The Fastest Routes to a Skilled Trade Job

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  • The demand for skilled tradespeople far outpaces the number of trade school graduates.
  • You can often become an EMT, brick mason, or funeral director within six months.
  • Electricians earn high median annual salaries and these positions are projected to increase.

According to a March 2021 study by skilled trades agency PeopleReady, the demand for skilled tradespeople far outpaces the number of qualified professionals, even during a pandemic. In particular, there is a growing need for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and construction workers.

Skilled trades jobs can provide job seekers an antidote to the uncertainty — economic and otherwise — that currently looms over the United States. Trade school and certificate programs are often cheaper than four-year colleges, and many trades offer on-the-job, tuition-free training. Moreover, pursuing a trade may be a good choice for prospective students who prefer hands-on, practical work to theoretical classroom learning. 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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Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% job growth for electricians, who earned a median annual salary of $56,900 in May 2020. Electricians usually need to complete an apprenticeship or trade school program rather than a formal degree program. As such, they can usually earn a high return on investment on whatever they spend on their education.

Many programs can prepare you for employment within less than a year. For example, you can pursue six-month certificate programs to become a firefighter, EMT, funeral director, brick mason, or medical coder.

Read on to learn more about the fastest routes into the skilled trades.

Certificate Programs

A certificate indicates completion of coursework in a specialized subject. Many four-year colleges award certificates. Unlike professional certifications awarded by professional associations, certificates vary by school and are less standardized. They usually take 4-12 months to complete, and tuition rates are often cheaper for certificates than degrees. You can also earn certificates through trade schools and community colleges.

Trade Schools

Also called technical schools and vocational colleges, trade schools teach practical skills that lead to specific careers. Trade schools do not require general education courses, and all coursework directly relates to a student's target profession.

Most trade school programs take 6-24 months to complete, which is much less than the four years it takes to finish a bachelor's degree program. Trade schools allow students to graduate and start earning money more quickly than traditional colleges.

Community Colleges

Community colleges, sometimes known as junior colleges, are two-year schools that offer associate degrees and certificate programs. Community colleges focus on preparing learners for the workforce through trade programs. Additionally, these schools often maintain articulation agreements that allow graduates to transfer seamlessly into local four-year colleges and universities.

Community colleges often provide significant tuition discounts to students from surrounding counties. And many states also offer programs that allow in-state students to attend community college for free.

Fast-Track Training Programs

Fast-track training programs focus on preparing learners for the workforce rapidly. These programs qualify learners for entry-level trade positions so that they can start on-the-job training and gain additional skills as they work.

Students can look for fast-track training programs in fields like information technology, HVAC, medical assisting, and pharmaceutical technologies.

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Apprenticeships are paid positions in which entry-level workers earn wages and gain on-the-job training for a defined period of time, often 1-4 years. They are beneficial because apprentices can earn money while mastering their trade and learning from more skilled professionals.

Apprentices also do not need to pay tuition or spend time in a classroom. As such, apprenticeships may be the most efficient and affordable path to learning a skilled trade.

Prospective apprentices can pursue apprenticeships to prepare for jobs related to automobile maintenance, carpentry, and coding and information technology. Electricians can also sometimes pursue apprenticeships in lieu of attending trade school.


Pre-apprenticeships are programs that lead to official apprenticeships approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. Federally funded pre-apprenticeship programs include Job Corps and YouthBuild. Pre-apprenticeships are not reserved for people under 18 — career changers can also apply. Many programs seek out nontraditional applicants and applicants with barriers to employment.

Pre-apprenticeships are available in fields like manufacturing, information technology, and construction.

On-the-Job Training

Employees performing on-the-job training receive wages while learning key skills for their trade. Instead of paying tuition to a trade school or community college, tradespeople completing on-the-job training earn money while learning to perform their jobs.

In the skilled trades, experience is often the best teacher. As such, you should expect to complete some on-the-job training in almost every trade position, even if you already hold a certificate or associate degree. On-the-job training allows you to learn under the instruction of more skilled tradespeople as you work your way toward mastery.

Even in trades that do not require on-the-job training, you should complete continuing education and stay current on the latest trends and technology in your field to keep your skills sharp.

In some trades, such as construction, you may only need a high school or GED diploma and on-the-job training to qualify for entry-level and apprentice roles.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Fastest Routes to a Skilled Trade Job

How long does it take to learn a skilled trade?

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It depends on the trade. Prospective students can often pursue six-month certificate programs to launch careers as firefighters, funeral directors, and brick masons. However, mastering a trade like carpentry or becoming a skilled electrician can require 4-5 years or more of study and on-the-job practice.

What is the most in-demand skilled trade?

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The demand for skilled trades can vary widely depending on a worker's location and employer. However, two positions that the BLS projects will increase dramatically from 2020-2030 include wind turbine technicians (68% projected growth) and solar photovoltaic installers (52% projected growth). Both of these occupations are projected to grow much faster than the average for all jobs (8%).

What trade can I learn in six months or less?

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In six months of study and/or on-the-job training, you can become a funeral director, EMT, firefighter, or brick mason. While some schools offer six-month electrician and carpentry programs, you will likely need years of study and practice to become fully skilled in these fields.

Feature Image: andresr / E+ / Getty Images 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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