The Highest Paying Trade School Programs for 2024

Highest Paying Trade School Programs

Author: Brenda Rufener
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderso
Reading level: Grade 9
Reading time: 17 minutes, 54 seconds
Original Publication Date: November 2019
Updates: 3

The Highest Paying Trade School Programs

This ranking profiles the highest-paying trade school options and jobs in the skilled trades.

If you’re seeking a high-paying job without spending years pursuing a college degree, you’re not alone. Vocational or trade school may be an option. While very few jobs are attainable with only a high school diploma, even fewer pay more than $30,000 annually. But with education, focus, and drive, you may qualify for a high-paying skilled trade job.

Featured Programs

Methodology

For this list, we researched some of the highest-paying trade jobs. Many jobs on our list require only high school and one to two years of trade or technical schooling. We found jobs that paid more than $50,000 per year with no bachelor’s degree required. Some skilled trades on our list even have favorable job outlooks for the next ten years.

Below are the results for our top 20 highest-paying two-year vocational degree programs.

Ranking Most Lucrative Trade School Careers

#20 – Water Transportation Workers Degree

Median Salary: $62,760

Projected Employment Growth Rate: +1%

Best Trade School Jobs

Making our list of high-paying jobs is the water transportation program. There is little education required for seamen or those in entry-level mariner jobs. They get on-the-job training for their specific trade and jobs. This training typically lasts for approximately six months to one year. Training length depends on ship size and the waterway the ship travels. Sailors and marine oilers receive similar training. However, these professionals don’t need to complete a traditional trade school degree. Some water transportation jobs require a specific type of education. U.S. Coast Guard-approved training programs are a part of this.

Those on ships with U.S. flags must have credentials from the Transportation Security Administration. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) must be renewed every five years. Mariners on the open ocean need the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping endorsement. The regional U.S. Coast Guard offices provide training, which includes:

  • First aid
  • Lifeboat safety

Plus, some schools offer additional training programs. Like the TWIC, the STWC training must be completed every five years.

Nearly all mariners must have a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). The MMC can be applied for at the U.S. Coast Guard regional examination center. They can get training from the U.S. Coast Guard or certified training centers and trade schools. One such training program is shipboard safety.

#19 – Funeral Services Workers Degree

Median Salary: $58,900

Projected Growth Rate: +8.0%

Best Trade School Jobs

While a funeral service job may not be a popular career path, it is one of the list’s highest-paying trade jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports job growth and strong earnings potential for the next few years. While the median annual wage is $58,900, funeral service managers earn $74,000. With training and experience, promotion and a salary increase can occur.

So, how do you become a funeral service worker? An associates degree in funeral service or mortuary science is the standard requirement. State licensing also requires funeral service workers be at least 21 years old. They must have:

  • Completed two years of trade school or community college education
  • Received supervised training
  • Passed the state licensing examination

The American Board of Funeral Service Education accredits approximately sixty funeral service programs. Technical colleges or two-year schools offer this trade school program. Some funeral homes prefer to have experience working in a funeral home. This can be obtained as a summer job or internship. Strong interpersonal skills are also required for this role.

#18 – Occupational Therapist Assistants Degree

Median Salary: $61,730

Projected Growth Rate: +25.0%

Best Trade School Jobs

The most in-demand job on our list is that of occupational therapist. These are high-paying jobs in the skilled trades with plenty of job security. These health professionals work in outpatient care centers and have specific job descriptions. They help individuals develop, regain, and maintain skills needed for daily living. An occupational therapist needs an associate or bachelor’s from an accredited school. OT assistant programs are found at many two-year colleges offering trade degrees. There are more than 250 programs available. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education accredits them. These programs are also a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Becoming an occupational therapist requires two years of full-time study. To become skilled workers in the industry, students take courses in subjects like:

  • Biology
  • Pediatric Health
  • Psychology

While assistants need a two-year degree, aids only need a high school education for most jobs. Aids are then trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced workers. This training consists of one to three weeks covering topics related to the field. Along with training, both aids and assistants must have:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Knowledge of medical terminology
  • Certifications in CPR and basic life support (BLS)

Certification training can be gotten from a trade school or community college.

#17 – Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers Degree

Median Annual Salary: $61,760

Projected Growth Rate: -1.0%

Best Trade School Jobs

Salary potential is one reason individuals pursue trade school degrees. A top-paying trade job is electrical and electronics installers and repairers. These electrical systems workers install and repair electrical equipment. They may also perform routine maintenance. A high school diploma or GED may be required for this skilled trade. You also need advanced training from a technical school or community college. Many of these trade schools offer basic electronics programs. These are programs designed to equip students for the electronics field. Courses in these specialized programs cover:

  • AC and DC Electronics
  • Electronic Device Repair
  • Microcontrollers
  • Electrical Components

Students must choose a program that offers training in dealing with electrical power. This is so that they gain the skills and experience required by many job opportunities in the field.

Certification is not required for most to install and repair electronics and electrical systems. Still, several organizations offer it. In fact, the Electronics Technicians Association International offers close to fifty certification programs. These span all levels of competency and job responsibilities. Certification may be valuable to a potential employer, and it may help you set yourself apart from your competition. To become certified, applicants must pass a comprehensive examination. Also, most electrician jobs do require extensive on-the-job training. Programs with hands-on requirements may meet some or all of these training stipulations.

#16 – Fire Inspectors Degree

Median Salary: $63,080

Projected Growth Rate: +6.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Fire inspectors are one of the fastest-growing trade school jobs on our list. There is a projected growth rate of six percent. Fire inspectors are responsible for examining buildings to detect potential fire hazards. They also ensure buildings meet fire codes at the federal, state, and local levels. To become a fire inspector, some trade school education and on-the-job training are required. First, fire inspectors must pass background checks, which include drug tests. They need a valid driver’s license and U.S. citizenship due to their police powers. Training requirements vary by region and state. Some job openings require the completion of classroom instruction.

Classroom training takes place at a fire or police academy. Some schools may also offer certification programs. Topics covered in classes vary by program but may include:

  • Fire Code Terminology
  • Procedures and Protocols for Handling Hazardous and Explosive Materials
  • Fire Inspection Procedures
  • Building Codes

Aside from general education classes and classroom training, fire inspectors receive on-the-job training for technical skills needed as well. Typically, they work alongside more experienced officers that serve as mentors. The following organizations offer training programs in fire investigation:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

#15 – Railroad Worker Degree

Median Annual Salary: $64,150

Projected Growth Rate: +4.0%

Best Trade Jobs

High school completion and months of on-the-job training are required to become a railroad worker. Also, locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). To be certified for this skilled trade involves passing a written test and a skills test. Supervisor observation is also required. This ensures an engineer understands all physical aspects of routes. Most of the training required for this trading job occurs on the job. Most job openings at railroad companies require the completion of one to three months of training.

Companies like Amtrak offer their own type of training programs. Smaller freight companies and regional railroads may send their potential hires to technical and trade schools for training. Again, several months of training is required to work for even the smaller companies. Yardmasters must also learn how to operate locomotives and remote technology. Similar training programs are available at two-year colleges and many vocational skills.

#14 – Boilermakers Degree

Median Salary: $64,290

Projected Growth Rate: -5.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Boilermakers have one of the most lucrative jobs on our list. They assemble, install, and repair boilers and boiler systems. They may also maintain boilers and work on other large vessels or containers that hold gases and liquids. This is a physically demanding and high-paying job and requires extensive travel. Boilermakers are away from home for extended periods. Still, boilermakers earn an average median annual wage of nearly $65k. The pay also increases as the individual gains more skills.

So, how does one become a boilermaker? Training is generally learned through the trade and an extensive vocational training/apprenticeship program. Many trade school programs offer boilermaker programs that expose individuals to hands-on training. Here, students learn about the following:

  • Installation Techniques
  • Blueprint Reading
  • Metals
  • Power Tools
  • General Construction Safety Practices

When a boilermaker finishes an apprenticeship, they become a journey worker. Journey workers perform supervised tasks under the mentorship of more experienced workers. This can last for up to two years. Those with welding experience get accepted into trade schools and training programs before those with none.

#13 – Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians Degree

Median Annual Salary: $65,380

Projected Job Outlook: +6.0%

Best Trade Jobs

This is often seen as one of the fastest-growing trade jobs available. Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians are in demand. They require specialty training and degrees. Aircraft mechanic/ avionics equipment mechanics repair and perform scheduled maintenance on aircraft. Examples include planes and other aviation vehicles. These highly specialized mechanics and technicians work in hangars or on airfields. Specific training is required to become an aircraft and avionics equipment mechanic and technician. Most learn their trade at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) school or on the job. Several FAA-approved programs exist at trade or two-year schools. Specialized training on the job is also required. Some individuals receive their training while in the military.

Typically, aircraft mechanics attend an FAA-approved aviation maintenance school. These schools award a certificate of training that is recognized by the FAA. Through these FAA-approved programs, tests may be delivered and certifications awarded upon passing. To become an avionics technician, a vocational school degree is the preferred education. This job relies heavily on aircraft controls, systems, and instruments. Thus, computer experience is needed.

As aircraft equipment mechanics and technicians gain experience or additional education, they may be eligible for advancement. Opportunities for advancement include lead mechanic jobs, lead inspectors, or shop supervisors.

#12 – Police and Detectives Degree

Median Salary: $66,020

Projected Job Growth Rate: +3.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Police and detective roles are among the fastest-growing trade jobs on our list. As a police officer, you will serve the public by protecting lives and property. Detectives or criminal investigators gather and collect evidence relating to a possible crime. Both jobs require training and specialized education. Besides a high school diploma or GED, police officers and detectives spend time at an agency’s training academy. The academy requires classroom learning and on-the-job training. Rigorous physical demands and personal qualifications must be met. This can determine eligibility for students seeking this position.

Police officers and detectives have completed college coursework or earned an associates degree. Community colleges offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. In some agencies and geographic locations, it is seen as an asset to have working knowledge of a foreign language. Federal agencies, like the FBI, require detectives and investigators to have a bachelor’s degree. This degree can be in criminal justice or closely related discipline. But for most entry-level police work jobs, some coursework and completion of academy training programs are all that is needed. Many consider police officer/detective one of the best trade school careers.

#11 – Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners Degree

Median Annual Salary: $64,710

Projected Job Growth Rate: -6.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Claims adjusters, appraisers, and insurance examiners offer competitive trade jobs salary potential. In fact, the median annual pay for this occupation, according to BLS, is nearly $65k as of May 2021. The claims adjuster evaluates insurance claims and investigates damages to things like:

  • Automobiles
  • Buildings
  • Other structures

A high school diploma is the lowest requirement for most entry-level jobs as a claims adjuster, appraiser, or examiner. Some higher-level management roles demand more education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Automotive appraisers and adjusters who evaluate property damage or bodily injury may have additional education but have not earned a degree. Training for these roles may take place in a two-year school or community college.

Some states require claims adjusters and examiners be licensed. Licensing requires the completion of pre-licensing education, which may take place at a trade school. At the end of the required coursework, a licensing exam must be passed. Several months of on-the-job training is often another requirement for working as a claims adjuster. This training program involves working with a senior claims adjuster. This experienced professional will have experience estimating damage costs and injury value. A trainee does not typically evaluate claims on their own. Career advancement is possible though. Once training is complete, they will receive their own caseload.

#10 – Aerospace Engineering Operations Technicians Degree

Median Salary: $73,580

Projected Job Growth Rate: +6.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Most employers seek techs with certificates or diplomas from trade schools or vocational programs. Some prefer completing an associate or even bachelor’s degree in engineering technology. Since this is an in-demand job that requires vocational education, some trade schools or community colleges offer cooperative programs. These programs have work experience built into the course requirements and curriculum. Courses taken for this highly specialized degree or diploma include:

  • Aerospace Engineering Design
  • Computer Software Development
  • Drafting
  • Math

While not a requirement, certification from the Federal Aviation Administration may be beneficial. Certification proves an aerospace engineering technician can carry out tasks required. This includes theoretical designs and operations of aerospace engineers. Other characteristics and qualities are needed from aerospace operations technicians. These include:

  • Strong communication skills,
  • Critical thinking abilities
  • Math acumen
  • Mechanical skills

#9 – Diagnostic Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technicians Degree

Average Salary: $75,380

Projected Job Growth Rate: +10.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technicians rank among the best-paying jobs. They are also in demand. Diagnostic sonographers and cardiovascular techs operate ultrasound equipment and other medical testing equipment. This equipment is used to conduct highly specialized diagnostic tests. The test results and images are then used to diagnose medical conditions. To become a diagnostic medical sonographer, a postsecondary education is required. Employers like hospitals and physician offices, require at least an associate degree. Sometimes, a one-year certification from a technical or community college is enough. Nearly 80 percent of all sonographers work in hospitals. Thus, employers seek graduates of programs that have received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Aside from an associate degree from a CAAHEP-accredited program, employers prefer to hire individuals with professional certification. Several certifications are available. Certifications may be obtained from the following organizations:

  • American Registry for Diagnostic Sonographers
  • American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
  • Cardiovascular Credentialing International

Besides certification, employers also prefer candidates with basic life support training. This shows they can complete CPR. Licensing requirements vary by state.

#8 – Web Developers Degree

Average Salary: $77,030

Projected Job Growth Rate: +30.0%

Best Trade Jobs

The web developer degree ranks as one of the best-paying trade degrees on our list. The average salary is $77,030. There is a projected job growth outlook of 30 percent. Web developers are among the top in-demand jobs. Trade schools are ideal for individuals with an interest in information technology. The typical education requirement for web developer jobs is an associate degree. Some developers have landed jobs with only a high school credential. Some are self-employed with their own business. An associate degree is the most common requirement for entry-level jobs. Advanced roles such as web management jobs may require more training. For these positions, you may need a bachelor’s degree like:

  • Web Design
  • Computer Programming
  • Information Technology

Some two-year schools offer web development certificate programs. The programs give students the skills needed for web design and development. One- and two-year programs cover topics like:

  • Computer Science
  • HTML Programming
  • JavaScript
  • Programming Languages
  • SQL
  • Web Development

Some employers prefer candidates with design and development experience and graphic design classes. Most web developers need other skills as well. These may include the following:

  • The ability to concentrate for long periods
  • Detail-oriented eye
  • Strong interpersonal skills

#7 – Dental Hygienists Degree

Median Salary: $77,810

Projected Job Growth Rate: +9.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Competitive trade salary earnings potential includes dental hygienists. The average dental hygienist job pays $74,820 per year. This makes this one of the best-paying trade jobs out there today. Dental hygienists work in dental offices assisting dentists. Most of them work part-time in dental offices, earning an average of $35.97 per hour. This job is also in high demand. Job duties for dental hygienists include:

  • Cleaning and examining teeth
  • Providing preventive dental care

Hygienists may also be responsible for educating patients on oral disease and prevention. A dental hygienist must have an associate degree. Most employers likely require a post-secondary certificate or diploma program. This degree may be obtained from a community college or technical school. Most of the programs for this trade school career run for three years. Besides completing an accredited program, licensing and professional development is required by all states in the U.S.

Dental hygienist/dental assistant programs are available in junior colleges and universities. When seeking a program, it is important to look for accreditation. The Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits over 300 programs. Within these many programs, students complete clinical and lab work in areas like:

  • Anatomy
  • Gum Disease Prevention
  • Medical Ethics and Safety Standards

A strong background in math and science is required for this in-demand job. Many consider this to be one of the best skilled trades to learn.

#6 – Nuclear Medicine Technologists Degree

Median Salary: $78,760

Projected Job Growth Rate: +2.0%

Best Trade Jobs

Recognized as one of the top paying trade jobs, nuclear medicine technologists need only an associate degree to land a job. The role of a nuclear medicine technologist is to prepare radioactive drugs. This professional must also administer these drugs to patients for imaging purposes and monitor patients afterwards. Most nuclear technologists work full time in hospitals or medical labs. They have received formal education in nuclear medicine technology, including relevant safety procedures and how to keep patient records. This education often takes place in junior colleges and two-year schools. Many nuclear technologists qualify for jobs by completing an associate’s degree. This credential should be in either nuclear medicine or a closely related field like nursing. Candidates must also complete a one-year certificate program in nuclear medicine technology.

Choosing an accredited degree program for this trade school career is important. The Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits most nuclear medicine programs. Employers, especially hospitals, seek this accreditation from job candidates. Also, these accredited programs often offer licensure options for graduates. Some employers require licensing prior to or upon hiring. Certification is available from the following organizations:

  • American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
  • Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB)

#5 – Nuclear Technicians Degree

Median Salary: $99,340

Projected Job Growth Rate: -17.0%

Best Trade Jobs

While not exactly in demand, nuclear technicians have one of the highest paid trade jobs. Nuclear technicians work closely with engineers, physicists, and other nuclear research professionals. They help monitor nuclear equipment and operate nuclear reactors. Currently, there is a decline in the projected growth rate over the next decade, but the salary potential remains steady. In fact, the median annual wage for nuclear technicians in May 2021 was $99,340.

To become a nuclear technician, an associate degree in nuclear science is required. Some jobs may accept equivalent experience gained from working in the military. Still, most jobs ask for at least a two-year degree from vocational programs at a community college or technical school. After securing a job as a nuclear technician, extensive job training is carried out. Most training programs range from six months to two years, depending on the responsibilities for the job. Certification may also be needed. The Nuclear Energy Institute offers certification through its Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program.

#4 – Radiation Therapist Degree

Average Annual Salary: $82,790

Projected Job Growth Rate: +6.0%

Highest Paying Trade School Programs

Radiation therapists have one of the top-paying trade jobs available. Most radiation therapists work full-time in a hospital and earn a median annual wage of $82,790. The field shows favorable job growth over the next several years. This is due to advances in radiation treatment and therapy as the population ages. To land a role as a radiation therapist, an associate’s degree is usually always required. Employers, such as hospitals, seek candidates with an accredited associate degree. Vocational programs can be found in junior colleges. Some candidates may qualify for these skilled jobs by completing a certificate program.

Radiation therapy programs cover general education courses. They then learn an array of topics associated with radiation therapy procedures, including:

  • Strict safety protocols
  • Patient education regarding treatment plans

Often, the student takes courses in subjects like:

  • Algebra
  • Computer Science
  • Human Anatomy
  • Physics
  • Physiology

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists has accredited over 100 radiation therapy programs.

#3 – Power Plant Operators Degree

Median Salary: $94,790

Projected Job Growth Rate: -15.0%

Highest Paying Trade School Programs

Another of the top skilled trades includes power plant operators. This highly specialized career path requires extensive job training. Technical training may take place in technical schools or junior colleges. Alternatively, a combination of coursework and on-the-job experience may suffice. Nuclear power reactor operators are also required to have a license through NRC. These jobs typically require operators to work as unlicensed personnel. This is where they gain experience and knowledge needed to begin the licensing process. To become licensed with the NRC, candidates must meet training and skills requirements. They must also pass both a medical and NRC licensing examination.

Due to the nature of the job, nearly all power plant operators must pass a background check and drug and alcohol screenings. A strong understanding of math and mechanical concepts is also beneficial for one of these high paying trade jobs.

#2 – Airline and Commercial Pilots Degree

Average Annual Salary: $134,630

Projected Growth Rate: +6.0%

Highest Paying Trade School Programs

Airline and commercial pilots are listed as having the highest-paying technical/associate degrees. Airline and commercial pilots fly airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft. They often work variable schedules with overnight layovers in airports. Airline pilots often begin their careers as commercial pilots. To become a commercial pilot, you must hold a high school credential or equivalent. Or, you must have obtained a pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Airline pilots typically have more education and experience than commercial pilots. Some airlines require that their pilots hold a bachelor’s degree to show in-depth knowledge in any subject.

A common way to entry-level commercial pilot jobs is to complete flight training. This pathway requires attending an FAA-certified flight school that offers this training program. Flight schools may take place in:

  • Trade programs
  • Community College degree programs
  • Four-year universities

#1 – Air Traffic Control Degree

Median Salary: $129,750

Projected Growth Rate: +1.0%

Highest Paying Trade School Programs

Air traffic controllers hold the highest-paying jobs on our list. Air traffic controllers have even more responsibilities than pilots. These professionals coordinate the safe movement of aircraft and adhere to government regulations. There are several paths to becoming an air traffic controller. In general, most have graduated high school and college. Candidates will need associate degrees. This credential can be obtained from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. There is another pathway to becoming an air traffic controller. This alternative route requires three years of responsible work experience, a college degree, or a combination of both.

All candidates must be U.S. citizens. They must pass medical and background checks. Required courses at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) academy must be taken. This job offers the highest paying salary on our list. The median annual wage for professionals in this vocation as of May 2021 was $129,750. Earning a six-figure salary without spending years of your life in the college classroom is rare. But with this trade job, it is a possibility

CVO Staff

Sources:

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook

This concludes our list of the highest paying trades programs.