College is great, but pursuing a career in trade jobs instead is also a proven path toward the American Dream. All it takes is the ambition to carve out a prosperous and rewarding career in a trade.
Along with great compensation, people who study trade school jobs often get to work faster than those who attend college — so they start making serious money faster.
If you’ve got the ambition and desire to work hard and live well, here’s how you can kick off or advance your career by taking up a skilled trade — and how you can leverage websites like ZipRecruiter to find jobs in the field.
What to Expect from Trade School
Going the trade school route isn’t totally different from going to college. You’ll spend less time tackling written assignments and more time engaged in immersive, hands-on learning.
You can expect to attend a trade school for about one to two years, depending on what trade you take up. While colleges seek to give students a well-rounded education, trade schools teach you the skills you need to get to work in your field in just a few years.
After you graduate from a trade school, you’ll receive a diploma or certificate in your field. And from there, where you head next will depend on the skilled trade you pursued.
Some trades require you to get licensed before you can go to work; others require you to take on an apprenticeship; and others let you get to work right away.
Most will want some combination of licensure and on-the-job training. But unlike a college internship, you’ll earn money during your apprenticeship.
Popular and High-Paying Trade Jobs
These are some of the highest-paying trade jobs and some of the most in-demand trades, along with median salary data from the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics.
A high school diploma or GED is required for each trade job listed below, which is a standard prerequisite for many trade-school jobs.
Do you like puzzles and are unafraid of a bit of math? Electricians need both of these attributes because they regularly reference wiring diagrams, review blueprints, calculate electrical loads, inspect electrical systems, troubleshoot faults and, of course, restore power.
To become an electrician, you can go to a trade school or get started directly with on-the-job training from an apprenticeship. Either way, you’ll spend at least four years learning the trade before you can work on your own.
While not quite one of the highest-paid trade jobs, electricians are always in high demand.
Median salary: $60,400
Requirement: Apprenticeship, licensure
If you’ve got some college coursework under your belt, consider becoming a dental hygienist. Most hygienists do at least a year or two of general college coursework before focusing on their dental trade.
Dental hygienists clean and prepare patients’ mouths before the dentists take over. They also assist the dentist during procedures, apply the finishing touches when the dentist is done and help coordinate patient visits.
Demand for this role is expected to outpace the average for all other occupations by 2030, according to the BLS. So it’ll likely remain one of the highest-paid trade jobs for the foreseeable future.
Median salary: $77,810
Requirements: May require a year of college coursework or an associates degree; requires a license.
We all love a controlled climate inside — warm in the winter and cold in the summer. HVAC technicians install, repair and maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
As an HVAC technician, you’ll have to develop and rely on skills from other trades. You’ll have to examine electrical circuits like an electrician, inspect pipes like a plumber and even do some welding.
Trade school graduates can go right to work after getting certified, though employers commonly prefer a few years of on-the-job training through an apprenticeship.
Median salary: $48,630
Requirements: At least a certificate, though an apprenticeship is commonly preferred.
IT Support Specialist
Do you love computers? IT support specialists roles are some of the best trade jobs for people who have a passion for technology, especially computers.
They set up and maintain computer networks, troubleshoot issues, upgrade hardware and software, test new systems and more. With enough experience doing all of that, you’ll likely find room to move into more advanced roles in your department.
Median salary: $57,910
Requirements: A certificate, though obtaining related certifications can make it easier to get a job and advance in less time.
While electricians keep the power running in buildings, line installers keep buildings connected to the grid via electrical transmission lines. These are the men and women who bring communities back to life after a power outage.
As a line installer, you’ll install or repair electrical and communications lines that are mounted on poles above ground or buried underground.
You’ll need a love for working outside, even in inclement weather, and at least a tolerance for working from heights. Yes, it can be dangerous at times, which is why it’s one of the best paying trade jobs you can do in almost any city of any size.
Median salary: $74,530
Requirements: An apprenticeship or trade school; a commercial driver’s license may also be required.
You don’t necessarily need a passion for flying to become an aircraft mechanic. It certainly doesn’t hurt. You will need a passion for machines and problem-solving.
Your job as an aircraft or avionics technician will be to keep commercial or passenger aircraft airworthy by properly maintaining, inspecting and repairing them.
Median salary: $65,550
Requirements: Certification from a Federal Aviation Administration trade school or about 30 months of experience in an apprenticeship.
It’s one of the highest-paying trade jobs around for a reason. Construction managers have a lot of responsibilities related to overseeing construction projects.
You’ll get your own office, but you’ll spend a lot of time in the field leveraging your technical and interpersonal skills to steer projects to completion on time and on budget.
Construction managers plan and budget for projects while working together with engineers and architects. They negotiate contracts with suppliers and subcontractors. And they make sure projects comply with all applicable state and local laws.
Median salary: $98,890
Requirements: A bachelor’s degree, or equivalent experience from trade school and years of on-the-job training.
How much is this building worth? What about the land it sits on? As a real estate appraiser, you’ll make impartial appraisals of commercial or residential real estate — whichever you specialize in.
Your work will help buyers and sellers agree on a fair price. It’ll help the government determine how much tax should be levied on the property. It’ll inform insurance premiums and mortgage rates. And it’ll help developers plan whether to buy, sell or build.
Median salary: $61,340
Requirements: Trade school or college coursework and a state license; an apprenticeship may not be required, but it’ll help you break into the industry.
Ready to Get to Work Right Now?
You don’t have to wait until you finish trade school to get to work right now. Just as people work side jobs in college, you can get on-the-job training for your trade right now.
You can find jobs of all experience levels on job boards like ZipRecruiter, which is one of the best job boards for finding trade school jobs and trade jobs that’ll complement your education.
ZipRecruiter has partnered with over 100 job boards, many of which put a strong emphasis on skilled trades and related jobs.