The Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates

Image shows four occupations and their median salary. Text reads: "Best jobs for trade school graduates by median salary: Elevator installer/repairer ($84,990), Web developer ($73,760), Dental hygienist ($76,220), Plumber ($55,160)"

@ The Balance 2020 

If you want to make a decent living, education is key. Very few jobs requiring only a high school diploma earn more than $35,000 per year, and many of those occupations are declining. However, not everyone wants to go to college for four years after graduation—and not everyone can afford the price tag that comes with a bachelor’s degree.

The good news is that education doesn’t always have to come in the form of a four-year degree.

Many high-paying, fast-growing jobs are accessible to workers with an associate degree, post-secondary award, certification, or apprenticeship. Investing in trade school could be the best possible move for your career.

These are the highest paying trade-school jobs with a solid occupational outlook.

Elevator Installer/Repairer

The elevators inside a modern office building.
vm / Getty Images

Elevator mechanics, installers, and repairers have a good occupational outlook and high earning potential. The job includes installing, repairing, and maintaining elevators, elevator doors, cables, and control systems, escalators, moving walkways, and lifts. If you’re cool under pressure and good with your hands (and power tools) this might be the perfect career for you. 

  • Median Annual Salary: $84,990
  • Projected Growth Rate 2018-2028: 10%
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship
  • Learn More: Elevator Mechanic Career Information

Radiation Therapist

A radiologist at work.
btrenkel / Getty Images

If you want to help people and earn good money doing it, you can’t do better than a job as a radiation therapist. Working with oncologists in hospital settings, these workers help administer radiation for cancer treatment. Radiation therapists require licensure, in addition to an associate degree.

Geological and Petroleum Technician

Oil Worker and Computer
David Jones / Getty Images

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and aren’t afraid of math, this job could be a good fit for you. You'll be installing and maintaining equipment, collecting and testing samples, recording data, and compiling reports.

While some employers do prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree, you can often get started in this field with a two-year degree.

Web Developer

A team of co-workers working on laptops.
Georgijevic / Getty Images

If you want to build a career as a web developer, you’ll probably have to go for a bachelor’s degree eventually. But some employers will accept years of work experience and an associate degree instead. If you love writing, testing, and debugging software, you’ll love this job.

  • Median Annual Salary: $73,760
  • Projected Annual Growth Rate 2018-2028: 13%
  • Typical Education Required: Associate Degree
  • Learn More: Web Developer Job Description

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Sonographer performing ultrasound.
Drazen Lovric / Getty Images

Sonographers administer ultrasounds, as well as preparing patients for procedures, and reviewing and processing images for interpretation by a physician. Job responsibilities also include preparing, maintaining, and operating imaging equipment. They often report high levels of job satisfaction.

Dental Hygienist

Dental assistant working on boy.
Blend Images - Karin Dreyer / Getty Images

The job includes cleaning teeth, removing plaque, taking x-rays, checking for oral disease, and educating patients on oral hygiene. Dental hygienists routinely rank among the most satisfied workers. A passion for oral hygiene, as well as a drive to educate patients, will go a long way in this career.


Electrician working on wiring in unfinished room.
Jetta Productions / Getty Images

Electricians have fairly long apprenticeships—up to four years!—and require licensure to do their jobs. However, that training comes with a paycheck, however small, making it a better financial option for many than the equivalent amount of time in a degree program.

In this job, you'll be reading blueprints, installing, maintaining and repairing wiring, controls and electrical components, and using testing devices to local electrical problems.

  • Median Annual Salary: $56,180
  • Projected Growth Rate 2018-2028: 10%
  • Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship
  • Learn More: Electrician Career Information

Respiratory Therapist

A young boy taking a lung function test.
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Many respiratory therapists have bachelor’s degrees, but an associate degree can provide entry to the field. People with this job work with children and adults with respiratory issues performing diagnostic tests, consulting with medical staff, and performing treatments.


Plumber working on pipes under kitchen sink.
Robert Daly / Getty Images

If you want to work as a plumber, you’ll need both attention to detail and a certain amount of physical strength—as anyone who’s ever wrestled with a plumbing project as an amateur can attest. Plumbing licensing requirements vary from state to state, but you can expect to need some sort of licensure, as well as apprenticeship experience. 

HVAC Technician

An air conditioner repairmen work on home unit.
fstop123 / Getty Images

HVAC (Heating, Venting, and Air Conditioning) technicians work on heating, cooling, and ventilation units, installing and maintaining equipment. This job typically requires two years of education past high school, often including on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship.

  • Median Annual Salary: $48,730
  • Projected Growth Rate 2018-2028: 13%
  • Typical Education Required: Postsecondary Non-degree Award
  • Learn More: HVAC Technician Career Information

More Career Options to Consider

Nursing students studying together.
Steve Debenport / E+ / Getty Images

The jobs listed above are those that pay the most and have the highest projected rates of new openings, but they aren't the only options to consider if you're starting your career or thinking about a change.

When you're exploring career options, it's important to select choices that would be the best fit for your skills and interests. Alternatives to consider:

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Elevator Installers and Repairers." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  2. Bureau or Labor Statistics. "Radiation Therapists." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Geological and Petroleum Technicians." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Web Developers." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Diagnostic Medical Sonographers." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Dental Hygienists." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Electricians." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Electricians." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  9. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.

  10. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers." Accessed Aug. 30, 2020.