Top 10 jobs for trade school graduates

Your educational path post-high school should be one that works best for you. For some people, that’s a four-year degree (or beyond). But for many others, choosing a trade-specific education and building career skills that way is the most fulfilling and financially viable option. If you’re thinking about opting for a specialty trade school as you set your own professional goals, we have info on some of the top careers you can pursue without going the university route.

1. Electrician

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical wiring and equipment. The day-to-day work may involve installing, maintaining, and fixing wiring and electrical equipment, installing transformers and circuit breakers, using devices to diagnose electrical problems, reading blueprints, ensuring safety and compliance with national regulations, and ensuring that others are working safely with electrical devices, tools, and infrastructure.

What you’ll need: Electricians typically serve a four-year apprenticeship in which they receive direct on-the-job training. This may be done in conjunction with an electrician training program at an accredited trade school, or right out of high school. Most states require electricians to be licensed, so be sure to check your own state’s requirements.

How much they make: $52,570 per year, or $25.35 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 9% by 2024–about average for all jobs.

2. Plumber

Plumbing can be a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and that someone can build a lucrative career out of this specialty. Plumbers install and repair water pipes and septic systems. Their day-to-day work may include installing pipes and water fixtures, diagnosing and troubleshooting water-related issues, repairing or replacing water pipe systems, ensuring that plumbing systems are up to code, reading blueprints, and billing customers. This can be a very physically demanding job, as it also requires a lot of hands-on manual work and dexterity.

Some plumbers are hired full-time by government agencies or private companies, but many are small business owners and contractors working on their own.

What you’ll need: Plumbers typically serve an apprenticeship in which they receive direct on-the-job training. This may be done in conjunction with a plumber training program at an accredited trade school, or right out of high school. Most states require plumbers to be licensed, so be sure to check your own state’s requirements.

How much they make: $51,450 per year, or $24.74 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 16% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

3. Dental Hygienist

At a dental appointment, hygienists are the ones who handle prep for procedures, as well as clean teeth and treat minor dental health issues. (They’re also the ones who can tell immediately whether you’re flossing as much as you say you do.) Their day-to-day responsibilities may include cleaning teeth, examining patients for signs of oral disease (like gingivitis), providing preventative dental care, assisting with dental surgeries and procedures, and educating patients on oral health and follow-up care. Most hygienists are employed by private dental offices, though they may be found in healthcare facilities that offer dental care.

What you’ll need: An associate’s degree in dental hygiene from an accredited program (which generally takes two to three years to complete). And although every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed, the requirements to get and keep a license may vary, so check your state’s requirements.

How much they make: $72,910 per year, or $35.05 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 20% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

4. Respiratory Therapist

Healthcare fields are growing exponentially, and although many career paths in this field require an advanced degree, there are plenty of options that require trade-specific programs and certification to get started. One such field is respiratory therapy. These professionals work with patients of all ages who may have trouble breathing due to chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, heart conditions, or emphysema. Their day-to-day work may include examining patients, working with physicians and other medical staff to develop treatment plans, diagnosing conditions through tests, treating patients with therapy and medications, monitoring and recording patient process, and educating patients on at-home or follow-up care.

Respiratory therapists typically work in hospitals, private medical offices, or other healthcare facilities. The job may require shifts on nights, weekends, or holidays, especially for therapists who work in hospitals or other facilities that are open all the time.

What you’ll need: An associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited program. Respiratory therapists need to be licensed in all states except Alaska, so you should check your own state’s specific requirements for licensing.

How much they make: $58,670 per year, or $28.21 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 23% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

5. Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs (also known as licensed vocational nurses) provide basic nursing care, under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. Their day-to-day work may include performing basic vital signs tests, changing bandages, inserting or removing catheters, helping patients with tasks like bathing or dressing, monitoring patients, and keeping detailed patient records.

What you’ll need: A certificate from an LPN-specific program at an accredited school. All states require LPNs to be licensed and may have different regulations as to what an LPN can and cannot do on the job, so be sure to check your own state’s specific requirements.

How much they make: $44,090 per year, or $21.20 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 12% by 2024–faster than average for all jobs.

6. HVAC Technician

With cooling issues in summer and heating issues in winter, HVAC (Heating, Venting, and Air Conditioning) technicians are often in demand year-round. These professionals work on the systems that regulate air and temperature in buildings. Their day-to-day work may include installing heating or cooling equipment, diagnosing and fixing issues with air quality and temperature, installing electrical components and wiring, inspecting air systems, performing general maintenance on air systems, and ensuring compliance with air quality regulations.

What you’ll need: A certificate from an HVAC-specific training program at an accredited school, plus on-the-job training.

How much they make: $45,910 per year, or $22.07 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 15% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

7. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers use imaging equipment (like sonographs and ultrasound) to help diagnose or treat patients with internal injuries or conditions. Their day-to-day work may include preparing patients for testing, taking medical histories, educating patients about diagnostic imaging tests, preparing and maintaining diagnostic image equipment, operating diagnostic equipment, reviewing test results for accuracy, identifying normal and abnormal test results, analyzing the diagnostic results and providing them to physicians, and keeping detailed patient records.

What you’ll need: An associate’s degree or a certificate from an accredited diagnostic medical sonography program. Although there are no state-specific licensing requirements, many employers prefer or require Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) professional certification.

How much they make: $64,280 per year, or $30.90 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 17% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

8. Cardiovascular Technologist

Similar to diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists use imaging equipment to diagnose and treat heart issues and conditions. Their day-to-day work may include performing tests like electrocardiograms, stress tests, and Holter monitoring to track cardiovascular health and activity, preparing and maintain the testing equipment, reviewing test results for accuracy, identifying normal and abnormal test results, analyzing the diagnostic results and providing them to physicians, and keeping detailed patient records.

What you’ll need: An associate’s degree or a certificate from an accredited cardiovascular technologist program.

How much they make: $64,280 per year, or $30.90 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 17% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

9. Truck Driver

If you really want a job that’s outside of the 9-to-5 world, truck driving is a field that literally leaves the office behind. Truck driving schools are becoming more popular, as logistics careers heat up in general. Truck drivers’ day-to-day work may include loading freight, inspecting and securing cargo, driving long distances to deliver goods or materials, performing vehicle maintenance, troubleshooting mechanical issues, and keeping detailed logs of their travels and deliveries.

This is a job that requires long hours and the willingness to be away from home for extended periods of time. It also involves a lot of physical labor and stamina.

What you’ll need: A commercial driver’s license (CDL), with additional certifications if you’re interested in handling and transporting hazardous materials. Truck drivers may also need to complete a certificate from a professional truck-driving school.

How much they make: $41,340 per year, or $19.87 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 6% by 2024–about average for all jobs.

10. Paralegal

Paralegals are legal assistants who support attorneys, and it may surprise you to know that it’s not a job that requires law school, but rather a program in paralegal studies. Their day-to-day work may include maintaining and organizing files, doing legal research, gathering evidence and documents for attorneys, writing reports to help prepare attorneys for trials, drafting and reviewing legal correspondence, taking affidavits and other legal statements, filing briefs, and working with clients or witnesses to schedule appointments, interviews, or depositions.

What you’ll need: An associate’s degree or a certificate from an accredited paralegal studies program.

How much they make: $49,500 per year, or $23.80 per hour

The career outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow about 15% by 2024–much faster than average for all jobs.

If you’re thinking about taking the trade school route, there are “think outside the college box” options that can get you working in your field fairly quickly, without much of the debt and time investment of a more traditional four-year college education. Again, your career path should be what works for you and your goals, and there are lots of specific programs out there that can give you the exact education you need to get started.

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