Top 25 Trade School Careers

Considering trade school? It’s a valid choice in today’s economy. While college is always a good option, many individuals are also discovering the benefits of trade school jobs. The fact is, there are many trade school careers that pay well and don’t require years and years of study. Moreover, some of the best trade school programs are incredibly affordable and offer invaluable resources such as career preparation and even job placement services. Since trade schools are experiencing a moment in the spotlight right now, our editors have developed the following trade school careers list. On this list, you’ll find 25 different trade school careers in demand (and/or those that are associated with above-average wages) that require just an associate’s degree or certificate from a post-secondary technical school or community college.

Featuring the Best Trade School Jobs

The trade school jobs highlighted in this article include those in various occupational categories, including healthcare, mechanics, personal care, education, and even law. Unlike many of our featured articles, this trade school careers list is not a ranking—instead, these occupations are listed in random order, although they are categorized by employment fields. In developing this list, our editors strove to choose the best trade school jobs associated with rapid growth and/or lucrative salaries (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and to present varied occupations for individuals with different vocational talents and interests.

Healthcare

Healthcare is a field ripe with opportunities for professionals of all educational levels, including those interested in trade school jobs. Already a large occupational category, healthcare jobs are currently expanding rapidly—the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 16% increase in new job opportunities over the coming decade. This expansion will yield over two and half million positions for qualified medical and allied health professionals, including over a dozen positions that can be obtained through a degree or certification from trade school programs. The healthcare field is also a lucrative one for graduates of trade school programs—the median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technicians was nearly $70,000 in 2020, according to the BLS.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Job Growth Projection: 19%

One of the very best trade school careers in the fast-growing field of healthcare is that of a diagnostic medical sonographer. These well-paid professionals use high-tech medical equipment to create images of internal organs and tissue known as sonograms or ultrasounds. Diagnostic medical sonographers also interact with patients, recording medical histories and symptoms and preparing individuals for medical procedures. Some diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize in a specific type of sonography such as cardiac, obstetric, vascular, abdominal, or pediatric sonography.

The position of a diagnostic medical sonographer has long been regarded as one of the best trade school jobs because of its high demand, above-average pay, and relatively minimal training requirements. An associate’s degree from a technical or vocational school as well as a certificate from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers is typically all that is required for entry into the profession. Credentialed sonographers should have little trouble finding a job after graduation since the occupation of a diagnostic medical sonographer is one of the trade school careers in demand right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities in this healthcare sub-field are expected to grow by almost twenty percent between now and the end of the decade. Moreover, diagnostic medical sonographers are very well-compensated for their work in the industry. On average, they make over $75,000 per year.

Average Salary: $75,920

Occupational Therapy Assistant

Job Growth Projection: 34%

Another of the top trade school careers for those interested in breaking into the healthcare industry is that of an occupational therapy assistant. These allied health professionals work under the direct supervision of trained occupational therapists in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other outpatient care facilities. Occupational therapy assistants routinely help patients perform therapeutic exercises and tasks to recover from injuries and medical conditions. Their primary role is to help the patient resume the normal functioning required for their daily life and work activities. Auxiliary duties may include demonstrating exercises, teaching patients to use specialized equipment, and recording patient progress.

The job of an occupational therapy assistant made our top trade school careers list because it has all of the characteristics of an attractive career path. That is, it doesn’t require extensive training prior to employment, and it’s associated with job security and high wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for occupational therapy assistants are exploding right now and are projected to expand by 34% in the decade between 2020 and 2030. The median pay for these professionals is nearly $63,000 annually despite the fact that entry-level positions require just an associate’s degree from a vocational school.

Average Salary: $62,940

Physical Therapy Assistant

Job Growth Projection: 35%

As one of the fastest-growing jobs on our list, it’s safe to say that physical therapy assistants are among the hottest trade school careers in demand right now. This rapid growth can be attributed to the increasing age of the large baby boomer population in the United States who will need physical therapy services to help manage health conditions associated with aging. Physical therapy assistants work under the direction of licensed physical therapists, but they also work directly with patients, helping them perform prescribed exercises and administering physical therapy treatments. Sometimes called PTAs, these allied healthcare professionals may also perform auxiliary duties like cleaning and providing administrative services. Prospective physical therapy assistants are required to attend trade school programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Accreditation. Once licensed, PTAs make nearly $60,000 per year on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This mean annual salary places physical therapy assistants among the top trade school careers that pay well.

Average Salary: $59,770

Dental Hygienist

Job Growth Projection: 11%

Topping our selection of trade school careers that pay well is the job of a dental hygienist. Though they only need an associate’s degree from a trade school or community college to begin working in the field, dental hygienists bring home a paycheck that rivals that of more educated professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental hygienists earn more than $77,000 per year on average. Employment opportunities for these allied health professionals are plentiful, too; the BLS projects an 11% increase in open positions for hygienists over the next decade. Dental hygienists often work alongside dentists in clinical environments to provide oral care to patients, including routine cleanings, fluoride treatments, and x-rays, for instance. These dental professionals also educate their patients on how to properly care for their teeth to prevent oral disease and tooth decay. To find the best trade school programs for dental hygienists, look for those accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Average Salary: $77,090

Medical Assistant

Job Growth Projection: 18%

The occupation of a medical assistant is one of the best trade school jobs in the health care field for entry-level professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for medical assistants is on the rise with expected job growth of up to 18% over the next decade. This expansion in the field will result in over 130,000 new positions for qualified medical assistants by 2030.

Medical assistants may perform a wide variety of tasks within a hospital or other medical facility, including both clerical and clinical duties. These healthcare professionals may enter a patient’s medical records into a database, or they may provide assistance to a doctor or nurse during a clinical procedure. Other responsibilities could include interviewing a patient, taking vital signs, and answering phone calls.

Though the salary of a medical assistant is slightly below average compared to all other occupations, the pay is still decent. As of May 2020, medical assistants made just over $35,000 per year on average.

Average Salary: $35,850

Phlebotomist

Job Growth Projection: 22%

Phlebotomy is one of the best trade school programs for students who want to explore the field of healthcare. As an entry-level job, the role of a phlebotomist won’t make you rich, but it will provide you with steady employment and plenty of experience in a medical role. Phlebotomists are tasked with drawing blood from patients for the purpose of laboratory tests, blood transfusions, or donations, for example. In addition to this primary role, phlebotomists may also perform some clerical tasks like labeling test tubes, recording patient vitals, and entering information into a patient database, for instance.

Perhaps the biggest draw of a phlebotomy career is the job opportunities available in this healthcare sub-field. It is definitely one of the trade school careers in demand right now with growth projections of up to 22% by the end of the decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Pay for the position is respectable as well with top-earning phlebotomists making just over $50,000 a year.

Average Salary: $36,320

Ophthalmic Medical Technician

Job Growth Projection: 14%

Another of the best vocational careers in healthcare is that of an ophthalmic medical technician. Though it is one of the more obscure trade school careers on our list, this position is rapidly growing along with other allied health professional jobs. Ophthalmic medical technicians work at the right hand of licensed ophthalmologists, conducting vision examinations, administering eye medications and therapies, and educating patients on the proper care of their eyeglasses or contacts, for example. Though not one of the most lucrative positions on our list, ophthalmic medical technicians are still among the trade school careers that pay well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual wage of nearly $38,000 as of 2020.

Average Salary: $37,940

EMT / Paramedic

Job Growth Projection: 11%

One of the most exciting and potentially rewarding jobs on our trade school careers list is that of an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic. Requiring just a 1-2 year professional certificate, these allied health professionals play a crucial role in ensuring public safety by providing life-saving medical treatments and first aid in case of an emergency. EMTs and paramedics are often tasked with stabilizing injured patients before transporting them to the hospital for further treatment. Currently, the demand for trained EMTs and paramedics is high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% increase in job openings for these professionals by 2030. Salaries for EMTs/paramedics average about $36,650 per year, but with experience, there is the potential to earn more.

Average Salary: $36,650

Law

Legal occupations aren’t usually equated with trade school careers. Still, there are a few positions in this professional field that trade school graduates can qualify for with an associate’s degree or post-secondary certificate. These occupations are notoriously well-paid and can also provide advancement opportunities for individuals with a desire to pursue a legal career at a higher level.

Paralegal/ Legal Assistant

Job Growth Projection: 12%

Most careers in the legal field require several years or more of university study. This is not the case for paralegals and legal assistants, however. In fact, these legal professionals need just an associate’s degree from a technical school, trade school, or community college. Still, the role of a paralegal or legal assistant is crucial to the success of many law firms across the country. Duties associated with this occupation include conducting research, gathering facts, writing legal briefs, and providing administrative support to lawyers and other members of a legal team.

The job of a paralegal/legal assistant is among the many trade school careers that pay well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Average salaries associated with this profession exceed $52,000 per year. Demand for legal support professionals is on the rise as well—new positions in the field are projected to increase by 12% by the year 2030. That’s faster than average compared to other occupations in the United States.

Average Salary: $52,920

Court Reporter

Job Growth Projection: 3%

Another popular trade school career in the legal field is the occupation of a court reporter. Court reporters have the responsibility of carefully documenting legal proceedings such as hearings, trials, and depositions, for example. In this professional role, court reporters capture every word spoken in the courtroom and transcribe it. The resulting transcription becomes an official legal document.

Although the job outlook for court reporters is somewhat bleak right now, there is still an ongoing need for court reporters, and the pay for this position makes it an appealing trade school career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), court reporters make over $61,000 per year on average. That’s much higher than the average for other professions and significantly more than the average for other types of legal support workers as well.

Average Salary: $61,660

Education

One of the larger occupational fields, education is also expanding and is projected to add nearly a million new jobs for qualified employees in the decade between 2020 and 2030. Like the legal field, education is an occupational career that usually requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for employment. However, graduates of trade school programs shouldn’t rule out the possibility of working within a classroom environment. Two educational positions in particular are suitable for individuals who hold an associate’s degree: preschool teacher and teaching assistant.

Preschool Teacher

Job Growth Projection: 18%

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to become an educator without a university education—if you’re planning to teach at the preschool level, that is. Early childhood education is actually one of the most popular trade school programs and one that can lead to a successful and fulfilling career in teaching. Preschool teachers are responsible for teaching children from birth to age 5 fundamental skills that will prepare them for elementary school. They plan curricula, deliver lessons, and engage with children as they participate in various learning activities. Preschool teachers are also tasked with providing supervision to their young students and ensuring their safety and security while at school.

The job outlook for preschool teachers is currently quite promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18% growth in employment opportunities in the field of early childhood education between now and the year 2030. This expansion will result in over 86,000 new positions for trained preschool teachers across the country. Salaries for these types of educators are usually decent as well. In 2020, preschool teachers made nearly $32,000 on average.

Average Salary: $31,930

Teaching Assistant

Job Growth Projection: 9%

Another of the best trade school programs in the field of education is the associate’s in education credential that leads to a position as a teaching assistant. Teaching assistants provide support to licensed teachers in a classroom or child care setting, helping with lesson preparation, grading, supervision, and more.

Educators are very much in demand right now, so jobs for teaching assistants are currently growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9% increase in job opportunities for these paraprofessionals, which will result in approximately 116,000 new positions in public and private schools across the country. The job of a teaching assistant is also associated with promising advancement opportunities. Many educators who begin their careers as teaching assistants go on to become licensed teachers with classrooms of their own. Some even attend a teacher preparation program during their time working as a teaching assistant.

Average Salary: $28,900

Personal Care

A surprisingly fast-growing field in the United States, personal care occupations are expected to grow by 22% on average between the years 2020 and 2030, adding nearly 850,000 new employment opportunities to the job market. These jobs are ideal for graduates of trade school programs in cosmetology or related fields. They’re also great for individuals who are entrepreneurial-minded since they come with the option of opening a small business such as a salon or clinic.

Skincare Specialist

Job Growth Projection: 29%

Among the top trade school careers in demand right now is that of a skincare specialist. These personal care professionals provide not only skincare advice to their clients, but also skincare procedures such as facials, waxings, and laser treatments, for example. As a large portion of the U.S. population reaches their golden years and people in general respond to societal pressure to look younger, the need for skincare specialists is growing rapidly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this particular occupational field is expected to grow by nearly 30% between now and the end of the decade. This growth will yield almost 20,000 new jobs for professionals who successfully complete trade school programs like those offered by cosmetology and esthetician schools. Skin care specialists are often paid hourly. Though the average wage for these types of professionals is just over $17 per hour, the top earners in the field make nearly twice that.

Average Salary: $36,510

Massage Therapist

Job Growth Projection: 32%

The occupation of massage therapist is another of the fast-growing trade school careers in the personal care industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for trained massage therapists will expand by a whopping 32% in the decade spanning 2020 and 2030. This impressive growth in the industry is due in part to a broader recognition of the role of massage therapy in pain management and overall wellness.

Massage therapists use their knowledge of pressure points in the body to apply therapeutic massage techniques. They also evaluate patients, counsel them on relaxation techniques, and create long-term treatment plans for clients. These personal care professionals make a fair wage as well. The BLS reports a median annual wage of over $43,000 with an earning potential of nearly $80,000.

Average Salary: $43,620

Manicurist / Pedicurist

Job Growth Projection: 33%

Another of the best trade school jobs for students interested in the personal care and service industry is that of manicurists/pedicurists. These professionals are trained to provide nail care services to clients who desire to have their fingernails and toenails trimmed, filed, and/or painted. Some manicurists and pedicurists also provide other services such as hand and foot massages as well as skincare treatments.

Like other types of trade school careers in the industry, jobs for manicurists and pedicurists are on the rise. The BLS reports that demand for new professionals in the field will grow by 33% over the coming decade. That’s much faster than the average occupation in the United States right now. Manicurists and pedicurists aren’t the highest paid professionals in the personal care industry, but top earners can make over $18 per hour.

Average Salary: $27,870

Mechanical

Mechanical occupations such as those associated with installation, maintenance, and repair have long been associated with trade school programs. These jobs are continuing to grow at a steady pace, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and are expected to provide new opportunities for nearly 400,000 trained workers by the year 2030. An associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate from a technical school or community college is the typical requirement for entry into this promising career field.

Aircraft Mechanic/ Service Technician

Job Growth Projection: 12%

It may not be surprising to learn that the job of an aircraft mechanic/service technician is one of the trade school careers that pay well, but you may not be aware that jobs for these professionals are also growing faster than average at the moment. Since transportation by air is expected to grow over the next decade, so too is the need for trained mechanics and technicians to repair and maintain planes and other aircraft. Aircraft mechanics/service technicians inspect aircraft for common issues such as electrical problems, defective parts, and faulty brakes. They also perform routine maintenance and test aircraft for proper operations in order to prevent issues from arising in the air. 

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians hold some of the highest paying trade school jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals make an average of more than $66,000 per year with the potential to make a six-figure salary.

Average Salary: $66,440

Wind Turbine Service Technician

Job Growth Projection: 68%

The profession of wind turbine service technician makes our top trade school careers list due to its impressive growth projections over the course of the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs for wind turbine service technicians will increase by 68% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than average compared to other occupations in the United States. Considering they only need a certificate in wind energy technology to qualify for jobs in the field, these types of technicians earn a decent wage, too. In 2020, they earned over $56,000 per year on average.

Informally known as windtechs, wind turbine service technicians are tasked with inspecting, repairing, and maintaining wind turbine towers. Some technicians also install towers, collect data from them, and analyze the information gathered.

Average Salary: $56,230

Medical Equipment Repairer

Job Growth Projection: 7%

Among the top trade school careers that pay well is the occupation of medical equipment repair. These professionals bridge the fields of healthcare and maintenance by working on equipment used in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other medical facilities. Even though most medical equipment repairers need only an associate’s degree in biomedical technology or engineering to begin working in the field, the median salary for these professionals is above average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2020, medical equipment repairers made over $51,000 on average. Demand for these workers is growing steadily too—the BLS predicts a 7% increase in new job openings in the field by 2030.

Average Salary: $51,610

Motorcycle Mechanic

Job Growth Projection: 10%

If you like turning wrenches, then the trade school career of a motorcycle mechanic should be on your radar. Like other small engine mechanics, motorcycle mechanics and technicians are projected to see increased job opportunities in the coming decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Specifically, the BLS projects a 10% expansion in new job openings with the best opportunities reserved for mechanics with the skills to work on electric motors. No formal degree or certificate is required to enter the field, though a trade school program can be beneficial to those just learning how to inspect, maintain and repair motorcycles. Even without a degree, motorcycle mechanics and technicians earn a decent wage. In 2020, the median annual salary for these types of small engine mechanics was just over $38,000.

Average Salary: $38,010

Media and Communication

Online communication technologies have resulted in an increase in jobs for media and communication professionals in 2021. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this category are currently growing by 14% and are expected to yield over 150,000 new positions by the end of the decade. Though most careers in this field require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for entry, there are a few trade school careers available in media and communications.

Sound Engineering Technician

Job Growth Projection: 17%

One of the best vocational careers in the media and communication industry in terms of demand, the job of a sound engineering technician is crucial to the continued growth and success of the television and film industry. Also known as audio engineers, these technicians are responsible for operating sound equipment in order to produce audio for movies, television shows, sporting events, and webcasts, for example.

As the media and communications industry continues to grow and evolve, sound engineering technicians will be needed in order to produce high-quality soundtracks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 17% expansion of this occupation field between 2020 and 2030, making it one of the trade school careers in demand right now. Pay for these positions is respectable as well; the median annual wage for sound engineering technicians in 2020 was right at $50,000.

Average Salary: $50,000

Audio and Video Technician

Job Growth Projection: 26%

The job of an audio and video technician is one of the trade school careers in demand right now. These types of technicians are needed in order to set up the necessary audio and visual equipment for live events such as concerts, corporate meetings, sporting events, and podcasts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), new job opportunities in this field are growing rapidly and are expected to increase by 26% over the next decade. One of the drivers of this growth in the audio/visual technology industry is the demand for teleconferencing equipment and technology needed for remote work and learning in the United States. Schools and businesses are increasing their budgets in this area to accommodate virtual classes and meetings, a trend that gained traction during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jobs for audio and video technicians are associated with higher-than-average pay as well. The BLS reports that these types of technicians made nearly $48,000 on average in 2020.

Average Salary: $47,920

Broadcast Technician

Job Growth Projection: 11%

As is the case for other technicians in the media and film industry, jobs for broadcast technicians are growing faster than average. Sometimes called broadcasting engineers, these professionals use computers, transmitters, and other technical equipment to ensure the quality of audio and visual productions for recordings and live events. Prospective broadcast technicians will need to attend trade school programs that result in an associate’s credential in broadcast technology or a related field. Once hired on, these technicians can expect to begin earning solid wages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an average salary of over $43,500 for this trade school career.

Average Salary: $43,570

Life, Physical, and Social Science

Many individuals elect trade school over university because they prefer to work outdoors. If this rings a bell, then you may want to consider one of these trade school careers in the life, physical, and social sciences. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs in this occupational category are growing steadily right now, so your chances of employment are good once you earn a credential from a vocational school or community college.

Geological and Hydrologic Technician

Job Growth Projection: 9%

Whether or not the occupation of a geological or hydrologic technician has been on your trade school careers list, it’s one to consider, especially if you’re not keen on working in an office environment. These types of technicians spend their work days collecting samples of mud, water, and rock, for instance, and then testing these samples in a laboratory environment. They work under the direct supervision of scientists and engineers as they study and extract natural resources to fuel our society. The demand for geologic and hydrologic technicians is growing steadily and is associated with above-average pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these technicians earn over $50,000 per year on average. Although some employers may require a more advanced credential, an associate’s degree from a trade school or technical school is usually sufficient for entry into this exciting and lucrative field.

Average Salary: $50,630

Agriculture and Food Science Technician

Job Growth Projection: 8%

One of the lesser-known trade school careers, the position of an agricultural or food science technician is vital to the continued safety and abundance of food resources for our growing population. These types of technicians assist food and agricultural scientists as they perform tests on samples such as food and soil, and document the results. To become an agriculture/food science technician, an associate’s degree from a trade school or community college is usually all that’s needed. Even so, you can expect to start out making a decent wage in this role. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earn nearly $42,000 per year on average with the potential to earn up to $65,000 or more.

Average Salary: $41,970

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

Job Growth Projection: 11%

One of the lesser-known trade school careers in demand in 2021 is the occupation of an environmental science and protection technician. As concerns about the sustainability of our environment continue to be a priority, professionals overseeing the health of our natural resources are increasingly necessary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for environmental science and protection technicians are projected to expand by 11% between 2020 and 2030—faster than average compared to other occupations in the U.S. The wages associated with these positions are respectable, too, with the average salary for technicians working in environmental protection nearing $47,000 per year as of 2020.

The responsibilities of an environmental science and protection technician may vary, but can include collecting samples, conducting laboratory tests, and performing inspections. These technicians may or may not work under the direct supervision of environmental scientists and specialists.

Average Salary: $46,850

Conclusion

A four-year degree program isn’t for everyone. For students with a different goal in mind, trade school programs are widely available and affordable. Plus, they’re associated with career paths that can lead to job security and high wages—advantages that have traditionally been reserved for college graduates. So, if you’re considering attending a two-year school over a university, take heart! While you’ll inevitably encounter some naysayers along your educational journey who will insist you’re making the wrong choice for your future, our experts have nothing but encouragement for you. There are some clear and indisputable advantages to attending vocational school, not to mention the numerous trade school careers in demand right now as well as lucrative trade school jobs that can set you on the path to financial security. Good luck!

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Maxim Sorokopud
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Julie McCaulley
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