24 Highest Paying Trade Jobs in the United States (All States) [2020]

high paying trade jobs

A trade job is a type of job that involves advanced training and the gaining of skills (usually through apprenticeship) through other means than a bachelor’s degree. This would include jobs in the construction industry and the electrical industry, for example. A trade job is sometimes referred to as a “blue-collar” job or “blue-collar jobs” in the United States.

Typically, trade jobs can be secured through vocational training or an associate’s degree. Like a registered nurse, some trade jobs have the option to receive a bachelor’s degree in a related field before pursuing a state certification program (completing an accredited registered nurse program and passing the NCLEX-RN examination).

Vocational training is sometimes referred to as technical training or trade school. Vocational school or trade school is a postsecondary instructional program that focuses on developing the skills required for a particular occupation, job function, or trade. Vocational training or attending a trade school is designed to train students in a skilled trade career.

All median salary information for each trade job has been fact-checked against the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government agency that reports on wages, wage growth, job outlook, job growth, and other economic and labor factors in the United States.

high paying trade jobs

24 High Paying Trade Jobs

Below are the highest paying skilled trade jobs sorted by average salary (median annual wage) and average median pay. Jobs listed below generally do not require a bachelor’s degree (college degree) but do require either technical education, an associate’s degree, or the completion of a licensed program or apprenticeship program. A high school diploma is required for all jobs listed below.

1. Landscape Architect

A landscape architect is a professional who designs natural environments and social words in urban spaces, wilderness, land, water, and air. They assist in the design and construction of areas for plants, animals, and communities to flourish.

Median annual salary: $90,900

Tuition fees: Between $9,700 and $23,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

A bachelor's degree, master's degree, or associate degree in landscape architecture is usually necessary. There are two undergraduate landscape architect degrees: a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) and a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA). These programs usually require 4 to 5 years of study.

To become licensed, candidates must meet experience requirements determined by each state. A list of training requirements is available from the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards.

All states require landscape architects to be licensed. Candidates for licensure must pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE), which is sponsored by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

2. Radiation Therapist

A radiation therapist or therapeutic radiographer is a professional who specializes in the work of radiation oncology. The radiation therapist operates linear accelerator machines to deliver concentrated radiation therapy to a patient’s tumor.

Median annual salary: $86,900

Tuition fees: Between $9,700 and $12,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Radiation therapy programs include courses in radiation therapy procedures and the scientific theories behind them. These programs often include experience in a clinical setting and courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, computer science, and research methodology.

In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed or certified. Requirements vary by state, but typically include graduation from an accredited radiation therapy program and ARRT certification.

Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS) certification.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

3. Construction Manager

A construction manager oversees the contractors and personnel required to complete a construction project. They oversee and schedule all aspects of the construction process. From preparing the design specifications to managing the time and budget required to complete the project.

Median annual salary: $86,222

Tuition fees: Between $28,000 and $116,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

More than 100 colleges and universities offer accredited bachelor’s degree programs in construction science, building science, or construction engineering. These programs include courses in project control and management, design, construction methods and materials, cost estimation, building codes and standards, and contract administration. Courses in mathematics and statistics are also relevant.

The Construction Management Association of America awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation to workers who have the required experience and who pass a technical exam. It is recommended that applicants for this certification complete a self-study course that covers the professional role of a construction manager, legal issues, the allocation of risk, and other topics related to construction management.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

4. Registered Nurse

A registered nurse is a licensed professional who provides treatment to patients suffering from many forms of medical conditions. They administer medications and monitor patients' recovery or progress. A registered nurse will work closely with the families of the patient on in-hospital treatment and post-hospital treatment.

Median annual salary: $80,080

Tuition fees: Between $40,000 and $100,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Nursing education programs usually include courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences, as well as in liberal arts. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs typically take 4 years to complete; associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), an associate of science in nursing (ASN) degree, and diploma programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete.

Registered nurses must have a nursing license issued by the state in which they work. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Other requirements for licensing, such as passing a criminal background check, vary by state. Each state’s board of nursing provides specific requirements. For more information on the NCLEX-RN and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

5. Air Traffic Controller

An air traffic controller is a professional who is responsible for the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of traffic in the global air traffic control system. The air traffic controller’s primary responsibility is the safety of the passengers. Their work is also focused on efficiently minimizing airline delays caused by incorrectly managed air traffic control.

Median annual salary: $78,735

Tuition fees: Between $10,900 and $34,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

The FAA sets guidelines for schools that offer the AT-CTI program. AT-CTI schools offer 2-year or 4-year degrees that are designed to prepare students for a career in air traffic control. The curriculum is not standardized, but courses focus on subjects that are fundamental to aviation. Topics include aviation weather, airspace, clearances, reading charts, federal regulations, and related topics.

Most newly hired air traffic controllers are trained at the FAA Academy, located in Oklahoma City, OK. The length of training varies with the applicant’s background. Applicants must be hired by their 31st birthday.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

6. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

A diagnostic medical sonographer is a specialist that uses imaging equipment and soundwaves to form images of multiple parts of the human body. These images are referred to as ultrasounds. A diagnostic medical sonographer is sometimes referred to as a “sonographer.”

Median annual salary: $77,400

Tuition fees: Between $30,000 and $48,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Employers typically prefer graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Most employers prefer to hire diagnostic imaging workers with professional certification, or they may expect applicants to earn certification shortly after being hired. Many insurance providers and Medicare pay for procedures only if a certified sonographer, technologist, or technician performed the work. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

7. Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist or oral hygienist is a registered dental professional. The dental hygienist performs teeth cleanings and preventive oral care. This includes examining patients for signs of damage and disease and assisting dentists.

Median annual salary: $75,810

Tuition fees: Between $22,600 and $36,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Dental hygiene programs are often found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, accredits more than 300 dental hygiene programs.

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing written and clinical examinations are required for licensure. To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. For specific requirements, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

8. Solar Photovoltaic Installer

A solar photovoltaic installer is sometimes referred to as a “(PV) Installer.” They assemble, set up, and maintain rooftop sunlight energy systems. They plan system configurations, solar modules, panels, and other PV system requirements for rooftop systems.

Median annual salary: $73,997

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

PV installers typically need a high school diploma. Some PV installers take courses at local community colleges or technical schools to learn about solar panel installation. Courses range from basic safety and PV knowledge to system design. Although course length varies, most usually last a few days to several months.

Some PV installers learn their trade on the job by working with experienced installers. On-the-job training usually lasts between 1 month and 1 year. During training, PV installers learn about safety, tools, and PV system installation techniques.

Although not required for employment, certification demonstrates competency in solar panel installation. The Electronics Technicians Association, International (ETA), and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners offer certification for PV installers. Some states require that for projects to qualify for solar-related subsidies, all PV installers working on the projects must have certification.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

9. Elevator Mechanic

An elevator mechanic is a professional who constructs, repairs, and services conveyances. An elevator mechanic typically works with escalators, dumbwaiters, wheelchair lifts, moving walkways, and other vertical transportation equipment.

Median annual salary: $73,901

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

A career in elevator or escalator installation and repair typically begins with a 4-year apprenticeship program sponsored by a union, industry association, or employer. For each year of a typical program, apprentices must complete a predetermined number of hours of technical instruction and paid on-the-job training. During training, apprentices learn about safety, blueprint reading, mathematics, applied physics, elevator and escalator parts, electrical and digital theory, and electronics.

Elevator and escalator installers and repairers can become Certified Elevator Technicians (CET) or Certified Accessibility and Private Residence Lift Technicians (CAT) through the National Association of Elevator Contractors. They can also be certified as Qualified Elevator Inspectors (QEI) through the National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities International.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

10. Respiratory Therapist

A respiratory therapist is a professional who specializes in examining patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. They are a specialized healthcare practitioner trained in critical care and cardio-pulmonary medicine. They therapeutically treat those suffering from acute critical conditions or cardiac conditions.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main certifying body for respiratory therapists. The Board offers two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Median annual salary: $69,086

Tuition fees: Between $11,700 and $30,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Respiratory therapists need at least an associate’s degree, but employers may prefer applicants who have a bachelor’s degree. Educational programs are offered by colleges and universities, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Completion of a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care may be required for licensure.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

11. Geological and Petroleum Technician

A geological and petroleum technician is a professional who installs and maintains laboratory and field equipment. They assist in gathering earth samples like rock, mud, and soil in the field. They prepare these samples for laboratory testing and analysis.

Median annual salary: $66,419

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Many community colleges and technical institutes offer programs in the geosciences, petroleum, mining, or related technology, such as geographic information systems (GISs). Community colleges offer associate’s degree programs designed to provide an easy transition to bachelor’s degree programs at colleges and universities; such programs can be useful for future career advancement.

Most geological and petroleum technicians receive on-the-job training under the supervision of technicians who have more experience. During training, new technicians gain hands-on experience using field and laboratory equipment, as well as computer programs such as modeling and mapping software.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

12. Electrical Powerline Technician

An electrical powerline technician installs and repairs cables or wires used in electrical power distribution systems. They assist in installing and repairing transmissions systems, including conduits, cables, wires, and related electrical equipment like transformers, circuit breakers, and more.

Median annual salary: $60,901

Tuition fees: Between $19,200 and $30,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Many community colleges offer programs in telecommunications, electronics, or electricity. Some programs work with local companies to offer 1-year certificates that emphasize hands-on field work.

Although not mandatory, certification for line installers and repairers is also available from several associations. For example, BICSI offers certification for line installers and repairers, and the Electrical Training ALLIANCE offers certification for line installers and repairers in several specialty areas.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

13. Occupational Therapy Assistant

An occupational therapist assistant is a tradesperson who aids and helps patients recover from ailments or conditions that prevent regular daily activity. They assist with therapeutic activities such as stretching or exercising to increase blood flow to the body and assist with mobility and coordination required for daily living.

Median annual salary: $60,225

Tuition fees: Between $15,200 and $37,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In 2017, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

14. Power Utility Technician

A power utility technician is a tradesperson and professional who monitors and regulates energy output for a utility company. A power utility technician oversees the utility company's energy distribution using power flow gauges and meters, charts, and other power-generating equipment.

Median annual salary: $51,301

15. Funeral Service Manager

A funeral service manager (or funeral home manager) is a tradesperson who oversees a funeral home's general operations. They oversee a wide variety of duties, including the planning and allocating of the resources of the funeral home, managing and training staff, and handling marketing functions of the business.

Median annual salary: $58,656

Tuition fees: Between $4,600 and $10,700

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

An associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science is the typical education requirement for all funeral service workers. Courses that are taken usually include those covering the topics of ethics, grief counseling, funeral service, and business law. All accredited programs also include courses in embalming and restorative techniques.

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA); International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA); and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) offer crematory certification designations. Many states require certification for those who will perform cremations. For specific requirements, applicants should contact their state board or one of the above organizations.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

16. Millwright

A millwright is a high-precision tradesperson and craftsman skilled in installing, dismantling, and maintaining machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites. A millwright would be called to assemble and install industrial machinery in a factory.

Median annual salary: $58,596

Tuition fees: Between $12,100 and $15,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Industrial machinery mechanics, machinery maintenance workers, and millwrights generally need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some mechanics and millwrights complete a 2-year associate’s degree program in industrial maintenance. Industrial maintenance programs may include courses such as welding, mathematics, hydraulics, and pneumatics.

Most millwrights learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of relevant technical instruction and up to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to set up, clean, lubricate, repair, and start machinery. During technical instruction, they are taught welding, mathematics, how to read blueprints, and machinery troubleshooting. Many also receive computer training.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

17. Plumber

A plumber is a tradesperson specializing in installing, maintaining, and repairing potable water and sewage (or drainage systems). A plumber can be found in commercial work and residential work.

Median annual salary: $57,662

Tuition fees: Between $3,000 and $23,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their trade through a 4-year or 5-year apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training, as well as some technical instruction, each year. Technical instruction includes safety, local plumbing codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. Apprentices also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions, trade associations, and businesses. Most apprentices enter a program directly, but some start out as helpers or complete pre-apprenticeship training programs in plumbing and other trades.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

18. Electrician

An electrician is a skilled trade professional who has completed an apprenticeship program or apprenticeship with a master electrician. An electrician designs, installs, maintains, and repairs electrical systems in residential homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities.

Median annual salary: $57,130

Tuition fees: Between $1,000 and $11,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Most electricians learn their trade in a 4-year or 5-year apprenticeship program. For each year of the program, apprentices typically receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training as well as some technical instruction.

Most states require electricians to pass a test and be licensed. Requirements vary by state. For more information, contact your local or state electrical licensing board. Many of the requirements can be found on the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

19. Home and Building Inspector

A home and building inspector is a professional who is employed by a real estate buyer or seller. The home and building inspector identifies any major issues with the home or property before closing a real estate transaction.

Median annual salary: $56,415

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

20. Wind Turbine Technician

A wind turbine technician is a professional who installs, inspects, maintains, and repairs wind turbines. This professional is sometimes referred to as a “windtech.” They assist and diagnose problems that can cause wind turbines to shut down unexpectedly.

Median annual salary: $52,260

Tuition fees: Between $12,000 and $12,500

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Most windtechs learn their trade by attending technical schools or community colleges, where they typically complete certificates in wind energy technology, although some workers choose to earn an associate’s degree.

In addition to their coursework, windtechs typically receive more than 12 months of on-the-job training related to the specific wind turbines they will maintain and service. Part of this training is manufacturer training. Other training may include an internship with a wind turbine servicing contractor.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

21. Rotary Drill Operator

A rotary drill operator is a professional who keeps the mud, made of water, clay, air, and chemicals, flowing so that drills can run smoothly. These operators are usually found in oil and gas drilling rigs.

Median annual salary: $49,900

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

22. Aircraft Mechanic

An aircraft mechanic is a tradesperson who specializes in aircraft maintenance. Aircraft mechanics are referred to as aircraft maintenance technicians or “AMT’s.” They perform or supervise the maintenance, preventative maintenance, and repairs or alterations required for an aircraft or aircraft system.

Median annual salary: $48,991

Tuition fees: Between $20,200 and $50,000

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians typically enter the occupation after attending a Part 147 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school. These schools award a certificate of completion that the FAA recognizes as an alternative to the experience requirements stated in regulations. The schools also grant holders the right to take the relevant FAA exams.

Avionics technicians typically are certified through a repair station for the specific work they perform on aircraft, or they hold the Airframe rating to work on an aircraft’s electronic and flight instrument systems. An Aircraft Electronics Technician (AET) certification is available through the National Center for Aerospace & Transportation Technologies (NCATT). It certifies that aviation mechanics have a basic level of knowledge in the subject area, but it is not required by the FAA for any specific tasks. Avionics technicians who work on communications equipment may need to have the proper radiotelephone operator certification issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

23. HVAC Technician

An HVAC technician is an indoor climate control systems specialist. They install, repair, and maintain heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. An HVAC technician may work with refrigeration systems or equipment, as well.

Median annual salary: $48,165

Required Degree's, Licenses, Training, and Certifications

New HVACR technicians typically begin by working alongside experienced technicians. At first, they perform basic tasks such as insulating refrigerant lines or cleaning furnaces. In time, they move on to more difficult tasks, including cutting and soldering pipes or checking electrical circuits.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy, handle, or work with refrigerants to be certified in proper refrigerant handling. Many trade schools, unions, and employer associations offer training programs designed to prepare students for the EPA certification exam.

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

24. Ironworker

An ironworker (sometimes referred to as a structural ironworker) is a tradesperson who assembles a structural framework in accordance with engineered drawings and installs the metal support pieces required for new buildings. They assist in the process of repairing and renovating old structures using reinforced concrete and steel.

Median annual salary: $44,780

For more information about this job, the number of jobs available in the United States, and the required training type, please visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

Trade Jobs Average Salaries

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, technical and trade school jobs have a median annual salary of $35,720. The United States Bureau of Labor Statics has predicted earnings for bachelor’s degree holders to be roughly $46,900. These statistics don't factor in long-term growth, market condition changes, political impact, geopolitical impact, and other external factors that can directly sway economic conditions in the United States.

When considering a trade school and trade job, it's important to consider the commitment, cost, and return on that commitment. Considering the average salaries of trade jobs, in addition to trade school being completed in two years on average, makes trade jobs attractive to many job seekers.

Finding Trade School Jobs

Trade school jobs can be found on several online job boards. The best job board to find jobs for skilled workers is Indeed.com or Google Jobs. These platforms syndicate and collect available government jobs that are usually listed on government websites. These platforms have friendlier interfaces that make finding an available job easier.

What Jobs Require a Vocational Degree

Below are common job titles that require trade degrees or vocational degrees.

Trade School Cost

trade school cost

Compared to four-year universities, vocational schools and trade schools are significantly most cost-effective. Sitting at an average full cost of $33,000, that's significantly lower than the average $127,000 full cost of receiving a bachelor's degree.

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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