Who says you have to earn a college degree to earn well and live well? With a certificate, a diploma, or an associate degree in the skilled trades, you can enjoy the benefits of the highest-paying trade career jobs! There’s also the fact that while most job sectors experience slow to zero growth in the pandemic economy, the skilled trades actually boomed.
Many skilled trade jobs even saw triple-digit growth – indeed, a testament to the steady demand for trade school jobs in society. Skilled workers like tile and stone setters, drywall finishers, and roofers were among those who enjoyed not just high-paying trade jobs but also job security in the uncertain job market.
Definition of Trade Jobs
Skilled trade jobs are technical professions that require both technical and interpersonal skills, as well as a passion for hands-on work. Tradespeople usually don’t have a bachelor’s degree but instead gain their technical and transferable skills through these pathways:
- A career-focused certificate or diploma training program for high school graduates who want to enter skilled trade jobs,
- An associate degree program in a specific field, such as in radiation therapy, dental hygiene, and nuclear medicine technology from a technical school,
- A three-year or four-year apprenticeship program is often sponsored by unions, employers, and other sponsors.
- On-the-job training, which may or may not be part of an associate degree program.
Eligibility for trade school jobs can then be achieved in a shorter period of time than with a bachelor’s degree, usually from six months to two years for certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs. Many trade school jobs even pay learners for their work, such as with apprenticeship programs.
When considering trade school careers, be sure to look at the educational and professional requirements first. Then, you must determine whether your personal interests and career goals are in line with these requirements or not. Trade school jobs may have their benefits, but these aren’t for everybody.
Benefits of the Best Trade Jobs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the fastest-growing careers are high-paying trade jobs like wind turbine service technicians, chefs and cooks, solar photovoltaic installers, and physical therapy assistants. With a favorable job market, job security is one less thing to worry about for these tradespeople!
The high-paying trade jobs also have accessible and affordable education and training requirements. Earning a diploma, certificate, or associate degree in a skilled trade requires significantly less time and dollars than a bachelor’s degree. Trade schools, many of which are community colleges and public technical-vocational schools, have affordable tuition packages and even offer financial aid options.
Flexible hours are also an attractive aspect of high-paying trade jobs, and many skilled tradespeople are self-employed, too. Trade jobs pay well, too, as the 50 highest-paying trade jobs on our list show. Many of these high-paying trade jobs even have higher compensation than jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree!
Choosing one of the skilled trades as your career path also means diverse employment opportunities and maintaining a healthy lifestyle thanks to physical activity.
The Highest-paying Trade Career Jobs
Air Traffic Controllers
Education: Associate’s degree from Federal Aviation Administration-approved AT-CTI program, progressive work experience, and 12-month on-the-job training
Annual Average Salary: $129,750
Air traffic controllers have among the highest-paying trade jobs, but their primary duties can be stressful, too. Their job involves monitoring, coordinating, and directing aircraft movements in the air and on the ground for the safety of the crew, passengers, and others.
Education: Associate’s degree in nuclear science or a related field and extensive on-the-job training
Annual Average Salary: $99,340
Nuclear technicians may have one of the highest-paying trade jobs, but their work can be challenging, too. Nuclear power plants are their typical workplaces. Their primary duties include assisting engineers, physicians, and nuclear researchers; operating special equipment used in nuclear reactors; and taking safety precautions against radiation exposure.
Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
Education: High school diploma and 4-year sponsored apprenticeship, plus license in most states and certifications, are a competitive edge
Annual Average Salary: $97,860
Elevator and escalator maintenance professionals hold among the highest-paying trade jobs, and their four-year intensive training makes it worthwhile. Their work includes the installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of elevators, escalators, and moving walkways, as well as ensuring that these lifts comply with building codes.
Power Plant Operators, Dispatchers, and Distributors
Education: High school diploma, vocational diploma, and on-the-job training
Annual Average Salary: $94,790
Power plant operators and the like also enjoy one of the highest-paying trade jobs, not to mention that their work has a significant impact on modern life. Their expertise includes operating power-generating equipment, adjusting controls for power flow regulation, and checking power-generating equipment to ensure their efficient operations.
Education: Associate’s degree in radiation therapy and state-issued license or certification
Annual Average Salary: $91,620
Radiation therapists have among the highest-paying trade jobs in the healthcare industry. Their work involves providing life-saving treatments for patients with cancer and other diseases that respond well to radiation therapy. Their primary duty is operating treatment machines to deliver prescribed radiation doses to patients according to physician’s orders.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Education: Associate’s degree in nuclear medicine and certification and licensure (requirements vary by state)
Annual Average Salary: $89,666
Yet another of the highest-paying trade jobs that healthcare professionals can hold is in nuclear medicine technology. Many work in medical labs alongside researchers studying the applications of radioactive drugs. Many also work in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and other healthcare settings, and they provide technical support for doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of patients using imaging equipment and radioactive drugs.
Education: Associate’s degree in dental hygiene and license
Annual Average Salary: $79,806
Dental hygienists also enjoy among the highest-paying trade jobs, and their career path can even lead to a career in dentistry. Their primary duties include examining patients for possible oral diseases, providing preventive dental care, and educating patients about dental hygiene.
Electrical Power Line Installers and Repairers
Education: High school diploma, vocational training, and on-the-job training and/or apprenticeship
Average Annual Wage: $78,310
Power line technicians may face hazardous situations due to their work with electric power lines, but theirs is also one of the highest-paying trade jobs! Their job involves the installation, repair, and maintenance of electrical power systems, including the electric power lines, switches, and transformers. Presence of mind and attention to safety procedures is a must.
Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
Education: FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school training or on-the-job training or military training; FAA certification typically required
Average Annual Wage: $65,380
Aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians are in the fast-growing transportation industry, so it makes sense that theirs are among the highest-paying trade jobs. Diagnosing, repairing, and maintaining the electrical and mechanical issues on aircraft are their primary duties, and these tasks usually involve the use of diagnostic equipment.
Radiologic and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technicians
Education: Associate’s degree in radiology and license of certification (requirements vary by state)
Average Annual Wage: $77,820
Radiographers and MRI technologists enjoy among the highest-paying trade jobs, too, with most enjoying the benefits through a combination of an associate degree and work experience. Adjusting, maintaining, and operating imaging equipment are their primary duties, and these tasks result in accurate diagnostic images used by physicians in patient management.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Technologists, and Technicians
Education: Post-secondary certificate or associate degree in sonography and cardiovascular technology; professional certification may be preferred by employers
Average Annual Salary: $77,740
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians, as well as diagnostic medical sonographers, are also in charge of operating imaging equipment. Their primary duties also include preparing patients for the procedure and answering basic questions about the imaging equipment, as well as working with physicians and surgeons in patient management.
Civil Engineering Technologists and Technicians
Education: Associate’s degree in civil engineering technology and an optional certification from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies
Average Annual Salary: $75,657
Civil engineering technologists and technicians are essential in the construction process and, thus, among the construction professionals with the highest-paid trade jobs. Their primary duties include assisting civil engineers in the planning, designing, and constructing of civil construction projects, such as bridges, highways, and buildings.
Education: Associate’s degree in petroleum sciences or related field, on-the-job training and apprenticeship, and certification
Average Annual Salary: $70,820
With a five-figure annual salary, tank inspectors have an excellent trade job! Their work involves the examination and inspection of tanks, both underground and above ground, used in the storage of hazardous materials. The results of their inspection are presented in written reports, and their inspection may also be in accordance with EPA standards.
Construction Equipment Operators
Education: High school diploma combined with technical training in vocational schools, on-the-job training, and apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $69,700
If you’re interested in operating heavy machinery on construction sites, you should consider being a construction equipment operator! It’s a trade job that requires intensive training but results in enjoyable work that can take you to many places, from urban construction sites to rural projects like dams.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Education: Associate degree in occupational therapy assisting and license (requirements vary in each state)
Average Annual Salary: $65,083
Individuals who love making a positive difference in people who need help will find being an occupational therapy assistant a rewarding trade job. Occupational therapy assistants supervise patients in performing therapeutic activities that will improve or restore their skills for everyday living and working. Their patients include children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities.
Construction and Building Inspectors
Education: High school diploma; certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree in construction and building inspection or other related fields; license or certification; and continuing education to maintain credentials
Average Annual Salary: $64,142
Construction and building inspectors review and approve building plans according to current national building codes, contract specifications, and other indicators. Their trade job also covers monitoring construction sites on a regular basis to ensure compliance and working with construction managers. Being a construction manager may be the next career move, too.
Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technologists and Technicians
Education: Associate’s degree and certification (optional)
Average Annual Salary: $63,640
These trade job professionals assist electrical and electronic engineers in the planning, implementing, and maintaining electrical and electronic systems, including communications, construction, and medical equipment. The testing and evaluation of equipment, as well as the assembly of automation equipment, are also on their job list.
Physical Therapy Assistants
Education: Associate’s degree and a license/certification
Average Annual Salary: $63,527
Yet another of the best-paying trade jobs in the healthcare sector is physical therapy assistant, which also involves direct patient care. They work under the supervision of a physical therapist and perform various therapeutic interventions like massages and stretches.
Architectural and Civil Drafters
Education: High school diploma; certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree in drafting; and industry certification from the American Design Drafting Association (optional)
Average Annual Salary: $62,911
Drafters also enjoy among the highest-paying trade jobs in the construction industry – and with short-term training, to boot. Their primary duties are using computer-aided design (CAD) software to convert formats made by architects and engineers into detailed technical drawings.
Computer Network Support Specialists
Education: High school diploma and relevant IT certifications from community colleges and trade schools
Average Annual Salary: $62,760
In the IT industry, among the highest-paying trade jobs are computer support specialist work. Computer network support specialists troubleshoot issues in computer networks and, thus, are essential in the day-to-day operations of organizations.
Education: Associate’s degree in respiratory therapy and state-issued license (Except in Alaska)
Average Annual Salary: $61,830
Patients with respiratory issues, such as COPD and asthma, are among the patients cared for by respiratory therapists. Among the highest-paying trade workers, their challenging yet fulfilling work touches diverse populations, from premature infants and children to elderly patients. Patient education, along with the use of treatment devices and methods, is their responsibility.
Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers
Education: Certificate or associate’s degree in telecommunications equipment installation and repair or related field, plus on-the-job training
Average Annual Salary: $61,170
Telecom technicians are among the highest-paying trade workers in the industry, and for good reasons, among them our society’s widespread use of telecommunication systems. Their duties include the installation, repair, and maintenance of communications systems and equipment in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
Education: High school diploma, technical training in community colleges or trade schools, and apprenticeship; license required
Average Annual Salary: $60,040
Electricians are also among the highest-paying trade workers, but their occupation has its share of hazards (electric shock), thus, making compliance with safety standards an absolute must. Their responsibilities include the installation, repair, and maintenance of electrical power control systems and their components in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
Education: High school diploma, completion of a diving school program for commercial divers, and professional diving certification
Average Annual Salary: $59,979
Aside from being among the highest-paying trade workers, commercial divers also find diverse work opportunities, from technical projects to creating jobs. These include performing underwater experiments, rigging explosives for marine explorations, and taking photos of marine life.
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
Education: High school diploma, technical training in trade schools and community colleges, and/or apprenticeship’ most states require a license
Average Annual Salary: $59,880
With a high school diploma and technical training, plumbers and the like can quickly get into one of the highest-paying trade jobs within the construction industry. Their technical training is a must considering that their job involves working with high-pressure piping systems and fixtures, among others, and ensuring that these are in compliance with building codes.
Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, Millwrights
Education: High school diploma, post-secondary technical training, and apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $59,380
Industrial mechanics are one of the highest-paying trade workers because of their technical expertise in the maintenance of factory equipment and machinery. Millwrights are experts at the installation, assembly, disassembly, and movement of machinery in construction sites, power plants, and factories.
Structural Iron and Steelworkers
Education: High school diploma and on-the-job technical training, including 4-year apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $58,550
With their importance in the construction industry, it’s no wonder that ironworkers are among the highest-paying trade workers! Ironworkers are experts in the installation of structural and reinforcing frameworks made of steel and iron used in the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings. They use hand tools and power tools in their job, as well as be mindful of safety procedures.
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
Education: High school diploma, a certificate from a professional truck driving school, and a commercial driver’s license
Average Annual Salary: $56,951
If you have a knack for driving large vehicles, you may want to look into one of the highest-paying trade occupations – heavy and tractor-trailer drivers. The job entails the transportation of goods from Point A to Point B, and many of the routes involve interstate travel.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Education: Associate’s degree in paralegal studies and professional certification (optional)
Average Annual Salary: $56,492
Lawyers work well when paralegals and legal assistants lend their expertise in performing legal research, organizing files, and drafting legal documents. Watch Julia Roberts-led film Erin Brockovich and get a feel for the critical work that they do for lawyers and the legal profession.
Wind Turbine Technicians
Education: Certificate or associate’s degree in wind energy technology and on-the-job training and/or internship; professional certification is a competitive edge
Average Annual Salary: $56,260
Wind techs are valued members of the clean energy industry, and thus, theirs is one of the best-paying trade jobs. Among their duties are performing routine maintenance on wind turbines, collecting data from wind turbine performance for research, and servicing their electrical systems.
Tool and Die Makers
Education: Post-secondary courses or non-degree certificate or associate degree in tool and die making
Average Annual Salary: $56,150
Tool and die makers also have the best-paying trade jobs with the opportunity to establish their own businesses. Setting up, operating, and troubleshooting a wide range of equipment used in the manufacture of precision metal tools, instruments, and parts are their primary duties.
Sailors and Marine Oilers
Education: High school diploma, completion of US Coast Guard-approved training program, and hands-on experience on ships, military, and/or apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $55,496
With their technical training, sailors and marine oilers enjoy among the best-paying trade jobs with the possibility of career advancement with more work experience. Their job includes performing maintenance tasks on ships and their equipment and machinery, standing watch against obstructions in the ship’s path, and performing other tasks directed by the captain and other superiors.
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Installers or Mechanics
Education: Technical or trade school training leading to either a certificate or an associate’s degree
Average Annual Salary: $54,920
HVACR technicians install and maintain heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems in homes, offices, and other buildings. Their high-paying jobs are among the easier ones to get into, too, because completion of a certificate program is often sufficient. Other duties include discussing maintenance tasks with customers and keeping work records.
Solar Photovoltaic Installers and Technicians
Education: High school diploma, technical training at a vocational school or community college, and/or apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $54,864
PV installers are responsible for assembling, setting up, and maintaining solar power systems that convert sunlight into electrical energy. Their high-paying jobs are in high demand, too, because of the increasing emphasis and preference for clean energy sources.
Diesel Service Technician and Mechanics
Education: High school diploma, post-secondary technical training in diesel engine repair, and industry certification
Average Annual Salary: $53,625
Diesel technicians are in charge of the inspection, repair, maintenance, and overhaul of vehicles with diesel engines, such as trucks and buses. Their high-paying trade jobs are demanding, nonetheless, because of the physical effort required in these tasks. Their duties also include test-driving vehicles and consulting with customers and superiors on the work required.
Sheet Metal Workers
Education: High school diploma, vocational classes, and apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $53,440
Sheet metal workers have among the best trade school jobs in construction projects because of their specialized technical skills. Their occupation entails the installation and repair of metal sheets in heating and cooling systems, drainage pipes, and air ducts, as well as in roofing and sidings, kitchen products, and rail protection.
Water or Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators
Education: High school diploma, on-the-job training, and license to work
Average Annual Salary: $52,406
Among the trade careers with good job security is in the water and wastewater treatment plant and systems operations. The skilled trade workers perform day-to-day tasks in the management of water and wastewater treatment plants and systems, such as equipment inspection, collection and testing of sewage and water samples, and ensuring EPA and safety standards are met.
Chefs and Head Cooks
Education: High school diploma plus work experience, or associate degree in culinary arts plus work experience, or apprenticeship or Armed Forces culinary training
Average Annual Salary: $52,386
The culinary industry’s highest-paying trade careers include chefs and head cooks for obvious reasons – these professionals are responsible for kitchen operations and the final food and beverage products. Chefs and head cooks must also ensure compliance with food safety regulations, perform human resources management functions, and develop recipes.
Licensed Practical Nurses and Vocational Nurses
Education: Certificate or diploma from an approved program in community colleges and technical schools, plus a license
Average Annual Salary: $51,700
LPNs and LVNs enjoy high-paying trade jobs and work opportunities in diverse healthcare settings, from hospitals and outpatient care centers to nursing homes. Their occupation involves working with nurses and physicians in providing direct patient care, from taking vital signs to reporting patients’ status.
Education: High school diploma, on-the-job training, and certification, depending on the jurisdiction
Average Annual Salary: $51,598
Being a well-tender is a high-paying trade job, too, and its professional requirements are easy to meet. Their central workplaces are in the oil and gas industry, particularly in the drilling and production side. The job duties of good tenders include the inspection of wells to ensure they are properly functioning and in compliance with safety standards.
Education: High school diploma and either on-the-job training or apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $50,370
Masonry workers enjoy high-paying trade careers in the construction industry thanks to their technical skills and craftsmanship. Their expertise is in the use of concrete and concrete blocks, bricks, and manmade and natural stones for building structures. They usually work with construction managers, too, to ensure that construction plans are followed.
Automotive Service Technicians and Repairers
Education: Certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree in automotive service technology, on-the-job training, and certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence
Average Annual Salary: $50,033
Auto service technicians and mechanics have among the highest paying jobs because of the high demand for their expert services due to the widespread use of vehicles. Their job entails the use of computerized and manual diagnostic equipment in the repair, maintenance, and overhaul of vehicles and their parts.
Public Safety Telecommunicators
Education: High school diploma, on-the-job training, and certification, depending on the jurisdiction
Average Annual Salary: $48,313
Fire and police dispatchers, 911 operators, and public safety telecommunicators are in the business of saving lives, too, albeit not in direct patient care. Answering 911 requests, relaying reliable information to first responders, and providing instructions to people in need during emergencies are among their lifesaving duties.
Education: High school diploma and apprenticeships sponsored by contractor associations, unions, and sponsorship programs, plus progressive work experience
Average Annual Salary: $48,260
Carpenters are excellent with their hands in constructing, installing and repairing furniture, frameworks and building structures made from wood, plastic, and other materials. Their job may include working under the supervision of construction managers, too, in ensuring that the blueprints and plans are met.
Drywall Installers, Ceiling Tile Installers, and Tapers
Education: High school diploma and on-the-job training or apprenticeship
Average Annual Salary: $48,040
These skilled trade workers are experts in installing ceiling tiles, hanging wallboards, and taping wallboards according to the client’s desired design. Their work can be creative, too, as much as it requires technical skills.
Average Annual Salary: $47,110
There are no formal educational requirements for roofers, but employers prefer those who have undergone apprenticeships to gain their technical and interpersonal skills. Roofers install, replace and repair the roofs of various types of buildings using different materials, such as metal, shingles, and bitumen.
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
Education: High school diploma and technical training in approved programs in community colleges, technical-vocational schools, and private schools, and on-the-job training
Average Annual Salary: $47,010
These skilled trade workers use welding equipment, such as welding machines and torches, and other machinery in joining materials according to specifications. Theirs are among the top-paying trade jobs because of the specialized technical skills required.
Locksmiths and Safe Repairers
Education: High school diploma and on-the-job training
Average Annual Salary: $46,910
Getting locked out of your car, office, or house can be inconvenient, but locksmiths will save the day. Locksmiths and safe repairers also make keys, repair locks, and change the combinations on safes and locks in addition to their installation.
First-line Supervisors of Landscapers, Lawn Servicers, and Groundskeepers
Education: High school diploma, on-the-job training, and relevant work experience; completion of relevant certificate programs is preferred
Average Annual Salary: $46,038
First-line supervisors of ground maintenance personnel coordinate work schedules and assignments, review contracts and requests with clients and employees, and ensure that the landscaping and groundskeeping projects are done according to specifications.
Education: Certificate, diploma, or associate degree in dental assisting for entry-level positions; license, registration, or certification for expanded duties/career advancement
Average Annual Salary: $45,164
Dental assistants perform different duties from dental hygienists, but both skilled trade workers have complementary, often overlapping, duties. Their duties include direct patient care before the dental hygienists and dentists come in to perform their jobs. These include preparing patients for treatment, administering instruments to dentists, and working with patients on appointments and payments.
If a bachelor’s degree isn’t for you for any reason, then you must look into the best-paying trade occupations with more accessible employment requirements! Skilled trade jobs provide an excellent source of income, job security in uncertain times, and personal fulfillment.