Trade jobs are gaining unprecedented attention for their lucrative opportunities and growing demand. Unlike conventional white-collar professions, careers in trade typically require hands-on expertise and specialized skills. The need for skilled trade professionals grows as industries expand and technology advances. They keep our societies running smoothly, from construction and manufacturing to healthcare and technology.
These roles offer substantial rewards for individuals with the right skills and dedication. The best part? The trade jobs that don’t require a college degree still rank among the highest-paying career opportunities in today’s market.
We’ll explore the world of trade jobs, highlighting their importance in our daily lives and revealing ten of the best-paying ones currently in high demand. Whether you’re a student weighing your options or a professional seeking a career change, this guide will provide valuable insights into lucrative trade careers.
Are trades a good career path?
To understand the relevance and value of this career path, just look at the world around us. Imagine the construction of the buildings where we live and work, the electrical systems that power our daily lives, the plumbing that offers access to clean water, and the transportation infrastructure that connects our communities. Each of these aspects of modern life relies heavily on skilled tradespeople. Trade careers are not just important – they are vital to society as a whole.
Unlike many other professions, trade jobs offer stability, respect, and constant advancement. Skills learned in these careers are always in demand, providing job security that is increasingly rare in other fields.
These roles also come with competitive salaries and benefits, as the demand for skilled professionals often outweighs the supply of available talent.
Additionally, as technology advances, so do trade opportunities. Tradespeople today work with cutting-edge technology and innovative materials, as well as traditional tools.
Finally, investing in education and training for a trade is typically less expensive and time-consuming than a four-year college degree but can lead to equally lucrative career opportunities.
So, are trades a good career path? Absolutely. They offer a unique combination of job security, competitive pay, and the satisfaction of making a real difference.
Advantages of a career in trades
Exceptional job security
Trade jobs are less susceptible to recessions due to their constant necessity. Skilled tradespeople will always be needed to build homes, maintain electrical systems, and repair plumbing systems.
Many jobs in trade offer salaries equal to or higher than those that require a four-year degree. Specialized trades, in particular, can command high wages due to their unique skills and credentials.
Opportunities for advancement
The trade industry presents clear avenues toward advancement. Starting as an apprentice, one can rise to journeyman status and eventually become a master in their field. This progression leads to increased responsibility, autonomy, and compensation.
Variety of specializations
From electricians and plumbers to HVAC technicians and construction managers, trades encompass a wide range of specialties. This diversity allows individuals to discover a niche that complements their strengths and interests.
Practical and hands-on work
Trade jobs allow you to work with your hands and see the tangible results of your efforts. A more active work environment can be incredibly satisfying for those who enjoy physical work and problem-solving.
Lower education costs
Apprenticeships and vocational schooling are usually less expensive and time-consuming than a four-year college education. With less student debt, you can enter the workforce faster.
These jobs offer regular, predictable schedules, which can contribute to a healthy work-life balance. Some trades also offer self-employment opportunities, giving individuals more control over their hours and workload.
Essential role in society
Tradespeople maintain and build our communities’ infrastructure. Knowing your work directly contributes to society’s well-being and functionality gives you a sense of purpose and pride.
Working as a freelancer or starting a business is a path many tradespeople pursue due to a lower cost of entry than many other professions require.
Challenges of a career in trades
Physically demanding work
Many trade jobs require physical stamina and strength. They may involve lifting heavy materials, working in awkward positions, or standing for long periods, which can be taxing and increase the risk of injury.
Exposure to hazardous conditions
Many tradespeople work in dangerous environments, including electrical hazards, heights, and extreme temperatures. These roles require safety training and compliance with regulations.
Variable work hours
Work hours can vary depending on the trade. Some require emergency responses or after-hours work, resulting in night or weekend shifts.
Need for continuous learning
Trade fields constantly evolve, so continuing education and skills development are essential. While staying current can be challenging, it is necessary for career advancement and safety.
There can be societal misconceptions about trade careers, often undervaluing the skill and expertise required. Overcoming these stereotypes is part of the challenge for tradespeople.
Competition and market saturation
Jobs may be highly competitive, especially in areas with a high concentration of skilled workers. Standing out in these markets may require additional certifications or specializations.
The highest-paying trade jobs
1. Elevator mechanic
Growth projection: 1% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, followed by an apprenticeship
Experience: 4-year apprenticeship program; most states require licensure or certification
Elevator mechanics are experts in installing, maintaining, and repairing elevators, escalators, and moving walkways. It takes a unique blend of electrical, mechanical, and electronic skills to make sure these systems work.
Their work is critical in urban environments with vertical transportation. They ensure that all safety codes and regulations are followed, and working in tight spaces or heights is often part of the role, as is being available for emergencies.
2. Construction manager
Growth projection: 5% over the next decade
Education: Bachelor’s degree in construction management, construction science, architecture, or engineering preferred; substantial experience can substitute for formal education
Experience: Several years of construction experience; management experience is highly valued
Construction managers, also known as project managers or general contractors, plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from beginning to end. They are responsible for ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards.
Their duties include scheduling, cost estimation, risk management, contract negotiation, and compliance with safety and building codes. These professionals often oversee multiple projects simultaneously and must be adept at multitasking and decision-making.
3. Aircraft mechanic
Growth projection: 4% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent; technical training from an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school
Experience: FAA certification required; experience with various types of aircraft and systems is beneficial
Aircraft mechanics specialize in aircraft maintenance, repair, and inspection, maintaining safety and performance standards. This trade directly impacts air travel safety and reliability.
They conduct routine maintenance checks, diagnose mechanical and electrical issues, repair or replace defective parts, and test aircraft systems to verify proper functioning. Mechanics must be familiar with various aircraft types, from commercial jets to private planes.
Average salary for a plumber: $63,200
Growth projection: 2% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, followed by a vocational training program or apprenticeship
Experience: Apprenticeship typically lasts 4-5 years; licensure required in most states
Plumbers install, maintain, and repair piping systems, fixtures, and appliances. These systems cover water supply, waste disposal, and heating. They must be able to read blueprints and understand building codes.
They often collaborate with builders and contractors on new constructions or renovations. Plumbers also specialize in maintenance and emergency repairs, from fixing leaky faucets to addressing major pipe bursts.
Growth projection: 6% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, followed by vocational training or apprenticeship
Experience: Apprenticeship typically lasts 4-5 years; licensing requirements vary by state
Electricians are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories. They play a critical role in ensuring the safe and efficient functioning of society’s electrical systems.
Their duties range from wiring new constructions and updating old wiring in existing buildings to troubleshooting and repairing electrical problems. Reading blueprints and technical diagrams is a requirement for this trade.
6. Industrial mechanic
Growth projection: 13% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent; technical training or apprenticeship program
Experience: On-the-job training; apprenticeships and certifications can enhance job prospects
Industrial mechanics, also known as millwrights or machinery maintenance workers, play an important role in manufacturing and industrial settings. They install, maintain, and repair industrial machinery and equipment.
The work involves working with complex machinery, like conveyor systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. These mechanics must understand mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, and electrical systems. To maintain and repair equipment, they need to be able to read blueprints and technical manuals.
7. Wind turbine technicians
Growth projection: 45% over the next decade
Education: Postsecondary nondegree award in wind turbine technology; technical school programs are common
Experience: On-the-job training is provided; prior mechanical, electrical, or construction experience can be advantageous
Wind turbine technicians, also known as wind techs, install, maintain, and repair wind turbines, a rapidly growing sector in sustainable energy production. Their duties often include inspecting and troubleshooting turbine components, such as electrical systems, hydraulics, and mechanical problems.
The job is physically demanding, involving climbing high structures, working in confined spaces, and sometimes dealing with extreme weather conditions. A strong commitment to safety practices, dexterity, and attention to detail are essential for success.
8. Cable technician
Growth projection: 3% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, often followed by technical training or certification programs
Experience: On-the-job training or apprenticeships; certifications can be beneficial
Cable technicians are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing cable systems, including television, internet, and telephone services. Consumers and businesses rely on them to access vital communication and entertainment services.
Their job often involves working in various settings, from residential homes to commercial buildings. In addition to running cables and troubleshooting signal issues, they must be able to configure equipment according to customer specifications and needs.
9. HVAC technician
Growth projection: 6% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, plus postsecondary education or apprenticeship
Experience: Apprenticeship programs typically last 3-5 years; certification required for handling refrigerants
HVAC technicians specialize in the installation, maintenance, and repair of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Homes, offices, and other buildings require these systems to maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environments.
These technicians must deeply understand HVAC systems, electrical circuits, and refrigeration systems. They are often called upon to troubleshoot problems, perform regular maintenance, and ensure systems run efficiently and safely.
10. Solar installer
Growth projection: 22% over the next decade
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, along with technical training or on-the-job experience
Experience: On-the-job training or apprenticeship; specialized certifications available
Solar installers, also known as solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, specialize in setting up and maintaining solar panels on rooftops or other structures. This trade is at the forefront of the renewable energy movement, playing a key role in the transition to sustainable energy sources.
They assemble, install, and maintain solar panels, ensuring they capture solar energy efficiently. Installers must be familiar with electrical systems, how to mount panels securely, and local codes and regulations related to solar installations.
These professionals enjoy contributing to environmental sustainability while working with cutting-edge technology. As solar technologies and installation techniques evolve, this trade provides continuous learning and growth opportunities.