification, attending a vocational school, or receiving an undergraduate degree.

Each path has different education requirements and leads to different graduate outcomes.

Pro tip: Contact your local trade school or professional organization to learn more about how these programs can train you for a career.

Certifications

If you're not interested in vocational school, you may prepare for a career by earning a professional certification.

Organizations award certifications to those who take one or more classes and pass an exam. But keep in mind that the time required to complete a certification and the fees organizations charge vary by program.

The computer science field features many free certifications for new and experienced workers, such as Google Cloud certification. You can take an online class to master information engineering, Google Cloud, and cloud computing basics. Google also provides a free exam guide.

Check an organization or company's reputation before paying for a certification class. Some certifications may not cover the latest professional skills and best practices.

And if that's the case, you may need a trade school degree, certificate, or diploma instead.

Vocational Program

Vocational programs award a college certificate or diploma that graduates use to start a career or transfer to an associate program. Full-time and accelerated students can graduate in only seven months. Other learners may need up to one year, depending on the program.

Vocational programs feature many advantages, like learning from experts in the field.

Teachers pass down their extensive knowledge and skills to the next generation. Students also receive more personalized attention than they would at a four-year college, as most schools cap classes at 25-35 learners.

You can find the most competitive tuition rate by enrolling in a local trade school. These schools often offer significant cost savings compared to public four-year colleges. Plus, you may qualify for institutional or state grants.

Associate Degree

An associate degree prepares students for trade careers while building in-demand transferable skills, such as communication and analytical thinking.

You can develop these skills in general education classes like English, mathematics, and the social sciences. And these extra requirements mean that most full-time degree-seekers graduate in two years.

If you earn an associate degree, you can benefit from more than a well-rounded education. Your junior or community college may offer more resources, such as a wider variety of academic programs.

And other potential benefits include online learning opportunities.

Students at a two-year public college paid an average tuition of $3,501 in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This figure does not include related expenses such as textbooks, fees, housing, and transportation.

Bachelor's Degree

You may need a bachelor's degree for management-level careers in skilled trades.

A bachelor's degree helps you improve your trades resume, qualifying you for a better-paying position. Typical job titles for workers with this degree include foreperson and superintendent.

Bachelor's degree-seekers without prior college experience need about four years to earn a degree. But learners with an associate degree or significant college credit graduate in only 1-2 years.

Typical admission requirements include proof of high school graduation, FAFSA results, and recommendation letters.

You can work with career and academic advisors to choose a major aligning with your career goals, such as management.

Typical classes for a bachelor's in management include business ethics, values-based leadership, and organizational behavior. You can use the skills these classes emphasize to take on new responsibilities, such as overseeing employees.

The average tuition for a bachelor's degree in the 2020-2021 school year exceeded $19,000, according to NCES. But public colleges and universities may cost less.

Master's Degree

If you work in the trades and have a bachelor's and significant experience, you can return to school to earn a master's degree.

A master's degree provides the training some professionals need to start a business.

Some learners enroll in a master's in entrepreneurship program. Typical classes include introduction to new ventures, cases in feasibility analysis, and cases in new future management.

Students graduate able to motivate and lead teams, manage a business enterprise, and create a business brand.

Other degree-seekers earn a master's in business administration (MBA). An MBA helps students develop business and technical skills. Some feature specializations, such as corporate strategy, finance, general management, and international management.

A master's degree's cost varies by major. Graduate students with financial need may qualify for federal grants and loans by completing the FAFSA annually.

Trades Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship helps professionals develop skills, network with experienced workers, and increase their salary potential.

Program length ranges from 1-6 years, depending on the career. And apprenticeship candidates need a high school diploma. But some programs also require experience, prerequisite classes, and good physical health.

Organizations in many industries that include plumbing, woodworking, and the culinary arts offer apprenticeship programs. Butcher apprentices learn how to cut meat, use industrial equipment, and slaughter animals. Apprentices must pass an exam to graduate.

Apprentices start earning a salary on their first day of work. And salary increases as workers gain more experience. Other benefits may include healthcare coverage for children and other dependents.

Successful apprentices become a journeyperson. States regulate some careers by licensing journeypersons.

Journeypersons take on more responsibilities but still report to masters in their field. Workers become a master by meeting experience requirements and passing an exam.

Trades Internships

Like apprenticeships, trades internships offer students and inexperienced workers many advantages that include building skills and networking with employers.

Typical internships take place over the summer, while some last up to one year.

Trades internships do come with some disadvantages, though, such as no salary or benefits. Quality among programs also varies, meaning prospective interns must research which programs to avoid. And there's no guarantee of a job offer.

High school and college students can choose from many options, such as industrial maintenance and instrumentation technician. These and related programs may let interns work in a hybrid format.

Programs offered by local municipalities prepare interns for a career as a water treatment plant operator. The BLS states that this job offers a median salary above what the typical U.S. worker made in 2021.

Prospective interns can explore local internship programs with a career counselor's help. These professionals can also help you compare the best internship and apprenticeship programs.

What to Include in Your Trades Resume

A well-written trades resume helps new and experienced workers increase their chances of getting one of the best trade jobs. No matter the industry, a good trades resume uses a template that lets readers review information quickly.

A trades resume features more than a list of work experience. Using action verbs that show leadership and management skills really draws readers' attention.

Human resources specialists want applicants with industry-related skills aligning with the open position's responsibilities. Be sure to include soft skills, too, such as communication, decision-making, and collaboration.

You won't want to forget to include relevant certifications and licenses, either. These credentials show dedication to the field and may make up for lack of experience.

Finally, a professional summary lets you put a personal touch on your trades resume. It explains why your skills and experiences make you the perfect fit for the job.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Career in Trades

What trade skills are high in demand?

In-demand trade jobs for 2022 include paralegal, welder, brick mason, carpenter, and wind turbine technician.

The BLS projects the need for wind turbine technicians to grow by 44% from 2021-2031. The BLS bases this faster-than-average figure on retirements and the growth of renewable energy in the United States.

Entering an in-demand field features many advantages, such as negotiating a higher starting salary and exploring more open positions nationwide. More jobs let workers relocate to a place where they may achieve a high quality of life.

Students, interns, and apprentices can work with advisors or managers to identify skills that make the biggest impact on their career advancement.

What is the easiest trade to learn?

Some of the easiest trades to learn include welding and masonry. Typical programs take less than six months to complete, letting workers start a job or apprenticeship as soon as possible. Starting a career as a plumber also takes less time than other trades.

The answer also depends on the worker, as passion and background knowledge affect a trade's difficulty.

Workers find the right trade by exploring the job market, working with counselors, and taking interest surveys. The latter's results help some professionals rethink their career plans and choose a new path.

What are the best-paying trade jobs?

There are many well-paying trade jobs, such as an electrician. The BLS reports that electricians working in May 2021 earned a median $60,040 annual salary. Plus, professionals employed by a government agency made about $3,000 more.

And the latest BLS data from May 2021 shows that HVAC technicians made a median salary exceeding $48,000.

Many other skilled trades offer a median salary above what the typical U.S. worker makes. However, note that many factors like certifications, degrees, years of experience, and geographic location can affect salary potential.

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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.