The best and highest paying trade jobs all have a few things in common. They’re in demand, can be taught in a reasonable amount of time, and are quite fulfilling.
This list goes over all of the trade school jobs you should consider if you’re looking for an affordable way into a reliable career.
What are Trade School Careers?
The best trade school jobs are in-demand and often don’t require a traditional four-year degree. They require more education than a high school diploma, but the type of training you need is focused specifically on that job. Trade schools also offer vocational programs that prepare you for in-demand and often well-paying jobs.
These programs prioritize skills you need for a specific trade. Whether you’re studying to become an electrician or a pipefitter, vocational programs are more targeted than traditional Bachelor’s degree programs. There are no liberal arts studies or electives to fulfill. Everything you learn directly benefits you in the field.
A more focused education gives you the fundamental skills to succeed early in the job market. Generally, the hands-on approach makes it easy to transition into the industry straight out of trade school. However, trade school jobs also provide ample opportunity for growth.
Electricians are always in high demand, which makes them one of the best trade school jobs you can pursue. They’re responsible for planning, inspecting, installing, and maintaining electrical systems. As an electrician, you can work on everything from brand-new commercial builds to rewiring old homes to bring them up to code.
This is a trade that can earn you a salary of about $56,000 a year. More importantly, you can start earning relatively quickly.
In addition to trade school, electricians get paid on-the-job training and several years of apprenticeship. The education is a bit longer than other trade school jobs, but there’s ample room for growth and career development moving forward.
2. Real Estate Appraiser
Real estate appraisers earn in the neighborhood of about $58,500 a year. The position is highly flexible. You don’t have to get involved in direct sales or work for a real estate company.
Many appraisers assist investors, property managers, and any entity with landholdings.
Appraisers provide objective value estimations using their in-depth knowledge of real estate and the local market. This trade school job requires excellent attention to detail and great interpersonal skills to succeed.
3. Dental Hygienist
If you want to work in a professional setting making above-average annual pay, becoming a dental hygienist may be the way to go. Hygienists earn an average yearly salary of around $77,000.
Their job is to work under the supervision of dentists to clean teeth, take x-rays, and more. Experts at preventative oral care, dental hygienists play a big part in educating patients. Most people spend more time with the hygienist than with the dentist during a visit.
In addition to adequate training and education, dental hygienists must obtain proper licensing to work in their state.
4. Home Inspector
As a home inspector, your job is to scrutinize work to ensure that it’s done correctly by local code. The goal is to spot potential issues that could cause a health or safety hazard. Inspectors have impressive attention to detail and often find minor problems that contractors or repair professionals miss.
Inspectors make around $52,000 a year. They must have a good understanding of plumbing, construction methods, electrical work, and more. This is one of the best trade jobs because they’re typically in demand.
5. HVAC Technician
We all have HVAC technicians to thank for our cozy homes and offices. If you’re interested in becoming an HVAC technician, you’ll have to complete a vocational program and on-the-job training. This trade school career involves installing, repairing, and maintaining complex heating and cooling systems.
Like electricians and plumbers, they have flexible work environments and often find themselves completing projects in homes, commercial spaces, offices, and more. HVAC technicians can hone their skills to one subspecialty, resulting in higher pay and more demand for continued growth.
The average yearly salary for an HVAC Technician is around $50,000.
6. Radiation Therapist
Here’s one of the highest-paying trade jobs that many don’t think to consider. Radiation therapists work closely with patients that have cancer and other conditions. Their responsibilities are to go over treatment plans, use machines to provide said treatment, and monitor patients.
It’s a multi-faceted job with many routes you can go. Most find employment in hospitals. However, radiation therapists can also work in outpatient care centers, physician offices, and more.
The average salary for a radiation therapist is around $86,000.
Contrary to popular belief, pipefitters are not the same as plumbers. Their skills can cross over, but pipefitters focus on constructing piping systems.
It’s not always related to bathroom fixtures or water systems. Pipefitters often work in industrial or commercial settings to install pipe networks that transport everything from oils to chemicals.
For a salary of approximately $55,000 a year, pipefitters put their hands-on skills to the test. They usually spend their days cutting, threading, and hammering pipes to meet blueprint specifications.
8. Construction Manager
Here’s another trade that pays well with room to grow. A construction manager earns an impressive $97,000 a year on average.
As the title would suggest, a construction manager oversees large-scale construction projects. Their duties are more complex than most realize. Not only are they managing various subcontractors and teams, but they also have to prepare estimates, communicate with clients, address problems, and more.
9. Landscape Architect
Those who love the outdoors can sink into a fulfilling career as a landscape architect. In this trade job, you would plan and design functional outdoor spaces. You might work on public parks, college campuses, or even private commercial areas.
The job is more involved than that of a landscape designer. In addition to choosing the right plants and structures, you have to do feasibility tests, take soil samples, manage drainage, and care for budgetary issues.
The job pays around $69,000 a year and typically requires state licensing.
Plumbers are the perfect example of an in-demand trade school job to learn. Everyone needs a plumber at some point! They’re the backbone of our modern plumbing infrastructure and do a lot to ensure that our homes are comfortable.
As a plumber, you can work on a wide range of projects. You might work on brand-new builds to install pipes and fixtures. Or, you might make house calls to fix emergency leaks!
Whatever the case may be, this is one of the best trade jobs because of the security that comes with it. The average annual salary is about $56,000.
11. Wind Turbine Technician
Wind energy is becoming more popular every passing year, making wind turbine technicians one of the best trade jobs you can have. This trade career can net you around $56,000 a year.
A wind turbine technician’s job is to maintain the machinery that helps us harness alternative energy sources. Your training will cover how to repair various components. It’s not just limited to the turbines themselves. Many technicians also work at substations, transmission systems, and more.
12. Rotary Drill Operator
For an annual salary of about $54,000, you can become a rotary drill operator. This career focuses on drilling into the earth to access gas and oil. It’s a tough trade job that requires a deep understanding of heavy machinery and the complexities of oil drilling.
Most of your education will come from on-the-job training after vocational programs. As a result, you can jump in and start your career relatively quickly.
13. Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Automobile mechanics are a dime a dozen. But not too many people can work on heavy machinery like cranes, excavators, and other equipment used for massive projects. They’re also always in demand, making it one of the best trades to learn.
A heavy equipment mechanic learns the ins and outs of these large-scale feats of engineering. They also utilize computerized tools for easy diagnostics and monitoring.
With this career, you can earn an average annual salary of about $55,000.
14. Respiratory Therapist
A respiratory therapist deals with conditions that affect the lungs and airways. Like a radiation therapist, this career is hyper-focused on one particular part of medicine.
If this trade seems like a career you’d like to pursue, you’ll work closely with patients to measure lung capacity, blood oxygen, and more. You may also develop treatment plans that have a meaningful impact. Respiratory therapists can work in hospitals, diagnostic labs, pulmonary rehabilitation clinics, and more.
The average salary is $62,800.
15. Geological & Hydrological Technician
This trade school job is undoubtedly a messy one, but it pays very well and offers an exciting work experience. The average annual salary is $76,000.
As a geological or hydrological technician, your goal is to find, identify, and extract natural resources. That could be gas, oil, coal, and more.
It’s a math-heavy trade job that requires gathering samples, performing tests, and searching far and wide for a feasible drilling site.
Boilermakers are the unsung heroes who keep up warm and toasty! As you can probably guess from the job title, boilermakers assemble, repair, and maintain boiler systems. They may also work on large containers utilized in ships, factories, and more.
This is a physically demanding trade. There’s a lot of fabrication involved, which can be quite tiring.
But if you’re up for the challenge, this career can earn you more than $65,000 a year.
17. Power Utility Technician
Here’s another underappreciated trade job that we rely on every day. Power utility technicians (also known as electrical powerline technicians) maintain the local power transmission network.
With this skilled trade, you’ll spend your days climbing high-voltage powerlines to make repairs and keep power flowing to homes, businesses, and schools. It’s a fast-paced job that can put you in some thrilling situations.
However, it’s also gratifying in times when your help is desperately needed. A power utility technician typically earns $65,500 annually.
18. Civil Engineering Technician
Civil engineering is about designing infrastructure projects. If that sounds too vague, it’s because this trade job is very flexible. Tasks can involve commercial, industrial, and residential infrastructure. It all depends on what engineers are hired to do.
As a civil engineering technician, your job would be to assist. Typical responsibilities might include looking at detailed blueprints, cross-referencing details with local code, estimating costs, and more.
The average civil engineering technician earns about $53,000 a year.
19. Medical Sonographer
Medical sonographers play a vital role in the healthcare system. They operate the machinery that generates images of a patient’s internals. For example, sonographers are the people who look at fetuses in pregnant women, view cardiovascular issues in heart patients, and more.
As a medical sonographer, you obtain the images that help physicians make potentially life-saving diagnoses. This career can earn you almost $63,000 a year.
20. Fiber Optics Technician
If you want to talk about trade jobs that are in demand, look no further than fiber optics technicians. Fiber optics is about improving the reach of broadband connections. They’re responsible for delivering the high-speed Internet you rely on every day.
Technicians work to design, install, repair, and maintain the telecommunications infrastructure. If you pursue this career, you can expect an average annual salary of around $61,000.
21. Aviation Mechanic
If you love flying and the technology that makes it possible, consider becoming an aviation mechanic. Also known as an aircraft mechanic, this position comes with an annual salary of around $67,000.
This trade school career is an important one. Your job is to maintain equipment and ensure that flights go off without a hitch. You may find yourself working for commercial airlines, private hangars, or even get a job working in the military.
22. Solar Photovoltaic Installer
This trade school job is certainly a mouthful. But like wind turbine technicians, solar photovoltaic installers are paving the way for the future of renewable energy. These positions are becoming more prominent with every passing year, leaving plenty of growth opportunities.
A solar photovoltaic installer implements and maintains solar systems. That may require getting on some hot roofs or working in a massive solar farm. Either way, it’s a rewarding career that you can enter with on-the-job training.
The average salary is about $45,000 a year.
There are many ways to become a millwright. You can complete a vocational program or secure on-the-job training. Either way, this trade school career path is complex and full of opportunities.
A millwright is someone who assembles, maintains, and repairs heavy equipment. As a millwright, you’ll most likely work in an industrial setting. You would be responsible for the machines that many processes rely on day in and day out.
For this job, you could earn about $55,000 a year.
24. Elevator & Escalator Contractor
Any type of machinery that moves people requires skilled hands to maintain. Elevators and escalators are no different!
An elevator and escalator contractor handles all aspects of these complex systems. They can install them in new buildings, make significant repairs to keep them safe, and perform ongoing inspections or maintenance.
As you can imagine, this trade job is challenging, but that makes it one of the highest-paying ones around. It involves heights, great attention to detail, and plenty of physical stamina. The plus side is earning about $88,000 a year for your troubles.
25. MRI Technician
MRI technicians are another valuable cog in the wheel that is modern medicine.
As a technician, you use your skills to operate Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment. It’s a massive scanner that does 3D images of a patient’s body.
Many physicians use MRIs to diagnose a litany of health conditions. As a result, MRI techs can get pretty busy in their day-to-day life. The average salary is about $75,000 a year.
The Advantage of Pursuing In-Demand Trade Jobs
There are many reasons you would want to consider pursuing a trade job.
So many people assume that the only pathway to landing a well-paying job is to pursue traditional college programs. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Plenty of lucrative skill-based trades can earn you a comfortable living.
Not only that, but the best trade jobs have impressive stability. Skilled trades are always in demand, and some are poised to experience significant growth in the coming years as our tech and power infrastructure evolves.
Another notable advantage is the investment you have to put in. Trade school programs are far more affordable than a traditional four-year college degree. You will often pay less to complete a program, leading to lower student debt.
But there’s more.
Many students who pursue a trade job can enter their field immediately. Whether that’s through an entry-level position, on-the-job training, or an apprenticeship, you’re getting paid early while continuing to improve your skills.
It’s a win-win all around, and if you find something worth pursuing, you can get all the gratitude and fulfillment you need.
How Long Does it Take to Complete Trade School?
The exact timeline will vary from one program to the next. But generally, trade school programs take a mere two years. Some take even less time, allowing you to enter the field in a year!
You must remember that trade schools prioritize the applicable skills you need to succeed in your chosen field. There are no general education courses or liberal arts requirements. It’s all targeted, getting you in and out into the working world.
Pursuing the best trade jobs is incredibly smart if you’re looking for a career that’s in demand and pays well. And hopefully, the list above will help point you in the right direction!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.