It’s a longstanding misconception that a college degree is essential for a lucrative and rewarding career.
Trade jobs, which rarely require a college education, are often seen as lower-paid opportunities.
However, trade jobs can potentially earn skilled workers upwards of six figures every year.
Trade jobs are a popular choice for those who can’t, or don’t want to, complete a bachelor’s degree.
There is a huge variety of trade jobs, from those that demand hands-on physical labor to those that require greater dexterity and personal skills.
And many of these trade jobs come with enticing salaries.
Interested in learning the types of trade jobs out there, and which potential career path comes with the highest salary?
We’ve explored some of the highest-paid trade jobs available, the skills you’ll need to succeed, and the educational requirements to get you started on your chosen career path.
Article Table of Contents
What Is a Trade Job?
At the basic level, a trade job is a job that requires advanced education or training beyond high school, but that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.
Instead, these jobs need vocational training, sometimes in the form of apprenticeships or on-the-job learning.
Many trade jobs require certification from a training program.
These programs will often last for around six months to one year, and at the end of the program, you’re ready to enter the workforce.
Vocational training like this is offered by vocational schools, trade schools, or community colleges.
Other trade jobs bypass the certification and require apprenticeship training.
Following this path, an apprentice starts working directly within the trade, learning skills from an experienced supervisor.
The apprentice learns the role while earning a paycheck, and the tradesperson gets help at a lower cost.
An apprenticeship is a formal method of on-the-job training, but there are informal ways to get started in a trade career.
Some positions will take on unskilled laborers, slowly introducing them to the profession.
There won’t be a certificate to indicate skill level, but all the responsibilities are gradually learned.
As well as the route into the career, there are other criteria that separate the trade job.
For a start, a trade job is a skilled labor.
There is a learning process involved, even if it doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.
These skills often involve physical labor, or, at least, hands-on work.
Not all trade jobs involve construction sites, but few of them are based around an office desk.
This has led to the misconception that trade jobs are for men, but almost anyone can find a suitable trade job — and a gym membership isn’t a necessary requirement.
What Is the Advantage of a Trade Job?
If you’re thinking of pursuing a trade job, you might be curious about the benefits this route offers over a bachelor’s degree.
As with any career, there are pros and cons to trade jobs, but the long-term advantages have plenty of appeals.
One of the immediate advantages of the trade job is that the qualifying route is much quicker than obtaining a four-year college degree.
In some trade positions, you can even get started right away.
The majority of trade school courses take between six months and two years, and many schools offer courses on a part-time basis.
For some positions, you can get started even quicker than that.
If you choose a role with an apprenticeship or on-the-job training, you can enter the workforce straight away.
The obvious benefit to this is that you’re earning a paycheck while you learn.
In turn, trade jobs come without the debt associated with obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
Beyond pay, a trade career can potentially offer better job security, especially in comparison to unskilled labor.
Many trade jobs offer a “hands-on” service, the kind that can’t be moved overseas to cut costs.
However, to maintain this, a tradesperson will often need to continue learning, and adapt the job to suit technological advancement.
Trade jobs are typically physical, and this can be a pro and a con.
A trade job can leave you exhausted, but many prefer physical engagement to the chair-based standard office job.
The level of physical skill varies massively across trade jobs, so you can find a career that suits your needs.
The practical skills of a trade job also have advantages in your own life.
The skills picked up in the workplace can often be used around the home.
For example, an electrician will often find an issue in the home is an easy, and cheap, fix.
Finally, the benefit we’re focusing on here — you can earn good money following a trade career.
There is often clear progression in a trade job, and many positions allow you to become your own boss.
When you excel in your chosen field, you can potentially bring home a six-figure salary.
If you’re intrigued by the possibilities of a trade position, take a look at this guide to 10 of the highest-paid trade jobs.
Median salary: $98,890 per year
A construction manager oversees the running of a construction site, ensuring that projects run smoothly, and deliver the desired outcome on time.
Becoming a construction manager is a long-term career goal and not a job you can enter straight off the back of vocational training.
However, if you’re interested in working on construction sites, a construction manager is an achievable position to aspire to.
A construction manager has multiple responsibilities on a construction site.
They manage the project from start to finish, with roles in commercial, industrial, and residential areas.
This includes initial estimates and determining a budget, as well as creating a viable timeline.
A construction manager needs to understand both the workforce and the materials, to create realistic goals.
Construction managers are also involved with the hiring process, and day-to-day, they’ll monitor progress.
When emergencies occur, the construction manager is the person to put out the (metaphorical) fires.
It’s a complex role, and it requires plenty of skills that can only come with experience.
Construction managers need to be savvy communicators and excellent leaders.
You’ll be the person everyone turns to when things go wrong, so you need to be quick at assessing problems and finding viable solutions.
Experience in construction is incredibly useful.
It means that a construction manager can better understand the realities of a project and foster relationships with other tradespeople.
However, there are advantages to pursuing college-level courses in subjects such as accounting and business management.
Construction management is a long-term goal, so these courses can potentially be taken on a part-time basis as you work on-site.
Construction managers tend to work between the office and the job site, and the hours can be long.
In turn, construction managers are often self-employed and are able to set their own schedules.
Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that construction management is a fast-growing industry, with an expected growth of 8% between 2021-31.
Median salary: $77,810 per year
During a trip to the dentist, you’ve probably never paid much attention to who was in the room with you.
You just want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
So, you might not have noticed the role of the dental hygienist.
While qualifying as a dentist requires a four-year bachelor’s degree as a minimum, the dental hygienist is considered a trade job.
Dental hygienists work directly with the patient, under the supervision of a dentist.
A dental hygienist’s role typically involves carrying out examinations and checking patients for signs of oral disease.
Hygienists can offer preventative care, and help instruct the patient on maintaining good oral health.
This isn’t a role for the squeamish.
A dental hygienist will use tools to remove plaque, scale, polish teeth, and apply various materials to prevent decay.
They’re also required to take impressions of the teeth, including performing x-rays.
A dental hygienist needs to have a steady hand, good manual dexterity, and clear focus and concentration.
They also need to have impressive communication skills and a welcoming manner.
Dental hygienists need to talk to patients and provide them with advice, encouragement, and general information.
Dental hygienists are also responsible for maintaining the sterile conditions of the dental office, and the upkeep of patient records.
It’s a well-rounded job, with plenty of hands-on requirements, as well as some desk-based work.
A dental hygienist is a trade role with more complex entry requirements.
Obtaining an associate’s degree in dental hygiene is likely to take two to three years, and includes laboratory work, as well as intern placements.
Having received your certification, a dental hygienist is required to take supplemental courses throughout their career, to keep up with advances in oral medicine.
To work as a dental hygienist, you also need licensing from the state (and any state you might work in).
Median salary: $60,040 per year
We’ve probably all had experience with electricians, so you should understand just how essential this role is.
Broadly speaking, electricians are responsible for maintaining electrical supply and electrical items in industrial, commercial, and residential spaces.
This can be anything from outlets to control systems.
Becoming a fully qualified electrician can be a long process.
Some apprenticeships will last for over four years, and this is after finishing a course in a technical school.
Along the way, you’ll learn the ins and outs of electrical systems, and how to operate the tools and devices needed for the trade.
Electricians need to have a good grasp of math, an ability to read blueprints, and an understanding of electrical codes and regulations.
Electricians need to be continuously learning, even after completing an apprenticeship.
Successful electricians are able to adapt to new technologies quickly.
During an apprenticeship, you’ll also learn the communication skills that are vital for an electrician.
This is a job that can have a lot of face-to-face time with customers and the general public, and clear communication is required.
Electricians need to hold a license, and the licensing requirements vary from state to state.
On-the-job experience is an essential requirement, and most electricians can apply for a full license at the end of their apprenticeship.
Once you’ve finished your training, being an electrician can be a lucrative career.
You’ll even earn money during the apprenticeship, making this a well-paid job right from the start.
An electrician is also a job with a good deal of security.
Even during economic downturns, people need electricians.
There’s plenty of room for progression within the trade, and many electricians choose self-employment, setting their own rates.
The day-to-day of the electrician is variable, and it’s a job that can continuously present new challenges.
There’s also room for specialization.
Electricians can choose to focus on one system, or they can take an open approach.
This really is a trade with broad opportunities.
Median salary: $59,880 per year
A plumber is a trade with many similarities to an electrician.
We’ve probably all called on a plumber from time to time, and understand that this is an essential service.
Plumbing is also a trade with a great deal of variety, as plumbers can work in a number of settings.
Any trade with this much variety is a trade with opportunity.
Plumbers can work in commercial properties and residential areas, in manufacturing and production, and indoors and outdoors.
Plumbers might be required to repair an old system, install a new one, or perform general maintenance.
Being a plumber is a hands-on job, and there’s a lot of training required before you can get to work.
A plumber might attend a trade school or a vocational school, to receive practical and classroom-based training.
Some plumbers choose to pursue apprenticeships, to start earning money as they learn.
Having completed your training, the majority of states require a plumber to hold a license, before they can start working.
A typical qualifying route for a license involves hours of supervised experience, followed by an exam.
There is clear career progression for plumbers.
In fact, some states offer different licenses depending on the level of experience — a Journeyman plumber will have fewer opportunities than those with a Master Plumbing License.
Advancing in the plumbing industry often means moving away from physical labor, and towards a supervisor role (although, there is often still a hands-on element).
Master plumbers can become project managers, work on commercial sites, and act as advisors.
A plumber doesn’t necessarily have guaranteed job security, but it is a fairly recession-proof role.
When the plumbing breaks, a plumber is essential.
To advance as a plumber, it’s important to stay educated and to keep up with new developments.
Median salary: $65,380 per year
An aircraft is a pretty fascinating object.
If you’ve ever watched an airplane pass overhead and wondered just what makes it work, then the role of aircraft mechanic might be right for you.
An aircraft mechanic needs to be available before and after every flight, and can potentially be called on even mid-flight.
It’s their responsibility to ensure that every flight passes smoothly and that the aircraft is performing at maximum efficiency.
An aircraft mechanic needs to be able to diagnose problems and provide repairs.
In addition to urgent repairs, aircraft mechanics have to perform routine maintenance.
As you can imagine, there is an intense training course required to become an aircraft mechanic.
These are complex vehicles.
Aircraft mechanics have to learn to identify parts of the craft, use diagnostic instruments, install electronic panels, and complete repairs.
Aircraft mechanics will need to train at a technical school with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification.
You can find more information about FAA-approved courses on the FAA website.
The key to this training is on-the-job experience.
While some of the learning takes place in a classroom, much of it happens at the aircraft.
This training will need to continue throughout your career, as aviation is an evolving field.
Aircraft mechanics work in loud, intense, and busy environments.
A successful mechanic will need to be able to perform under pressure, as in many cases public lives are at risk.
The hours are fairly standard, but there can be overtime and the occasional late-night call-out.
You might assume that all aircraft mechanics work at airports, but there’s a surprising variety of job sites.
Aircraft mechanics can potentially work at repair stations, with manufacturers, or be employed by a specific airline.
Home and Building Inspector
Median salary: $61,640 per year
A home and building inspector is focused on safety.
It’s their responsibility to ensure that buildings are up to code, and finished to a high standard.
If there are problems with safety, a home and building inspector is required to issue violation orders.
Home and building inspectors work in a variety of settings, and with different phases of the build.
A home and building inspector can be involved from the initial planning stages, all the way through to the final checks on a project.
As the work progresses, the inspector ensures the build is following the plans and is up to standard.
Most home and building inspector jobs have minimal education requirements, although some will expect college certification.
However, most of the learning occurs on the job. Inspectors will need to learn to read plans, understand state guidelines and regulations, and know techniques and specifications.
This can include everything from the plumbing to the electricity, to the structural integrity.
A home and building inspector will typically need to be licensed before they can operate on their own, although licenses aren’t required in all states.
The licensing requirements are set by the state and vary depending on the type of building being inspected.
Having qualified for a license, a home and building inspector can start working.
They might work on an individual basis, or be employed by a construction company.
Throughout a career, a building inspector will be required to complete additional training, and stay aware of code changes within the state.
Home and building inspectors typically work set hours and are required to spend time both in the office and on the job site.
Construction experience can be helpful, but it’s rarely a strict requirement.
It’s more important to understand the rules and regulations of the building code than to be able to construct the building yourself.
Median salary: $82,790 per year
Radiation therapists need a blend of interpersonal and technical skills, as this job involves direct contact with patients.
Radiation therapists need to explain and administer radiation therapy to those suffering from cancer and other diseases.
They also play a role in aftercare, observing patients for signs of side effects, and keeping patient records.
Radiation therapists need to complete an associate’s degree from an accredited program, before passing a national certification exam.
This degree will typically take two years to finish.
During training, students learn the process of radiation therapy.
They’ll need to know how to understand a treatment plan, how to operate the medical machinery, and any reactions to be aware of.
Radiation therapists need to be alert, with a keen eye for detail, and have a caring personality.
This is a medical role, so radiation therapists need to have a good understanding of the human body, and the diseases treated with radiation therapy.
They’ll also need to understand how radiation therapy works, and be able to explain to patients the details of the treatment.
Accredited courses will use both classroom learning and hands-on experience to prepare students for working in the medical field.
Students will need to spend time in a clinical setting before they can receive their degrees.
A radiation therapist is also expected to carry out certain administrative tasks, including record-keeping.
Much of this will be learned on the job, although some courses will cover the basics.
To work as a radiation technician, you will need to receive certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
You may also need to apply for licensing from the state, although regulations vary.
Radiation therapists often work in hospitals, but they can also be employed by care centers and physician’s offices.
Median salary: $64,290 per year
On the surface, boilermaker can seem like a fairly self-explanatory career.
However, a boilermaker does more than just construct boilers.
They’re responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing boilers, closed vats, and other large containers.
Boilermaker is a highly physical job, and it requires a lot of technical know-how.
Boilermakers can work in residential areas, but they’re also employed by commercial properties, factories, and even on ships.
Some jobs take place outdoors, and boilermakers will be expected to work regardless of weather conditions.
Safety has to be a key priority, and boilermakers must keep themselves in good physical condition.
The work might be hard, but the rewards can be big.
The median average salary for a boilermaker is $64,290, and those in the top 10% are earning upwards of $100,240.
The median wage for those in the bottom 10% is $46,040.
An apprenticeship is the standard path to a career as a boilermaker.
An apprenticeship is likely to last for four years, but during this time, the trainee will receive payment.
Most of the training will happen on the job.
A boilermaker needs to be able to spot potential problems before they become serious issues, and intense training ensures they’re ready for the task.
A boilermaker needs to know the ins and outs of a boiler or vat, including how to clean them.
It is a high-intensity training course, but no less so than the job in question.
Most apprentices can start the position with a high school diploma.
Some states require a boilermaker to hold a license to work.
However, the rules vary significantly between states, and even cities within the state can have differing requirements.
Completing an apprenticeship can ensure a boilermaker has the certification needed.
Median salary: $78,310 per year
The electric lines that run across the country are rarely a concern for the average person, even though they’re essential to everyday life.
When a line goes down, it can cause some serious issues.
The electric lineman is responsible for installing and maintaining these lines and dealing with outages quickly.
Electric linemen see to the power lines that run both above our heads and below our feet.
They’re expected to install these lines and repair any issues.
This can mean climbing up ladders, and digging trenches, to gain access to the lines.
All this will have to be achieved while carrying potentially heavy equipment.
And once you’ve accessed a power line, a lineman needs to understand exactly what all that wiring means.
Despite what the name implies, it isn’t just men that can work as electric linemen — a woman can be a lineman as well.
However, this is only a job for the physically fit, and those with impressive stamina.
Linemen are expected to work long hours in difficult conditions, whenever the job calls for it.
There are several ways to enter the trade as an electric lineman.
Some technical schools do offer training programs for electricians and similar occupations, which can begin preparing you for a career as an electric lineman.
Alternatively, apprenticeships offer on-the-job experience.
Regardless of the route you choose, an electric lineman will need to complete on-the-job training, before they can advance their career.
As this is such a physically demanding role, this hands-on experience is necessary for learning the day-to-day experience.
Having completed any training, a lineman will be expected to keep up with any technological changes that might affect their work.
Median salary: $77,740 per year
An ultrasound technologist works in a medical setting and uses their skill and experience to diagnose and examine a patient.
Sometimes referred to as a diagnostic medical sonographer, an ultrasound technician works with more than just pregnant women, although this is often the first association.
An ultrasound technologist completes a highly specialized task.
They’re responsible for completing the imaging that can help diagnose cardiovascular and reproductive conditions, as well as assessing progress during pregnancy.
Having completed the imaging, ultrasound technologists are expected to analyze the information and work closely with other healthcare professionals for a diagnosis.
Essential to this is the ability to use and maintain ultrasound equipment.
An ultrasound technician needs to have good hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
They’ll also need an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, and the ability to interpret results from an exam.
In addition to this, an ultrasound technologist needs to have exceptional personal skills.
They work closely with patients and have to be able to prepare them for an ultrasound, keep them calm, and explain the process.
Ultrasound technologists also have close contact with doctors and other healthcare professionals, another task that requires careful interpersonal handling.
Ultrasound technologists are expected to complete an associate’s degree, which typically takes two years.
Further training can also be completed if the technologist wants to specialize.
Having completed an associate’s degree, you will be required to pass the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography exam.
This certification is typically required by the employee, but not necessarily by the state.
However, some states have introduced licenses for ultrasound technologists, so make sure to check out individual requirements.
As ultrasound technologist advances in their career, additional education will be necessary to keep up with changes in the medical field.
This can help the technologist to specialize, which often leads to a salary increase.
A trade job can be a lucrative career choice and one that comes with fewer educational requirements and less student debt than a bachelor’s degree.
Highly paid trade jobs typically require a specialist skill, which needs to be learned on the job.
These fields can be fast-moving, and to truly advance in your career, it will be essential to keep up with recent developments.
An understanding of the variety of highly paid trade jobs can help you find the career path that best suits your needs and skills.