15 Best Trade School Jobs

Female Electrician

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AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis

Going to school for four years after high school to obtain a bachelor's degree isn't for everyone, especially if you have a particular eye for a more technical trade. While education is a key factor in earning a decent living these days (very few occupations require only a high school diploma these days), there are different types of educational institutions out there, such as trade schools.

"Higher ed needed a PR campaign in the ’50s and ’60s — we actually needed more people to enthusiastically matriculate through universities," Mike Rowe, television host and narrator of Dirty Jobs and the CNN series Somebody's Gotta Do It, told Industry Week. "Society really could benefit from more liberal arts, classical thought and more people with a broad-based understanding of stuff. And so the push for college in my view was legitimate. Unfortunately, the push for college came at the expense of other forms of education. And this is just a classic trap in most forms of advocacy and PR. You promote one thing not to the betterment of itself, but at the expense of the other."

Sure, a bachelor's degree accounts for an average of $16,900 in additional income per year compared to a high school diploma ($30,000 versus $46,900), according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. That means that, over the course of 30 years in the workforce, a bachelor's degree could earn you more than a $500,000 difference in earnings. But the cost of four-year colleges is increasing, leaving graduates with an all-time high of student loans. In fact, more Americans are burdened with student loan debt than ever before, with millennials, in particular, owing to a staggering sum — over $1.48 trillion spread out among about 44 million borrowers, according to Student Loan Hero's 2018 estimates.

Graduating from a trade school, however, still offers tons of trade school jobs that promise opportunities, without so many years of school and so many dollars in debt. In fact, the United States' skilled labor shortage is approaching epidemic proportions, so there's a demand for trade school jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that April closed with 6.7 million job openings, and May ended with just over six million people classified as unemployed. According to a report from ADP and Moody’s Analytics, employers are having difficulty finding quality workers.

So trade school is a good choice for anyone looking for an alternative education. Here are 15 top trade school jobs out there.

1. Elevator Mechanic

Someone needs to install, repair and maintain elevators (read: doors, cables, control systems, etc.). And elevator mechanics actually have a good occupational outlook with high earning potential. If you're good with your hands and ready to power up some tools, there are tons of escalators, dumbwaiters, wheelchair lifts, moving walkways and other equipment that could use your help. Only one percent of elevator mechanics are women, but the projected growth rate from 2014 to 2014 stands at 13 percent, so there's room for improvement in that gender breakdown, according to the BLS.
  • Median Annual Salary: $77,580
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

2. Web Developer

A web developer is a skilled programmer who specializes in World Wide Web applications, as well as other applications that are run over HTTP from a web server to a web browser (Read: a lot of coding involved). While most web developers eventually go on to obtain bachelor's degrees, it is possible to get started with an associate's degree and work experience instead. The projected annual growth rate from 2014 to 2024 is 27 percent, according to the BLS, which leaves room to improve the gender breakdown of 19 percent female to 81 percent male, too.
  • Median Annual Salary: $57,662
  • Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

A diagnostic medical sonographer administrates ultrasounds and prepares patients for procedures by reviewing and processing their images. They're typically highly satisfied workers, most of whom are women (97 percent), according to the BLS. The projected growth rate of this job from 2014 to 2014 stands at 24 percent.
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,832
  • Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

4. Electrician

Electricians do indeed have to undergo apprenticeships for as long as college and university (four years), but that's because they require a license to do their jobs. That said, that apprenticeship training is paid, which means that it's more financially feasible than a lot of colleges and universities. Electricians read blueprints and then install, repair and maintain wiring, control systems and other electrical components. Unfortunately, the job field as a lot of work to do with regards to gender equality, as it's 99 percent of male.
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,740
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

5. Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapist earn decent money by working with oncologists in hospital settings. They administer radiation for cancer treatments, which does require a license they can obtain after getting an associate's degree. The projected annual growth rate of the job is 14 percent from 2014 to 2014, according to the BLS.
  • Median Annual Salary: $66,823
  • Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

6. HVAC Technician

An HVAC (Heating, Venting and Air Conditioning) technician works with, well, heating, venting and air conditioning equipment. They're responsible for installing, repairing and maintaining that equipment, which typically means that they need two years of education post-high school and on-the-job training through an apprenticeship. Again, this field is 99 percent male, but there BLS projects that the growth rate between 2014 and 2024 will be 14 percent.
  • Median Annual Salary: $42,886
  • Typical Education Required: Postsecondary Non-degree Award

7. Boilermaker

A boilermaker assembles, installs, repairs and maintains large containers or vessels that are designed for holding liquids or gases (Think: closed vats, steam boilers and boiler furnaces). Little to no prior work experience is required, but they must go through an apprenticeship. There were 17,200 job openings in 2016, which means that boilermakers are very much in demand.
  • Median Annual Salary: $62,260
  • Typical Education Required: Apprenticeship

8. Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist's job entails (but is not limited to) cleaning teeth, taking X-rays and educating patients on their oral hygiene. Dental hygienists actually routinely rank among the most satisfied workers, and the BLS projects a growth rate for the job of 19 percent between 2014 to 2024. Most dental hygienists are female (97 percent).
  • Median Annual Salary: $54,175
  • Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

9. Aircraft Mechanic

An aircraft mechanic is mostly responsible for inspecting, repairing, maintaining and even overhauling airplane and helicopter engines, as well as other important systems. There were 149,500 job openings in 2016, and it's growing at a rate of five percent, according to the BLS, which is about as fast as average. No education is quite necessary, though on-the-job experience is usually preferred.
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,260
  • Typical Education Required: None

10. Plumber

Very few women are plumbers (it's a 99 percent male-dominated industry), but the BLS projects a 12 percent growth rate by 2024 for anyone interested. A plumbing license through an apprenticeship is required, and varies state by state, though the job remains largely the same across the board. It includes installing, repairing and maintaining plumbing pipes in homes and other buildings.
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,048
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

11. Crane Operator

A crane operator "operates mechanical boom and cable or tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machines, or products in many directions," according to the BLS. Crane operators mostly work in Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida. That said, states like New York, New Hampshire, Hawaii, New Jersey and Alaska pay the highest for crane operators. State certification and/or licensure are often required, though it varies.
  • Median Annual Salary: $55,690
  • Typical Education Required: Certification

12. Wind Turbine Technician

Wind turbines to generate electricity are growing in popularity as the world moves toward energy efficiency. Wind turbine technicians are, therefore, evermore needed to install, inspect, repair and maintain these wind turbines. The field is growing at a projected rate of 96 percent, which is much faster than the average.
  • Median Annual Salary: $53,880
  • Typical Education Required:  Postsecondary, Nondegree Award

13. Construction Manager

Construction managers plan, oversee and handle the cooridnation of construction and maintenance activities (read: budgeting and scheduling) related to building projects. While most construction managers do go on to get their bachelor's degrees, many can start out with an associate's degree and years of on-the-job experience. The more experience and schooling they have, the more income they can earn.
  • Median Annual Salary: $91,370
  • Typical Education Required: Experience and, Eventually, a Bachelor's Degree

14. Fashion Designer

A fashion design creates original clothing designs and fashion accessories for their own brand or another that they represent. Like construction managers, most fashion designers do go on to get a bachelor's degree in fashion design — especially from prestigious schools where other fashion designers have graduated from before. That said, getting started designing clothing and accessories doesn't necessarily require schooling.  
  • Median Annual Salary: $67,420
  • Typical Education Required: Experience and, Eventually, a Bachelor's Degree

15. Respiratory Therapist

A lot of respiratory therapists have bachelor’s degrees, as well, but all that's really necessary is an associate's degree to provide entry to the field. Respiratory therapists work directly with both children and adults who have respiratory issues. They perform diagnostic tests and treatments.
  • Median Annual Salary: $59,710
  • Typical Education Required: Associate's Degree
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.