The employment landscape is experiencing a shift, and the demand for individuals skilled in various trades keeps growing. The barrier of entry is lower compared to positions that require expensive degrees. Plus, many of these positions can be rather lucrative, which makes people look for the highest-paying trade jobs more and more.
You no longer need to spend years on higher education to have a successful and profitable career. Moreover, some trade jobs come with all the benefits and salaries that make them stand up against even the most renowned degrees. So, let’s find out what the highest-paying trade jobs are and how you can get them!
Trade jobs (also known as skilled trades) are professions that don’t require higher degrees.
While many trade jobs can be physically demanding, others involve office work or a managerial approach.
Trade jobs are typically faster to get into than degree-reliant careers, and the barrier to entry is lower.
Some of the highest-paying trade jobs include construction managers, elevator mechanics, and dental hygienists.
Individuals can get a lot of trade jobs with a high school degree or GED and gain experience on the job and through apprenticeships.
Some high-paying trade jobs might require an associate or vocational degree, while others need licenses for independent work.
What Are Trade Jobs?
Trade jobs (also referred to as skilled trades) are occupations where higher education degrees aren’t required. Individuals can obtain the necessary hard skills for these jobs through trade schools, apprenticeships, bootcamps, on-the-job training, and more.
One of the main benefits of trade jobs over roles and careers that require degrees is the speed at which someone can enter the workforce. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees require years to obtain, after which some professions require additional specialization.
With trade jobs, one can start earning in a year or two and become a recognized professional long before someone graduates. Because of that, many skilled trades offer a much better wage-to-cost comparison than 4-year colleges.
Furthermore, a lower barrier of entry degree-wise isn’t always reflected in the salary range. Many professionals adept at their trade have higher incomes than those with degrees, and these incomes only increase with their skill levels.
Another misconception is that all trade jobs involve demanding physical labor since many roles don’t have these requirements. On the other hand, they can be complex, challenging, and ever-evolving, facilitating lifelong learning and progress. They are great for those with entrepreneurial spirits and an aversion to monotony.
Some of the highest-paying trade jobs include:
Highest-Paying Trade Jobs
9 Highest Paying Trade Jobs
Now that we know what they are, let’s check out some of the highest-paying trade jobs in America, sorted by their yearly median pay.
#1. Construction Manager
There are several methods of getting your first job as a construction manager. While you can become a skilled professional after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you can do the same through an apprenticeship.
Since the median pay is upward of $101,000 per year, this is one of the highest-paying trade jobs you can get without a degree. On top of that, there’s a positive job outlook since the projected growth of 5% is faster than the average.
However, this trade can be challenging to get into, as some employers look for candidates with both a degree and experience. On the other hand, the majority of apprenticeships are paid, so when you do get hired, you can start earning the moment you join a company.
#2. Elevator Mechanic
Elevator mechanics work with elevators, lifts, moving walkways, and various other escalator machines. While it’s a full-time job, the role also involves working occasional 24-hour on-call shifts. The work itself can be physically demanding, and work areas vary from tight and cramped spaces to loud rooms and high elevator shafts.
Modest job growth of around 1% means that there will be around 2,100 new openings every year until 2032. However, a median salary of around $99,000 per year and no higher degree requirements make this a lucrative career. Elevator mechanics can typically learn everything that they need to know through experience and on-site learning.
Individuals looking to advance their careers and become independent professionals will usually need to obtain a license. The requirements for getting an elevator mechanic license vary but typically involve having at least three years of verified experience.
#3. Dental Hygienist
Dental hygiene is one of the highest-paying trade jobs, with a median pay of more than $81,000. The projected growth of 7% means that there will be around 16,400 new openings every year in the next decade.
However, high pay often comes with additional requirements. For instance, most dental hygienists need to have an associate degree. While obtaining them doesn’t take as much time as with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, most programs still take three years to finish.
Furthermore, depending on the state, practitioners need to be licensed. On the flip side, the job of a dental hygienist is not as physically demanding as many others on this list. These professionals are adept at oral health and preventive care, and they usually operate from the comfort of their offices or clinics.
Ultrasonographers (also referred to as diagnostic medical sonographers) are technicians and technologists in the healthcare industry. Their job involves operating complex and specialized equipment to conduct tests and develop imagery for further analysis.
The barrier to entry into the profession can be a bit higher than with other trade jobs, as employers can ask for a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. On the other hand, a projected annual employment growth rate of 10% is much above average.
Moreover, the median salary varies between specializations. Cardiovascular sonographers can expect to earn around $63,000 per year, while the number for diagnostic medical sonographers is around $81,000. On average, the median pay for sonographers is a bit above $78,000.
Boilermakers have a median salary of around $66,900 per year. The barrier to entry into this trade is low since you only need a high school diploma or its equivalent. The main drawback of this profession is that it is in decline, with a projected negative job growth of 4% in a period between 2022 and 2032.
Another thing to keep in mind is that being a boilermaker is a physically intense vocation. It can involve irregular hours, traveling, and extended periods of time where you’ll be away from home. The upside is that most of the learning and job-related experience is typically obtained through apprenticeships.
Electricians are in charge of electrical systems, and they are contracted to install, maintain, and repair them. The number of available jobs is estimated to grow by 6% between 2022 and 2032, which is higher than average. This indicates a healthy amount of stability, as there should be around 73,000 new openings every year.
With a median annual wage of around $60,000 and no entry-level requirements apart from a high school diploma, the job of an electrician is perfect for those who want to get into a high-paying trade job fast.
It’s important to note that electrician jobs can be physically demanding and often require a lot of traveling and working outside an office. Notable electrician skills include strong attention to detail as well as knowledge of regulations, components, blueprints, and more.
Plumbing is one of the easiest high-paying trade jobs to get into, as it requires just a high school diploma and no prior experience. That, coupled with a median salary of around $60,000, makes it another vocation for those who want to learn a skill quickly and start earning just as fast.
The projected job growth is at around 2%, which is average for the current market conditions. A lot of that growth is due to the need to replace a leaving workforce, such as retiring plumbers.
Like several other trades on this list, plumbing can also be physically demanding. It’s not uncommon for plumbers to have to work on weekends or holidays due to emergency situations. The job itself involves installing, maintaining, and repairing plumbing systems that consist of pipes, fixtures, and more.
#8. HVAC Technician
HVAC (also known as HVACR) technicians are professionals who work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. A median annual salary is slightly above $51,000, which is on the lower end of this list. On the other hand, the job outlook is positive, with a faster-than-average projected growth of 6%.
The job often involves working irregular hours due to emergency calls. Moreover, the locations can often be hard to access, and the spaces can be cramped. Plus, as the work usually revolves around fixing broken HVAC systems, the temperature can vary from uncomfortably cold to very hot.
#9. Solar Photovoltaic Installers
Solar photovoltaic (SPV) installers are professionals who work with systems that convert sunlight into electric energy. Most of their labor occurs outdoors, where they install, maintain, and repair solar panels on rooftops. Other locations include attics and other tight spaces. SPV work also requires frequent travel to job sites.
The projected job growth rate of 22% makes this one of the most in-demand skilled trade jobs out there. The median salary is above $45,000, and the only requirement is a high school diploma or its equivalent. Moreover, an individual can become an independent professional fairly quickly, as most training lasts up to a year.
How to Find and Get Trade Jobs
Finding and getting a trade job is usually much simpler and faster than landing a position that requires a higher degree, but there are still some steps that need to be accomplished.
First off, most skilled trades require individuals to have at least a high school diploma or GED. If you’re still in high school and already have interests in certain professions, you can take relevant courses or classes to prepare yourself for the job market better.
After that, you should start thinking about the trade that interests you. This is important because the fields vary from dental medicine to fitness and mechanical engineering. You can consider some of the skills that you already have and whether they are going to be useful to your profession. It’s not uncommon for hobbies and personal interests to be the deciding factors.
Another element to consider is whether you want to join the public or private sector. While the public sector can provide stability and benefits, the private sector has immense potential for personal and financial growth.
Once your mind is set on a profession, you can choose an educational program. There are many options that depend on the job and range from technical schools and certification classes to IT bootcamps and apprenticeships. Many of these programs offer assistance in getting your first job if you’re not already an apprentice.
From there on out, you learn on the job and gain experience that way. You can also work toward a license, though that can be optional.
We’ve explored some trade jobs that pay $100,000 and some that you can get into in as little as a few months. The bottom line is that there's no one-size-fits-all choice, as every individual’s needs and circumstances are different.
The main benefit that these careers have over degree-reliant fields is that they are much faster to get into. Still, you can start earning with some jobs in just a few months, while others require extensive apprenticeships, certifications, or even vocational degrees.
Whether you’re changing jobs or looking to start a new career, you should evaluate your skills and competencies, consider your personal interests, and research what each line of work entails. That will help you find an optimal solution and get one of the highest-paying trade jobs in no time!
Highest Paying Trade Jobs FAQ
#1. What are the most profitable trade jobs?
Some of the most profitable trade jobs include construction managers with a $101,000 median salary, elevator mechanics with $99,000, and dental hygienists with $81,000. While none of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher, they all come with different requirements, and working conditions vary a lot.
#2. What high-paying trade is the easiest to learn?
Plumbing is one of the high-paying trades that is easiest to learn. The only requirement for it is a high school diploma or GED. Further learning happens during on-the-job training through apprenticeships. The median annual wage is upward of $60,000.
#3. What is the fastest trade to learn?
The fastest trade to learn varies between individuals and is based on their current competencies. In general, with no prior knowledge or professional experience, you can fairly quickly become a truck driver, electrician, personal trainer, diesel mechanic, HVAC technician, and more.
#4. What is the best trade job for me?
The best trade job for you depends on your skills, experiences, and aspirations. You can become an electrician with nothing but a high school degree. On the other hand, a dental hygienist usually requires an associate degree, but the median salary is higher and working conditions can be better.
#5. Do trade jobs require a college degree?
Trade jobs do not require a college degree. Individuals can get hired for many trade jobs with just their high school diplomas. After that, they can learn on the job and advance in the field. However, some trade jobs might require associate degrees, certifications, or licenses.