In this ranking, we profile the highest paying trade school options and corresponding jobs in the skilled trades.
If you’re seeking a high-paying job without spending years of your life pursuing higher education in college, 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 on that list pay more than $30,000 per year. But with some technical education, focus, and drive, you might be qualified for one of the lucrative skilled trades jobs on our list.
For this trade school jobs list, we researched some of the highest paying trade jobs for qualified candidates. Many of the 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 of the 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%
Making our list of high paying jobs in the skilled trades is the water transportation program. The education required to become a water transportation worker is minimal for seamen and other entry-level mariner jobs. Ordinary seamen, wipers, and entry-level mariners receive on-the-job training for their specific trade and job title. This training typically last 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. These professionals do not have to complete a traditional trade school degree or receive formal education, though. Some water transportation jobs require a specific type of education such as U.S. Coast Guard-approved training programs.
Mariners employed on ships with U.S. flags must receive credentials from the Transportation Security Administration. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) must be renewed every five years. Mariners working on ships that travel along the open ocean require the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STWC) endorsement. The regional U.S. Coast Guard offices provide training, which includes first aid and 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. Other training required for an entry level position can also be obtained by the U.S. Coast Guard or within 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%
While it may not be a popular career path, funeral service worker is one of the highest paying trade jobs on our list. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, funeral service workers should see an increase in job growth and strong earnings potential for the next several years. While the median annual wage for funeral service workers is $58,900 funeral service managers earn $74,000. This means that with training and experience, advancement and an increase in earnings potential will likely occur with future job prospects.
So how do you become a funeral service worker? Completion of associate degree programs in funeral service or mortuary science is the standard requirement for most job openings. 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, have received supervised training, and passed the state licensing examination. The American Board of Funeral Service Education accredits approximately sixty funeral service programs. This type of trade school program is offered by technical colleges or two-year schools. Besides a two-year degree, some funeral homes prefer experience interning or working in a funeral home. Experience 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%
The most in-demand job on our list, occupational therapists have 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. To become an occupational therapy assistant, an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited school is required. OT assistant programs are found at many two-year colleges offering trade degrees. As of 2022, more than 250 occupational therapy assistant programs from community colleges and technical schools were accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. These programs are also a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Becoming an occupational therapist requires two years of study in a trade program, generally full-time. Students take several required courses in subjects like biology, pediatric health, and psychology to become skilled workers in the industry. While assistants need a two-year degree to find employment, aids need only a high school education or equivalent for most job openings. Aids are then trained on-the-job under the supervision of more experienced aids or assistants. This training consists of one to three weeks covering a variety of topics related to the field. In addition to training, both aids and assistants must have critical thinking skills and knowledge of medical terminology as well as certifications in CPR and basic life support (BLS). Certification training may be received from a trade school or community college to qualify for this high demand occupation.
#17 – Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers Degree
Median Annual Salary: $61,760
Projected Growth Rate: -1.0%
Trade jobs’ salary potential is one reason that individuals pursue trade school degrees. A top-paying trade job is electrical and electronics installers and repairers. These electrical systems workers install and repair all kinds of electrical equipment and may perform routine maintenance. To become an electrical and electronics installer or repairer, a high school credential is required. Candidates for this skilled trade also need advanced training and technical skills acquired 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
- Electrical Components
Students must choose a program that offers extensive hands-on training for work dealing with electrical power. This is so that they gain skills and practical experience required by many job opportunities in the field.
Certification is not required for most electronics and electrical installer or repairer job openings. Still, several organizations offer it. In fact, the Electronics Technicians Association International (ETA 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%
Fire inspectors are one of the fastest growing trade school jobs on our list with a projected growth rate of six percent. For this in-demand trade job, 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%
To become a railroad worker, high school completion and months of on-the-job training are required. Also, locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Certification for this skilled trade involves passing a written test and a skills test. Supervisor observation is also required to ensuring an engineer understands all physical aspects of routes. Most of the training required for this trade job takes place 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%
Boilermakers have one of the most lucrative jobs on our list. Boilermakers are responsible for assembling, installing, and repairing 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 of time. 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 installation techniques, blueprint reading, metals, power tools, and general construction safety practices. After training, more hands-on experience is required. Most apprenticeships last four years.
When a boilermaker finishes an apprenticeship, they become a journey worker. Journey workers perform supervised tasks under the mentorship of more experienced workers for up to two years. Candidates with welding experience are often accepted into trades schools and training programs more often than those without welding experience.
#13 – Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians Degree
Median Annual Salary: $65,380
Projected Job Outlook: +6.0%
This is often seen as one of the fastest growing trade jobs available. Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians are in demand and 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. The training required to become an aircraft and avionics equipment mechanic and technician is specific. 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%
Police and detective roles are among the fastest growing trade jobs on our list. As a police officer, you will serve the public in 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 credential or equivalent, police officers and detectives spend time at an agency’s training academy. The police academy requires a period of time learning in the classroom and completing training on-the-job. Rigorous physical demands and personal qualifications must be met to determine eligibility for students seeking this position.
Police officers and detectives often have completed some college coursework or earned a degree through an associate degree program. 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, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), require detectives and investigators to hold 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%
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 role of the claims adjuster is to evaluate insurance claims and investigate damages to automobiles, buildings, or other structures. A high school diploma is the lowest education 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 or bachelor’s degree. Automotive appraisers and adjusters who evaluate property damage or bodily injury may have postsecondary 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%
Aerospace engineering operations technicians are among the fastest growing trade jobs. With only an associate’s degree or vocational-technical education needed, this high-paying job is ideal for individuals who are interested in math, engineering, and computer technology. Most employers seek aerospace engineering operations technicians who have earned certificates or diplomas offered by trade schools and vocational programs. Some prefer the completion of an associate degree 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
While not a requirement of the job, certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may be beneficial. Certification shows proof an aerospace engineering technician can carry out tasks required of the job. 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, and mechanical skills.
#9 – Diagnostic Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technicians Degree
Average Salary: $75,380
Projected Job Growth Rate: +10.0%
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technicians rank among some of the best paying programs on our list. 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. In fact, most employers, such as hospitals and physician offices, require at least an associate degree. In some cases, the completion of a one-year certification from a technical school or community college will suffice. 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 (CAAHEP).
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%
The web developer degree ranks as one of the best paying trade degrees on our list. With an average earning potential of $77,030 and a projected job growth outlook of 30 percent, web developers are among the top in-demand jobs for individuals graduating trade schools with an interest in information technology. The typical education requirement for web developer jobs is an associate degree. Even so, some developers have landed jobs with only a high school credential, and 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 in web design, computer programming, information technology, or another closely related discipline.
Some two-year schools offer web development certificate programs. These are programs designed to equip students with the skills needed to work in web design and development. One- and two-year programs cover topics like:
- Computer Science
- HTML Programming
- Programming Languages
- Web Development
Some employers prefer candidates who have design and development experience as well as coursework in graphic design. Most web developers need other skills as well. These may include the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, detail-oriented eye, and strong interpersonal skills to ensure customer satisfaction.
#7 – Dental Hygienists Degree
Median Salary: $77,810
Projected Job Growth Rate: +9.0%
Competitive trade jobs salary earnings potential includes dental hygienists. The average dental hygienist job pays $74,820 per year, making this one of the best paying trade jobs out there today. Dental hygienists work in dentist offices assisting dentists. The majority of them work part-time in dental offices, earning on average $35.97 per hour. This job is also in high demand. Job duties for dental hygienists include cleaning and examining teeth and providing preventive dental care. Hygienists may also be responsible for educating patients on oral disease and prevention. To become a dental hygienist, an associate degree and post secondary certificate or diploma program is likely required by most employers. This degree may be obtained from a community college or technical school with a dental program. Most of the programs for this trade school career run three years. Besides the completion of an accredited program, licensing and professional development is required by all states in the U.S.
Dental hygienist/ dental assistant programs can be found in junior colleges and universities. When seeking a program, it is important to look for accreditation. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is part of the American Dental Association (ADA), accredits over 300 programs. Within these many programs, students complete clinical and lab work in areas like:
- 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%
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%
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%
Radiation therapists have one of the top paying trade jobs available. Earning a median annual wage of $82,790, most radiation therapists work in a hospital setting full-time. The field shows a 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, look for 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 alongside a wide array of topics associated with radiation therapy procedures, including strict safety protocols and patient education regarding treatment plans. Often, the student takes courses in algebra, computer science, human anatomy, physics, and physiology. As of 2022, there were over 100 accredited radiation therapy programs recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
#3 – Power Plant Operators Degree
Median Salary: $94,790
Projected Job Growth Rate: -15.0%
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%
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 its equivalent. Or, you must have obtained a pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Due to responsibilities, airline pilots typically have more education and experience than commercial pilots. In fact, some airlines require that their pilots hold a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate in-depth knowledge in any subject area.
The most common educational pathway to entry-level commercial pilot jobs is to complete flight training. This pathway requires attendance at an FAA-certified flight school that offers this type of training program. Flight schools may be part of trade programs, community college degree programs, or four-year universities.
#1 – Air Traffic Control Degree
Median Salary: $129,750
Projected Growth Rate: +1.0%
In terms of skilled trades, air traffic controllers hold the highest paying jobs on our list. With 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 become 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, have passed medical and background checks, and taken the required courses at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) academy. 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.
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This concludes our list of the highest paying trades programs.