What Is a Trade? A Complete Guide to Trade Schools and Vocations
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What Are Trade Schools?
Trade schools prepare you to enter a specific career or industry.
A trade school program is typically shorter than an undergraduate degree program and doesn’t require general education courses. Instead, it focuses on the skills you need to succeed in that trade.
You usually earn a certificate or diploma when graduating from a trade school.
The term “trade school” is often used interchangeably with “vocational school” and “tech school.” Schools may define the terms differently, but generally, trade school refers to hands-on professional training programs, while vocational school refers to any career-based program.
Tech school, meanwhile, mainly refers to technical programs that may involve more classroom learning than real-world training.
What Are the Benefits of Trade School?
Trade school programs can usually be completed in two years or less.
Students can apply for trade programs easily with few admission requirements.
Trade school is a more affordable education pathway than traditional college.
Many trade careers are in demand and projected to grow quickly over the next decade.
Trade school graduates leave school with the certifications and skills needed to join the workforce.
Many trade schools connect students with job opportunities and partner with local businesses.
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10 Popular Vocations and Trade School Paths
You can prepare for a wide variety of careers with trade school. Here are 10 of the most popular paths you can pursue by attending a trade school today.
Are you fascinated by the way cars operate? Do you love finding ways to fix them? Then consider an automotive trade school program. In this program, you’ll learn to service all systems of a car or truck, from the transmission to exhaust to suspension.
Many automotive programs take just 1-2 years to complete. Graduates often work at body shops, service shops, and car dealerships.
Sample Automotive Trade Jobs
- Auto mechanic
- Diesel mechanic
- Repair technician
- Tire technician
Aviation trade schools qualify you for careers like aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller, avionics technician, and aviation maintenance technician.
You’ll learn to service and repair aircraft to keep them in flying condition. You may work on engines, hydraulic systems, propellers, warning systems, and the airframe.
Sample Aviation Trade Jobs
- Aircraft mechanic
- Air traffic controller
- Aviation maintenance technician
- Avionics technician
If you enjoy hands-on work, consider a construction program. You can specialize in certain construction materials, like sheet metal or insulation, or in subfields, like management and carpentry.
In a construction program, you’ll learn basic worksite safety, construction math, handling hazardous material, construction drawing, rigging, and using power tools.
Sample Construction Trade Jobs
- Construction manager
- Construction worker
- Equipment operator
- Insulation contractor
- Sheet metal worker
- Solar photovoltaic installer
Many trade and vocational schools offer cosmetology programs. You can choose programs like general cosmetology, hairstyling, makeup artistry, nail technician, or esthetician.
Cosmetology students may learn about hygiene; nail services; makeup application; facial application; and cutting, styling, and coloring hair.
Sample Cosmetology Trade Jobs
- Hairdresser or hairstylist
- Makeup artist
A trade school culinary program teaches you to master cooking or baking techniques, menu writing, business development strategies, presentation, and recipe creation. You can specialize in baking, management, culinary arts, and wine and beverage studies.
Graduates from a culinary program can pursue careers as chefs, bakers, caterers, and restaurant managers.
Sample Culinary Trade Jobs
- Baker or pastry cook
- Head chef
- Private chef
- Restaurant cook
- Sous chef
- Wine sommelier
A dental program at a trade school will qualify you for entry-level dental assistant or hygienist positions. You can receive a dental assistant certificate or an associate degree in dental hygiene.
You’ll learn about oral hygiene, disease prevention, patient care, X-ray technology, and teeth cleaning. Graduates often work at dental practices, community clinics, and government health facilities.
Sample Dental Trade Jobs
- Dental assistant
- Dental hygienist
An electrical trade school prepares you to become an electrician or installation specialist for electrical-related fields. You’ll learn about electrical raceways and conductors, load calculations, electrical systems, operating in hazardous locations, and installation techniques.
Electrical students can specialize in a type of technology like HVAC or telecommunications. You can also pursue green energy apprenticeships in wind turbines and solar power.
Sample Electrical Trade Jobs
- Electronics installer and repairer
- Elevator installer and repairer
- Escalator installer and repairer
- HVAC technician
- Line installer and repairer
8. Fire Science
A fire science program teaches you about fire prevention and suppression, fire investigation, fire chemistry and physics, EMT basics, emergency management, codes and laws, and public services leadership.
Graduates can pursue careers as firefighters, fire inspectors, and alarm technicians.
Sample Fire Science Trade Jobs
- Alarm technician
- Fire inspector
- Fire investigator
- Fire sprinkler technician
9. Health and Nursing
Did you know you can get entry-level nursing certifications through trade school?
You’ll find trade programs for practical nurses, medical assistants, paramedics, and radiology techs. A trade school healthcare program teaches you about anatomy, medication administration, and patient safety.
In just 1-2 years, you can begin assisting patients and building work experience in a growing industry.
Sample Health and Nursing Trade Jobs
- Licensed practical nurse
- Medical assistant
- Occupational therapy assistant
- Pharmacy technician
- Physical therapy assistant
- Radiology technician
You can pursue a technology-based trade program in web development, information technology, HVAC technology, and wind turbine service.
Tech trades center on mastering a specific type of technology and stewarding that technology in its core functions.
Sample Technology Trade Jobs
- HVAC technician
- IT technician
- Rotary drill operator
- Web developer
- Wind turbine service technician
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Why Accreditation Matters for Trade Schools
Accreditation is a quality assurance process that measures the quality of schools’ curricula, faculty, and student outcomes. The two primary types of accreditation are institutional and programmatic accreditation.
In general, for-profit schools have lower graduation rates and shakier reputations than nonprofit trade schools. If you choose to attend a for-profit trade school, make sure it holds legitimate accreditation before you apply.
You’ll need to attend an accredited program in order to receive licenses and qualify for federal financial aid. Many employers also require candidates to have attended an accredited institution.
You can check whether a school is accredited by visiting its website or searching for a specific institutional or programmatic accreditor on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database.
The following career-related accrediting agencies are nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education:
What Trade Certifications Can You Get?
A trade certification shows that you’ve received the necessary education and training to perform a specific job. Most tradespeople pursue certifications during or shortly after their educational program in that trade.
Certifications typically involve an exam and can qualify you for many trade careers. They emphasize to employers your skills and mastery of your chosen trade.
Examples of Trade Certifications
- Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI)
- Certified Foodservice Professional (CFP)
- Certified in Plumbing Design (CPD)
- Certified Maintenance Technician (CMT)
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)
- Certified Paralegal (CP)
- Certified Personal Chef (CPC)
- Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)
- Certified Professional Constructor (CPC)
- CompTIA A+ Certification
Trade Jobs and Salary Outlook
Many trade careers are seeing huge increases in job growth.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the fastest-growing trade job, wind turbine service technicians, is projected to grow a whopping 44% through 2031 — that’s far faster than the average 5% job growth for all occupations.
Other fast-growing trade jobs include solar photovoltaic installer, physical therapist assistant, web developer, veterinary technician, and restaurant cook.
|Job||Median Annual Salary (May 2021)||Job Growth Rate (2021-2031)||Minimum Education Required|
|Wind Turbine Service Technicians||$56,260||44%||Certificate or diploma|
|Solar Photovoltaic Installers||$47,670||27%||High school diploma|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||$61,180||26%||Associate degree|
|Web Developers||$78,300||23%||High school diploma|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||$36,850||20%||Associate degree|
|Restaurant Cooks||$29,120||16%||High school diploma|
|Chefs and Head Cooks||$50,160||15%||High school diploma|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||$77,740||15%||Associate degree|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||$56,230||14%||Associate degree|
|Respiratory Therapists||$61,830||14%||Associate degree|
Frequently Asked Questions About Trades and Trade Schools
What is the easiest trade to go to school for?
The easiest trade can vary by student, but generally, HVAC technician and truck driving are considered easier trades to learn. Your passions, skills, and strengths can inform which trade will be the easiest for you.
What are the fastest trades to learn?
You can learn most trades in just 1-2 years. With an accelerated program, you can complete a certificate even more quickly. Some fast-paced trade programs include truck driving, medical coding, phlebotomy, HVAC technician, and welding.
What are the highest-paying trade jobs?
Some of the highest-paying trade jobs include construction manager ($98,890 per year), elevator and escalator installer and repairer ($97,860), radiation therapist ($82,790), nuclear medicine technologist ($78,760), and dental hygienist ($77,810).
Can you attend trade school online?
You can complete certain trade programs online if they don’t require extensive hands-on training. For example, you will need in-person training to become an automotive technician, while you can complete a medical billing and coding program entirely online.
How much do trade schools cost?
Two-year institutions vary from around $4,000-$18,000 in tuition and fees per year. Private nonprofit schools will generally charge higher rates than public schools. Trade schools generally are more affordable than community colleges.
Your total cost will depend on your school, the length of your program, whether you qualify for in-state tuition, and how much financial aid you receive.