16 Best Trade School Jobs

February 21, 2023

best trade school jobs

Months before you’re treated to a graduation cake with one of your baby pictures on it and the sight of your cap soaring through the air, there are umpteen important decisions to make about the next steps in your life. While around 60% of high school graduates head to college (note that this statistic varies depending on location), the other 40% will choose an alternative trajectory: the military, the workforce, or a trade/technical school. As a result of the societal shift toward four-year colleges and universities, enrollment at trade and vocational schools has suffered,   creating an astounding demand for trade school jobs. Accordingly, the Association for Career and Technical Education predicts a deficit of 6.5 million skilled workers in essential industries like healthcare, infrastructure, and manufacturing. Learning a trade can be an incredible way to jumpstart a career in many high-paying, thriving sectors.

What is trade school?

Trades are typically defined as jobs that require highly specialized training and skills. These skills can be learned at trade/vocational schools, career schools, or through associate’s degree programs. Some of the best trade school jobs also allow for apprenticeships or on-the-job training in lieu of formal education, while others may require such hands-on experience after formal education requirements have been met. Thus, trade school jobs that pay well can be found in a variety of industries, including communications, health science, information technology, and transportation.

How long is trade school?

Specialized training can take several months to several years, not counting practical experience. As you research different occupations, it is important to note whether they require formal education, hands-on training, state certification…or a combination of all three. Such information will help you understand how many years of academic and experiential education you’ll need before getting started.

What should I consider before applying to trade school?

Since trade school jobs often require extremely specific skill sets and certifications, you should experience a fast return on investment once you begin working. Additionally, stay mindful of program accreditation, which you can research through organizations like the Association of Career and Technical Education or via career-specific resources, such as the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (if you’re interested in medical equipment repair) or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Through ACTE, you can also peruse state fact sheets to obtain a better sense of predictions & trends. For example, Arizona’s key industries include aerospace & defense and film & digital media. Alternatively, New Hampshire’s include health care and tourism. Finally, some trade school jobs that pay well–like wind turbine technicians–are quite location dependent. Others–like dental hygienists and web developers–can be undertaken anywhere, whether you live in Iowa or New York City.

16 Best Trade School Jobs

1) Medical Equipment Repairer

Wheelchairs, defibrillators, ventilators, x-rays…just a small selection of equipment you might find yourself working on as a medical equipment repairer. Employed by private practices, dental officers, and hospitals alike, equipment repairers are responsible for installing, testing, maintaining, and replacing a wide range of machines and assistive devices. To become one, you’ll either need to complete an associate’s degree in biomedical equipment technology or receive on-the-job training for 3-6 months. You can also become certified through the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. Finally, attention to detail, ability to work in high-stress environments, and patient sensitivity are all important skills.

  • Median Pay (2021): $49,910
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 17%

2) Chef

If you’re as obsessed with Top Chef as the rest of us, you already know that the culinary world is fast-paced and competitive. However, jobs are expected to grow much faster than normal over the next ten years. As a chef, you could be working at a Michelin-star restaurant, barbeque joint, food truck…the list goes on. That said, you’ll likely be working long hours (and weekends and holidays). Chefs can train at culinary arts schools, community college culinary programs, or apprenticeships, among others. Depending on your specialty, these programs can take several months to several years to complete.

  • Median Pay (2021): $50,160
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 15%

3) Wind Turbine Technician

If you find it thrilling to rock the basket at the top of the Ferris wheel, becoming a wind turbine technician may be one of the trade school careers for you. You’ll routinely climbs hundreds of feet to install, inspect, service, and replace parts. Since the wind energy market is growing rapidly, turbine technicians are one of the fastest-growing trade school jobs. To become one, you’ll need to complete a certificate in wind energy technology at a technical school or community college, which typically takes about a year. In addition, wind turbine technicians currently have the best job prospects in the Midwest and on the West Coast.

  • Median Pay (2021): $56,260
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 44%

4) Legal Assistants

Paralegals are integral members of any law office; they assist lawyers with preparations for hearings, trials, and meetings. As such, they conduct research, prepare documents, and interview clients, among other tasks. Often, they work on multiple cases at a time, meaning they must be incredibly well-organized and able to thrive in a fast-paced environment. Legal assistants typically earn associate’s degrees in paralegal studies. They may also need to complete a paralegal certification program prior to starting their careers.

  • Median Pay (2021): $56,320
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 14%

5) IT Support Specialist

Responsible for maintaining an organization’s network system, IT support specialists do everything from fielding calls about password resets to troubleshooting large-scale network issues. To sum it up, they are responsible for keeping an organization’s network running smoothly. While requirements vary based on the employer (some do mandate a bachelor’s degree), many aspiring support specialists find jobs after completing either an associate’s degree or relevant certification courses, such as CompTIA A+ or Cisco.

  • Median Pay (2021): $57,910
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 6%

6) Funeral Service Worker

Assisting a family while they navigate a loved one’s passing requires compassion, transparency, and tact. As such, funeral service workers must have top-notch interpersonal skills. In addition, they typically provide families with information about different options, file death certificates, and prepare bodies for burial. As such, possible roles include funeral home manager, funeral arranger, and embalmer. To prepare for these trade school careers, you’ll need to complete an associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science education.

  • Median Pay (2021): $58,900
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 8%

7) Industrial Mechanic

Industrial mechanics most often work in the manufacturing sector, and they maintain different types of factory equipment. They use their expertise to diagnose issues, repair parts, and test components. Consequently, industrial mechanics must be comfortable using different types of tools, such as lathes, drill presses, and welding equipment. Increasingly, they must be familiar with computerized diagnostic systems. While some pursue two-year associate’s degrees in industrial maintenance, the majority complete at least a year of on-the-job training.

  • Median Pay (2021): $59,380
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 14%

8) Electrician

From private residences to high-rise apartments, modern buildings are wired with complex electrical systems that need to be maintained. Wherever we go, we’re only a switch flip away from light, heat, and sound. As such, electricians are responsible for installing, inspecting, and repairing electrical components. To get started, you’ll need to commit to a multi-year (paid) apprenticeship, even if you receive some level of technical education beforehand.

  • Median Pay (2021): $60,040
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 7%

 9) Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants provide support to occupational therapists in a variety of settings, from private practices to hospitals. Since the main goal of occupational therapy is to help a patient become more independent, treatment may include physical, emotional, mental, and developmental therapy. While occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree, occupational therapy assistants typically obtain an associate’s degree. Moreover, one can find accredited programs for these trade school jobs through the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.

  • Median Pay (2021): $61,520
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 25%

10) Respiratory Therapist

The vast majority of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, but some also work in nursing homes or private practices. They provide care to patients who experience trouble breathing due to short or long-term conditions, from viral illnesses to COPD. In addition, respiratory therapists work with a team of other healthcare providers to provide treatment to patients. Typically, they can get started after receiving an associate’s in respiratory therapy. Finally, accredited programs can be found through the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.

  • Median Pay (2021): $61,830
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 14%

11) Radiologic/MRI Technologists

Both radiologic and MRI technologists operate diagnostic imaging equipment, such as x-rays, CT scanners, and MRI machines, to create images that are then interpreted by physicians. Moreover, technologists often specialize in a particular area, such as mammography or sonography. In addition, succeeding in these trade school careers means having excellent interpersonal and patient care skills. Required education typically includes an associate’s degree, and most states mandate that technologists are licensed or certified.

  • Median Pay (2021): $61,980
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 6%

12) Aircraft Mechanics and Technicians

Whether they’re working on commercial or military aircraft, aircraft mechanics and technicians diagnose, repair, replace, and test parts and systems in order to keep planes flying safely. As such, most work near major airports or on military installations. To become an aircraft mechanic, you must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), meaning that you must attend an FAA-accredited aviation maintenance school or work as an apprentice until you’re ready to take the exams. Finally, there are separate certifications for airframe (bodywork) and powerplant (engine work) mechanics.

  • Median Pay (2021): $65,550
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 6%

 13) Electrical Line Worker

One of the more hazardous trade school jobs on this list, electrical line workers install and repair electrical system equipment. These may include power lines (potentially high-voltage), utility poles, and switchgear. If you’ve ever seen a power line being repaired, you’ll know that line workers must be comfortable with heights. They are also typically on-call during storms and other types of natural disasters. Most often, electrical line workers are trained via apprenticeships or employer training programs. However, associate’s degree programs in telecommunications can provide students with an essential foundation in electricity and electronics.

  • Median Pay (2021): $74,530
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 6%

14) Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Like radiologic technicians, medical sonographers create ultrasounds–images of the body produced via high-energy sound waves–for diagnostic purposes. They must have excellent patient care skills. In addition, there are many sonographic specialties, some of which include cardiac sonography, obstetric sonography, and vascular sonography. Most work in hospitals, but others work at private practices or outpatient care centers. After completing their education through a certificate or associate’s degree program, and depending on their employer’s requirements, prospective sonographers may need to pursue professional certification through an organization like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

  • Median Pay (2021): $75,380
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 10%

15) Dental Hygienist

Responsible for leaving no tartar-coated stone unturned during your bi-yearly dental exams, dental hygienists provide preventative care and education. In addition, they also perform screening for different diseases, such as gingivitis and oral cancer. 94% work in dental offices, and many work part-time. Dental hygienists must have excellent fine motor, interpersonal, and communication skills. Moreover, dental hygienists must be licensed, meaning they must complete a Commission on Dental Accreditation-accredited dental hygiene program as well as achieve passing grades on state exams. Typically, accredited programs are three years in length.

  • Median Pay (2021): $77,810
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 9%

16) Radiation Therapist

As members of a patient’s oncology team, radiation therapists are responsible for using special equipment to dose tumors with radiation. Before, during, and after treatment, radiation therapists also explain procedures to patients, calibrate machines to deliver the appropriate dose, and watch for adverse reactions. Consequently, 65% of radiation therapists work in hospitals while 25% work at private practices. As with other medical specialties, radiation therapists typically need to be certified in the state they’ll be working in. Accordingly, this means completing a JRCERT-approved (Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology) associate’s degree program.

  • Median Pay (2021): $82,790
  • Job Growth (2021-31): 6%

Final Thoughts – Best Trade School Jobs

Bottom line: you have options (arguably more than any past generation). Whether you want to fix high-voltage power lines, repair medical equipment, or design websites, there are a variety of trade school careers for you. With solid planning, you’ll be well on your way to the rewarding, exciting, and challenging occupation of your choice. For salary data and growth projections on additional career options, visit our College Transitions Dataverse.