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According to The College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges , the cost of traditional college has more than doubled over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, trade school jobs, which do not require a degree, are in demand. Many trade jobs pay above-average salaries and may provide opportunities to start working — and start making money — sooner.
We used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to source some of the highest paying trades, ranked below. We also include costs associated with training and advice for paying for training in one of these fields. Click on the job title to read more about what the position entails.
|Job title||Average salary||Projected job growth rate|
|Construction manager/general contractor||$107,260||8%|
|Electrical power-line installers||$74,410||2%|
|Physical therapy assistant||$59,440||33%|
|Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse||$50,090||9%|
Recently, job openings in manufacturing have skyrocketed, nearly tripling between April 2020 and April 2021, according to data from the BLS .
Construction managers coordinate teams of manufacturing professionals to execute the project correctly and on time. They are enterprising self-starters who are just as skilled in collaboration as they are in the technical aspects of the trade.
Some construction managers have a bachelor’s degree, but many work as general contractors and have reached their position after years of experience in another trade. You might be cut out for this profession if you are a dreamer and a doer — capable of seeing the big picture and highly attentive to details that make a project come together.
Dental hygienists help support patients’ preventative oral health to avoid these emergencies and other adverse health outcomes.
As a trained dental hygienist, you’ll encounter variety in your career. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) , dental hygienists can step into roles as clinicians, educators, public health workers, entrepreneurs, and other specializations.
Electrical Power-Line Installer
The work of an electrical power-line installer is anything but boring. It demands technical skill, coordination, and working up high or in tight spaces. This profession also supplies a basic need — electricity.
The average electrical power-line installer earned far beyond the national average salary in 2020. And the 90th percentile earned over $100,000 . People in this field gain skills on the job through an apprenticeship program and sometimes supplement their training with a year-long certificate.
Building and home inspectors apply their knowledge and experience in construction trades to investigate homes and commercial buildings for quality and safety. Proper inspections can spot structural problems before they cause problems — potentially saving lives.
The training and certification requirements for building inspectors vary widely across states. But according to the Occupational Information Network (O*Net) , about half of building inspectors have a post-secondary certificate or associate degree.
Respiratory therapist jobs have one of the fastest projected growth rates on our best trade school jobs list. People in this profession treat patients of all ages and perform many different roles, from direct therapy to education.
Respiratory therapists help patients with breathing problems, help people quit smoking, and advocate for research on lung diseases, according to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) .
Being an electrician involves complex problem-solving, collaboration with construction teams, and highly technical work. Because aging buildings frequently need maintenance and repairs and new construction needs to be connected to the grid, electricians are always in demand.
Electricians learn on the job through apprenticeship programs, which can take several years to complete but eventually lead to higher-than-average pay. Experienced electricians in the 90th pay percentile earned $98,720 a year .
A plumber’s day-to-day responsibilities are constantly changing. One thing that stays the same: plumbing jobs take equal parts collaboration — to understand someone’s emergency — and independence — to apply your skills to solve the problem at hand.
Like electricians, plumbers start as apprentices, meaning they can earn money while gaining the experience and expertise they need to be a master of their trade.
Physical Therapy Assistant
Physical therapy assistants have the fastest projected growth rate on our list. According to the BLS, the country will need more people in these roles to support an aging population.
People in this job work closely with others, and they are constantly on their feet. Physical therapy assistance could be a good fit for you if you love helping others, prefer a social and active setting, and want to work in healthcare.
Like several mechanical trades on our list, HVAC technicians use problem-solving abilities and highly specific technical skills. They repair or install systems that people rely on, such as heating, cooling, and ventilation. Because the job provides a necessary service, it can be rewarding but also requires precision.
According to the BLS , these careers are bound for growth due to an increased push toward energy efficiency. As an HVAC technician, it’s important to stay updated on how building structures and regulations are changing with greener technology.
Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse
When you become a licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), you can enter the medical field relatively quickly — in less than two years.
Being an LPN/LVN involves paperwork along with careful monitoring and reporting. But the heart of the job requires direct care for others, close communication with a medical team, and long shifts caring for people in hospitals and long-term care facilities. LPN/LVNs may also supervise a team of nursing assistants .
Take It From a Pro: Expert Advice on Choosing the Right Trade School Job
Note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Joseph Wood is a master plumber, HVAC specialist, and founder of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating who’s been in the field for nearly two decades.
Wood’s advice for those considering pursuing the trades: "Do it and do it now."
How did you choose your career?
My family has always been involved in the trades, and after seeing the market bust during the dot-com bubble, I shifted gears and moved to do what has always been good for my family -- plumbing, heating, and AC work.
What have been some of the pros?
Lots and lots. This is an industry that will give you what you put into it or more, guaranteed. If you care about the industry and what you do for a living, you'll be rewarded accordingly, and not only is your job in high demand, but the opportunity to continue growing just improves every day. The job will not be outsourced, and the scarcity in our industry has made pay continue to increase each year. We're moving in a direction where people don't learn any physical skills like they used to, so having them is a godsend.
And the drawbacks?
All positions in the plumbing/heating/cooling industry are physically demanding. On top of that is the fact you're dealing with critical services, like water, drainage, gas, and so on, so the pressure is there when you work in this industry. Many people think doing plumbing work is very dirty, which is not entirely true, but the tight workspaces, cold and hot homes, and various weather events certainly make for a good challenge.
What is your advice for those considering a trade school career?
Classic guidance points every student to college, but the smart ones go to vocational school or enter the trades immediately after high school and are fully licensed in the same amount of time as a college student, minus the crushing college debt. Nearly all of us know someone with a bachelor's degree who is packing groceries, and meanwhile, the tradesperson soars past the average college student. To be good at anything, you have to work hard, but in this industry, your position is all but guaranteed, whereas with most college courses, you're one of many applying for the same job, which does not make one feel rewarded for their degree.
What is the most important decision to make to be where you are today?
Committing to school, but committing to going beyond what they teach you. The code is the "Minimum," and doing it better is not a requirement, so many stop there. I made the choice to keep learning and keep growing, and that is what has gotten me to where I am today.
Trade School Jobs Resource Center
If you're considering one of these best paying trade school jobs, read up on some of our other resources, including:
- How to navigate paid job training programs
- All you need to know about apprenticeships
- Guidance around switching careers
Finally, we used external sources to find information about apprenticeships and paid training programs, including Apprenticeship.gov and Americabuilds.org . If you're between the ages of 16 and 24, be sure to also check out Jobcorps.gov for career-starting programs that pay for your education, training, and room and board.
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