Author: Melissa Maypole
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
Readability Level: Grade 8
Reading Time:18 minutes, 55 seconds
Original Publication Date: November 2021
Are you considering trade school? It’s a good choice in today’s economy. While college is always a good option, many individuals discover the benefits of jobs associated with vocational and trade schools. The fact is, numerous careers pay well and don’t require years and years of study. Moreover, some of the best programs are incredibly affordable and offer invaluable resources such as career preparation and job placement services. Since trade schools are experiencing a moment in the spotlight right now, our editors have developed the following trade-based careers list. On this list, you’ll find 25 careers in demand (and those 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 Jobs
You may think skilled trades are about being construction and building inspectors or working with electrical systems. But you don’t have to wield power tools or work with electrical components to work in skilled trade jobs. The options for those with a high school diploma and a vocational or trade school education go way beyond that. The positions highlighted in this article include those in various occupational categories. These include:
- Personal Care
Unlike many of our featured articles, this list is not a ranking. These occupations are in random order, listed by employment fields. Our editors chose the trades with rapid growth and/or lucrative salary potential. The list presents varied occupations for individuals with different vocational talents and interests.
Healthcare holds many opportunities for professionals of all educational levels. This also applies to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Healthcare jobs are currently expanding rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 16% increase in job prospects in the coming decade. This will yield over 2.5 million jobs for medical and allied health professionals. This includes over a dozen jobs with an associates degree or certificate from trade schools. The healthcare field has many high-paying trade school jobs available. The annual wage for healthcare workers and technicians averaged $70,000 in 2020. This is according to the BLS. If you’re looking for variety and some of the highest-paid trade jobs in the U.S, then read on. These healthcare jobs go beyond the usual licensed practical nurse or respiratory therapist!
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Job Growth Projection: 19%
One of the best jobs in the field of healthcare is diagnostic medical sonography. These professionals operate imaging equipment to create images of internal organs and tissue. Diagnostic sonographers also deal with patients. They record medical histories and symptoms and prepare individuals for medical procedures. They must also follow strict safety procedures. Some may specialize in a specific type of sonography. This includes:
Diagnostic medical sonography is one of the top vocational school degrees. This comes from its above-average pay and minimal training. A degree and professional certification are usually the only things needed. New hires receive on-the-job training.
Sonographers should have little trouble finding a job after graduation. The BLS expects job opportunities to grow by almost twenty percent between now and the decade’s end. Sonographers are very well-paid for their work in the industry. They can make over $75,000 annually after graduating from associate degree programs. This makes their position one of the highest-paying trade jobs there is.
Average Salary: $75,920
Occupational Therapy Assistant
Job Growth Projection: 34%
Another of the high-paying trade school jobs in healthcare is an occupational therapy assistant. They work under the supervision of occupational therapists in places like:
- Doctors’ Offices
- Outpatient Care Facilities
New hires will get on-the-job training. They help patients with therapeutic exercises. This allows patients to recover from injuries and medical conditions. Their goal is to help the patient return to normal daily life. Other duties may include:
- Demonstrating Exercises
- Teaching Patients to Use Specialized Equipment
- Developing Treatment Plans
- Recording Patient Progress
Occupational therapy assistants don’t require extensive training before employment. It is also associated with job growth and high wages. The BLS reports job openings are exploding right now. They are projected to expand by 34% in the decade between 2020 and 2030. It’s one of the best-paying trade jobs, too. The median annual pay for these professionals is around $63,000. Entry-level positions only need an associate degree from a vocational school. That’s right–no bachelor’s degree is required!
Average Salary: $62,940
Physical Therapy Assistant
Job Growth Projection: 35%
Physical therapy assistants are one of the hottest high-paying trade school jobs. The rapid job growth is due to the aging of the baby boomer population. They work with patients, helping them perform prescribed exercises. These professionals may also perform other duties like cleaning and administrative services. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy must accredit these programs. PTAs make an average salary of around $60,000 per year, according to the BLS. This salary places physical therapy assistants among the top trades that pay well. An associate’s degree is necessary.
Average Salary: $59,770
Job Growth Projection: 11%
Topping our highest-paying trade school jobs is the job of a dental hygienist. They only need an associate degree from a vocational college to begin working in the field. Dental hygienists bring home a paycheck equal to that of more educated professionals. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for dental hygienists is more than $77,000 per year. There are many job opportunities for these health professionals. The BLS projects an 11% increase in open positions for hygienists over the next decade. Dental hygienists often work with dentists in clinical environments to provide oral care to patients. This includes:
- Routine Cleanings
- Fluoride Treatments
They also educate patients on how to care for their teeth to stop oral disease and tooth decay. To find the best trade programs for dental hygienists, limit your search to accredited schools. Make sure to pay attention to school rankings and program quality.
Average Salary: $77,090
Job Growth Projection: 18%
The medical assistant is one of the best vocational jobs in the healthcare field. The BLS expects the need for medical assistants to rise with expected job growth of up to 18% over the next decade. The growth in the field will result in over 130,000 new jobs for qualified medical assistants by 2030.
Medical assistants may perform various tasks in hospitals or outpatient care centers. This includes:
- Both Clerical and Clinical Duties
- Entering Patient Records into a Database
- Assisting Doctors or LPNs During Procedures
- Interviewing Patients
- Answering Phone Calls
This position requires no associate degree or bachelor’s degree.
Medical assistants aren’t the highest-paying vocational jobs. The salary of a medical assistant is slightly below average compared to all other occupations, but the pay is still decent. As of May 2020, medical assistants made a median annual salary of over $35,000 annually.
Average Salary: $35,850
Job Growth Projection: 22%
Phlebotomy is one of the best trade programs for students who want to explore the healthcare field. 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 draw blood from patients for:
- Laboratory Tests
- Blood Transfusions
Phlebotomists may also perform some clerical tasks like:
- Labeling Test Tubes
- Recording Patient Vitals
- Entering Information into a Patient Database
There are many job opportunities for a trained phlebotomist. It is definitely one of the careers in demand right now. The BLS expects growth projections of up to 22% by the decade’s end. Pay for the position is respectable. Top-earning phlebotomists make just over $50,000 a year. No associate or bachelor’s degree is necessary, but a professional certificate is required.
Average Salary: $36,320
Ophthalmic Medical Technician
Job Growth Projection: 14%
Another top vocational career in healthcare is that of an ophthalmic medical technician. It is one of the more obscure careers on our list, but the job demand is growing. Ophthalmic medical technicians work beside licensed ophthalmologists. Their job duties include:
- Conducting Vision Examinations
- Administering Eye Medications and Therapies
- Educating Patients on the Proper Care of their Glasses or Contacts
It is not one of the best-paying trade careers on our list, but it is still among the trade jobs that pay well. The BLS reports a median annual wage of nearly $38,000 as of 2020. Plus, the entry-level requirements for this position are low–some vocational school is required. There is no need for associate degree programs or extra education.
Average Salary: $37,940
EMT / Paramedic
Job Growth Projection: 11%
One of the most exciting and rewarding jobs on our list is an emergency medical technician (EMT). A 1-2 year professional certification but no associate degree is necessary. You will receive on-the-job training. These professionals play a key role in ensuring public safety. They provide life-saving medical treatments and first aid in case of an emergency. Currently, the demand for trained EMTs and paramedics is high. The BLS projects an 11% increase in job openings for these professionals by 2030. The average annual salary for EMTs/paramedics is about $36,650 per year. With experience, there is the potential to earn more.
Average Salary: $36,650
Legal occupations aren’t usually equated with skilled trades. Still, there are a few positions in this professional field. Vocational school graduates can find work with an associate degree or postsecondary certificate. These occupations are some of the highest-paying trade careers. They can also provide advancement opportunities for those with a desire to pursue a legal career at a higher level. If you want to work normal business hours in an office environment, this trade job may be ideal.
Paralegal/ Legal Assistant
Job Growth Projection: 12%
Law may not be the first employment field that comes to mind when considering vocational programs. Most careers in the legal field need several years or more of university study. This is not the case for paralegals and legal assistants. These professionals need an associate degree from a vocational school or community college. Still, the role of a paralegal or legal assistant is crucial to the success of many law firms nationwide. Legal assistants work in law offices, and jobs associated with this occupation include:
- Conducting Research
- Gathering Facts
- Writing Legal Briefs
- Providing Administrative Support to the Members of a Legal Team
The job of a paralegal/legal assistant is among the many high-paying trade school jobs associated with vocational schools, according to the BLS. The median annual salary associated with this profession exceeds $52,000 per year. Demand for legal support professionals is also rising—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
Job Growth Projection: 3%
Another popular career for graduates of trade schools is a court reporter. Court reporters have the responsibility of documenting legal proceedings such as:
Court reporters capture every word spoken in the courtroom and transcribe it. The transcription becomes an official legal document.
The job outlook for court reporters is somewhat bleak right now, but there is still an ongoing need for them. The pay for this position makes it an appealing career. According to the BLS, court reporters make a median annual salary of over $61,000 annually. 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. It’s safe to say this is one of the better-paying trade careers. You won’t need an associate degree, but you will still need to attend vocational schools to get a professional certificate in the field.
Average Salary: $61,660
One of the larger job fields, education continues to expand. It is expected to add a million new jobs for qualified employees between 2020 and 2030. Education is a career that usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Graduates of trade schools shouldn’t rule out the possibility of working in a classroom. There are two jobs that are suitable for those who hold an associate degree. Those are as a preschool teacher or teaching assistant.
Job Growth Projection: 18%
It is possible to become an educator without a university education. If you’re planning to teach at the preschool level. Early childhood education is actually one of the most popular trade programs. It can lead to a successful and fulfilling career in teaching. Preschool teachers are responsible for teaching children from birth to age 5. They teach fundamental skills that will prepare them for elementary school. They will:
- Plan Curricula
- Deliver Lessons
- Engage with Children as They Take Part in Various Learning Activities
Preschool teachers must also watch their young students and ensure their safety and security while at school. To work as a preschool teacher, you only need an associate degree.
The job outlook for preschool teachers is currently quite promising. The BLS projects an 18% growth in employment opportunities between now and the year 2030. This will result in over 86,000 new positions for trained preschool teachers. Salaries for these types of educators are usually decent as well. In 2020, preschool teachers made nearly $32,000 on average. This isn’t among the highest-paying jobs, but there are opportunities for advancement.
Average Salary: $31,930
Job Growth Projection: 9%
Another best vocational program in the field of education is the teaching assistant. Teaching assistants provide support to teachers in a classroom or child care setting. They help with things like:
- Lesson Preparation
An associate degree is all you need to begin a career as a teaching assistant.
Teachers are very much in demand right now. This means jobs for teaching assistants are currently growing. The BLS predicts a 9% increase in job prospects for these paraprofessionals. This means approximately 116,000 new positions in public and private schools. The job of a teaching assistant is also associated with promising advancement opportunities. Many teachers who start as teaching assistants go on to get a bachelor’s degree and become licensed teachers with classrooms of their own. Some even attend a teacher preparation program during their time working as a teaching assistants. It isn’t among the highest-paying trade careers on our list. That there is plenty of room for advancement in this occupation offsets that fact.
Average Salary: $28,900
Personal care jobs are expected to grow by 22% on average between the years 2020 and 2030. This will add nearly 850,000 new employment opportunities to the job market. These jobs are ideal for cosmetology graduates or other related fields. They’re also great for individuals who want to open their own business such as a salon or clinic. There are also some high-paying trade careers in this occupational category.
Job Growth Projection: 29%
Among the top skilled trades in demand right now is that of a skincare specialist. They provide skin care advice to their clients. They also do skin care procedures such as:
- Laser Treatments
Many people respond to societal pressure to look younger. Because of this, the need for skincare specialists is growing rapidly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 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 complete vocational programs like those offered by cosmetology schools. Skincare specialists who graduate from vocational schools 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
Job Growth Projection: 32%
Massage therapy is another of the fast-growing trades in the personal care industry. The BLS projects that jobs for massage therapists will expand by a whopping 32% between 2020 and 2030. This growth is due in part to the recognition of massage therapy in pain management and wellness.
Massage therapists use pressure points in the body to apply therapeutic massage techniques. They also:
- Evaluate Patients
- Counsel on Relaxation Techniques
- 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%
One of the best trades for students interested in personal care is manicurist/pedicurist. Technical schools will train these professionals to provide nail care services to clients. Some manicurists and pedicurists provide other services such as hand and foot massages. They might also provide skincare treatments.
Like other types of trades 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 vocational jobs in the personal care industry, but top earners can make over $18 per hour.
Average Salary: $27,870
Mechanical jobs are what many people think when talkoing about skilled trade programs. These jobs are continuing to grow at a steady pace. The BLS expects this field to provide new opportunities for 400,000 trained workers by the year 2030. Most of the jobs in this promising field require an associates degree.
Aircraft Mechanic/ Service Technician
Job Growth Projection: 12%
Aircraft mechanic is one of the skilled trade careers that pay well. You may not know that jobs for these professionals are growing faster than average at the moment. Air travel is expected to increase over the next decade. The need for trained mechanics and technicians will grow along with it. Aircraft mechanics/service technicians inspect aircraft for common issues such as:
- Electrical Systems Problems
- Defective Parts
- Faulty Brakes
They also perform routine maintenance and test planes as part of their job responsibilities.
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians hold some of the highest paying trade jobs. These professionals make median annual wage of more than $66,000 per year. There is also the potential to make a six-figure salary.
Average Salary: $66,440
Wind Turbine Service Technician
Job Growth Projection: 68%
Wind turbine service technician makes our list of top jobs for trade schools. This is due to its impressive growth projections over the course of the next decade. The BLS predicts that jobs for wind turbine service technicians will increase by 68% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster than average compared to other occupations in the United States. This means they will be in high demand in the coming years. They only need a certificate or associate degree in wind energy technology. These types of technicians earn a decent wage, too. In 2020, they earned a median annual wage of over $56,000 per year on average.
Wind turbine service technicians inspect, repair, and maintain wind turbine towers. They also:
- Install Towers
- Gather Data
- Analyze Information
Average Salary: $56,230
Medical Equipment Repairer
Job Growth Projection: 7%
Among the top trade careers that pay well is the medical equipment repairer. These professionals bridge the fields of healthcare and maintenance by working on equipment used in:
- Outpatient Clinics
- Other Medical Facilities
Most medical equipment repairers need only an associate’s degree in biomedical technology or engineering. The median salary for these professionals is above average. The BLS reports that in 2020, medical equipment repairers made over $51,000 on average. Demand for these workers is growing steadily. The BLS predicts a 7% increase in new job openings in the field by 2030.
Average Salary: $51,610
Job Growth Projection: 10%
If you like turning wrenches, then the career of a motorcycle mechanic should be on your radar. Motorcycle mechanics and technicians should see increased job opportunities in the coming decade. Specifically, the BLS projects a 10% expansion in new job openings. The best opportunities are for mechanics with the skills to work on electric motors. No formal college degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma is required. A trade school program can be helpful as it provides technical training. 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 has caused an increase in jobs for media and communication professionals. According to the BLS, jobs in this category are growing by 14%. This will yield over 150,000 new positions by the end of the decade. Most careers in this field require a bachelor’s degree for entry. There are a few trade jobs available in media and communications.
Sound Engineering Technician
Job Growth Projection: 17%
One of the best skilled jobs in media and communication is sound engineering technician. It 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. They produce audio for things like:
- Television Shows
- Sporting Events
Media and communications industry continues to grow and evolve. Sound engineering technicians will be needed to produce high-quality soundtracks. The BLS estimates a 17% expansion of this occupation field between 2020 and 2030. This makes it one of the trades 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 careers in demand right now. These technicians are needed to set up the necessary audio and visual equipment for live events such as:
- Corporate Meetings
- Sporting Events
The BLS expects new job prospects in this field will growing rapidly. They 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
Job Growth Projection: 11%
Broadcast technician jobs are growing faster than average. Sometimes called broadcasting engineers, these professionals use:
- Other Technical Equipment
They are responsible for the quality of audio and visual productions. To work in this field, you will need an associate’s credential in broadcast technology or similar vocational education. Once hired on, these technicians can expect to begin earning solid wages. The BLS reports an average salary of over $43,500 for this trade school career.
Average Salary: $43,570
Many individuals prefer vocational school over university because they prefer to work outdoors. If this rings a bell, then you may want to consider trade schools in the life, physical, and social sciences. The BLS reports that jobs in this field are growing right now so your chances of employment are good. You will need a degree from a vocational school or community college.
Geological and Hydrologic Technician
Job Growth Projection: 9%
A career in geological or hydrologic technology is definitely worth considering. This is especially true if you’re not keen on working in an office environment. These jobs require technicians to spend their workdays collecting samples of things like:
Materials will then be tested 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. It is associated with above-average pay, so many vocational schools are offering these programs. According to the BLS, these technicians earn over $50,000 per year on average. Some jobs may require a more advanced credential. an associate’s degree from a technical school is usually enough for entry into this field.
Average Salary: $50,630
Agriculture and Food Science Technician
Job Growth Projection: 8%
As our population grows, the job of an agricultural or food science technician is vital. It helps to ensure 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 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%
The job of environmental science and protection technician is seeing a growing demand. Concerns about the sustainability of our environment are becoming more of a priority. Professionals overseeing the health of our natural resources are more necessary. The BLS expects jobs in this field to expand by 11% between 2020 and 2030. This is faster than average compared to other occupations. Wages associated with these jobs are respectable. The average salary was nearing $47,000 as of 2020.
The responsibilities related to the job may vary. They can include:
collecting samplesconducting laboratory testsperforming inspections
These technicians may or may not work under the direct supervision of environmental scientists and specialists.
Average Salary: $46,850
A four-year degree program isn’t for everyone. Trade schools are available and affordable for students with a high school diploma and a different goal in mind. Plus, they’re associated with career paths that can lead to job security and high wages. These are advantages that have traditionally been reserved for college graduates. So, if you’re considering attending a two-year school over a university, take heart! There are some clear advantages to attending a vocational school. There are many trades in demand right now for technical school graduates. The above-average pay of vocational occupations can set you on the path to financial security. Good luck!
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Bureau of Labor Statistics