Many people think they need a college degree to find a rewarding and lucrative career. However, the skilled trades offer in-demand and well-paying opportunities that do not require a bachelor's. Trade school also takes significantly less time and money to complete than a traditional four-year program.
Vocational programs prepare students for many high-paying trade careers, including construction management, electrical and electronic engineering, boilermaking, and radiation therapy.
This page includes our list of 2021's highest-paying trade jobs based on salary and career outlook projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We also discuss different trade school careers, suggest ways to find the best-paying trade jobs, and cover the best trades to learn.
2021's Best-Paying Trade Jobs
- Construction Managers
- Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
- Radiation Therapists
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists
- Dental Hygienists
What Is a Trade School Career?
Trade school careers require advanced skills and training that students obtain by completing a postsecondary technical education program. Trade schools do not award bachelor's degrees like typical four-year colleges. Many high-paying trade careers require on-the-job training or an apprenticeship, such as electricians and boilermakers.
Career and technical education programs take less time and require a smaller financial investment than a four-year degree program. For example, students typically earn an associate degree in dental hygiene or nuclear medicine technology in two years.
Certificate programs take even less time than associate programs. Apprenticeships are paid and can lead to employment opportunities. Popular trade careers include radiation therapist, real estate broker, carpenter, and plumber.
Look into trade school opportunities:
The Trade School Career Hunt
To find the highest-paying trade jobs, look at job fairs, networking events, government agency listings, and professional organizations.
Some of the best-paying trade jobs require apprenticeships, which can lead to employment offers while students develop professional experience and earn money. Be sure to contact previous employers, trade school instructors, and mentors about any open positions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Trade school careers can offer high pay and stable employment. Vocational programs require less time and money than a traditional four-year degree. Students can pursue high-paying trade jobs like dental hygienists, engineering technicians, and elevator repairers.
Some of the best trade jobs that pay well include construction manager, elevator repairer, radiation therapist, and nuclear medicine technologist. Construction managers earn a median annual salary of $97,180 and have a strong job outlook.
In-demand skilled trades include construction managers, elevator and escalator installers and repairers, radiation therapists, and electricians. The BLS projects faster-than-average growth for these careers from 2019 to 2029.
Construction managers earn a median annual salary of $97,180. They typically need at least an associate degree and experience in the field. Other high-paying trade careers are elevator and escalator installers and repairers and radiation therapists, earning over $80,000 in median annual salaries.
The Highest-Paid Trade Jobs
This guide includes a ranked list of the 10 highest-paying trade jobs for 2021. Our methodology considers current BLS projections for median annual salaries and job growth for the most popular trade careers.
One of the highest-paying trade jobs, construction managers supervise public, commercial, residential, and industrial construction projects. Also called project managers and general contractors, they oversee projects from start to end. Their responsibilities include preparing estimates, scheduling subcontractors, responding to problems, and reporting to clients. Construction management requires business, leadership, technical, and communication skills.
Many construction managers are self-employed, with the rest working in the residential building, nonresidential building, and heavy and civil engineering construction industries. Construction management trade school prepares graduates to manage construction workers, prepare budgets, and understand blueprints and other technical documents.
Construction managers need at least an associate degree and on-the-job training. They can boost their earning potential and work on larger projects by completing a bachelor's. Obtaining a professional certification from the American Institute of Contractors or the Construction Management Association of America can also improve job prospects. Some states require construction managers to hold a license.\n
Elevator and escalator installers and repairers fix, maintain, and install escalators and elevators. Job duties include reading blueprints, replacing faulty parts, testing equipment, and conducting safety inspections. These professionals usually specialize in repair, installation, or maintenance work. They need mechanical and troubleshooting skills, physical strength and stamina, and the ability to work at heights.
These careers often start with a four-year apprenticeship with a union, employer, or industry group. Apprentices learn about blueprint reading, electrical theory, elevator and escalator parts, and safety. Most states require elevator and escalator installers and repairers to hold a license. They also need ongoing training to keep abreast of industry technology changes.
Earning a professional certification through the National Association of Elevator Contractors or the National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities International may lead to career advancement.\n
Radiation therapists provide radiation therapy to patients with cancer and other diseases. They explain treatment plans, use machines to treat patients, keep treatment records, and monitor patients for adverse reactions. Radiation therapists work in hospitals, physicians' offices, and outpatient care centers. They need technical and interpersonal skills, physical stamina, and close attention to detail.
In trade school, students learn about pathology, treatment planning, oncology, and radiation physics. Radiation therapy associate programs teach students how to operate medical machinery, including hands-on experience in clinical settings.
Ranking among the highest-paid trade jobs, radiation therapists need a license in most states. To earn a license, they must graduate from an accredited radiation therapy program and pass a national certification exam. Radiation therapists can advance by completing certification and additional education to become medical dosimetrists who calculate radiation doses for cancer patients.\n
Nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals, physicians' offices, medical labs, and outpatient care centers. They also support physicians in preparing and administering radiopharmaceutical drugs. Job duties also include explaining procedures to patients, operating imaging equipment, keeping patient records, and maintaining safety standards.
Nuclear medicine technology students gain laboratory, clinical, and academic experience in trade school. They learn about regulatory compliance, radiation protection standards, and the preparation and administration of radioactive drugs. Nuclear medicine technologists follow safety procedures and use personal protective equipment to prevent accidental radiation exposure.
Although the field requires an associate degree at a minimum, many nuclear medicine technologists earn a bachelor's. Some employers require graduation from a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology. Most nuclear medicine technologists pursue certification. However, licensing requirements vary by state.\n
Working under the supervision of a dentist, dental hygienists provide preventive care and look for dental disease in patients. They use various tools to remove plaque, take x-rays, apply fluoride, and educate patients on oral hygiene. Common employers include private dental offices, community health clinics, and public health facilities.
Dental hygienist trade school usually takes three years and includes classroom, clinical, and laboratory instruction. These programs also require classes in anatomy and physiology, periodontics, radiography, and patient management.
Dental hygienists need a license in every state. Licensure often requires students to obtain an associate degree accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and pass an exam. While job duties vary, some states allow hygienists to administer anesthetic, remove sutures, and place fillings. They can advance in their careers by earning a bachelor's or transitioning from direct patient care into management roles.\n
These professionals help engineers create electronic and electrical equipment like computers, medical monitoring devices, and navigational equipment. Typical duties include building electrical instruments, drawing diagrams, making parts using machine tools, and performing preventative maintenance. Electrical and electronics engineering technicians work in manufacturing, research and development, engineering services, and the federal government.
In trade school, students learn to read blueprints and engineering instructions, write reports, and record data. They take classes in physics, programming languages, circuitry, and chemistry. Some electrical and electronic engineering programs hold accreditation from the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Electrical and electronic engineering technicians need mechanical, logical thinking, and observational skills. To demonstrate advanced knowledge in the field, technicians may apply for certifications from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, the International Society of Automation, and ETA International.\n
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians perform maintenance and make repairs on aircraft. Some inspect aircraft according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifications. Aircraft mechanics find electrical and mechanical problems, repair aircraft components, and use diagnostic equipment to test aircraft parts. Avionics technicians test electronic instruments, install instrument panels, repair components, and keep records.
Major employers include aerospace parts manufacturers, support services for air transportation, scheduled air transportation, and the federal government. Employees work in airfields, hangars, and repair stations, usually near major airports.
Most aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians attend an FAA-approved aviation maintenance trade school and earn an associate degree. Aircraft mechanics complete an FAA certification or work under the supervision of a certified mechanic. Mechanics with an inspector authorization face excellent career advancement prospects.\n
Boilermakers assemble, repair, and maintain boilers and other large containers used in buildings, ships, and factories. Typical duties include reading blueprints, testing boiler systems for leaks, replacing broken parts, and cleaning vessels.
The labor-intensive work often occurs outside in all weather conditions. Job duties require physical stamina and adherence to safety precautions to avoid injury. Boilermakers work in utility system construction; nonresidential building construction; fabricated metal product manufacturing; and plumbing, heating, and air conditioning.
Boilermakers receive technical training and education through a four-year apprenticeship. They learn to use boilermaker tools, follow safety practices, read and sketch blueprints, and follow installation techniques. Boilermaker apprentices gain skills in welding, knot-tying, rigging, and fabrication. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers offers a national apprenticeship program. Workers with a background in welding, pipefitting, or sheet metal work may qualify for shortened apprenticeships.\n
Construction and building inspectors ensure that construction projects comply with building ordinances, zoning codes, and other regulations. They spend most of their time at worksites inspecting buildings, bridges, highways, and water systems. They also examine electrical, plumbing, and heating/air conditioning systems. Other tasks include approving building plans, inspecting plumbing and electrical systems for problems, and issuing notices for non-compliant buildings.
Construction and building inspectors specialize in home inspection, electrical inspection, building inspection, and plans examination. They work for local or state government, engineering services, construction companies, or are self-employed.
Students in construction and building inspection trade programs learn to interpret building codes and conduct inspections. Most states require building and construction inspectors to hold licensure or certifications and take continuing education courses. Obtaining additional education and experience in the field may offer the best chances for advancement.\n
Electricians fix, maintain, and install electrical power, lighting, communication, and control systems in buildings. Trainees typically complete a four- or five-year apprenticeship. Some attend a technical program covering basic electrical information, circuitry, and safety, followed by a shorter apprenticeship.
Electrician apprenticeships include paid on-the-job training and technical instruction. Electricians who complete a trade program may qualify for a shorter apprenticeship. They gain skills in fire alarm systems, soldering, electrical code requirements, and blueprint reading. Unions and contractor associations offer electrician apprenticeships. Electricians who complete apprenticeships can qualify as journey workers and work without supervision.
Requirements vary, but most states require electricians to pass a test and earn a license. Electricians advance from journey workers to master electricians after completing a certain number of field hours.\n
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