Demand for skilled labor is at an all-time high in the United States. Trade schools provide the specialized training needed to fill these in-demand positions. These technical programs offer hands-on training, smaller classes and quicker training for high school graduates.
If you’re considering a career in the trades, it’s important to understand what a trade school offers, how long training takes and the highest paying trade careers.
What Is Trade School?
Trade school is one of the most popular alternatives to college.
Some call it technical school, while others call it vocational school. They all refer to the same thing: A school that prepares you for a job in the skilled trades.
What can you learn at trade school?
- Construction Managers
- HVAC technicians
- Massage therapists
- Cosmetologists, and more
- Healthcare workers
These are just a few of the many options to choose from in the trades field.
Vocational School vs Associate Degree: What Makes Trade School Different from College?
Trade school offers more focused training programs. Although it varies from one school and career to the next, most students can complete their training in two years or less.
Many trade schools operate as independent institutions, but they can also be found within partner programs at community colleges and technical schools. They offer many advantages, such as:
- Flexible schedules, with weekend and evening classes
- Small class sizes
- Hands-on experience
- Focused training
Typically, trade schools are accredited, which means that graduates can transfer their credits to a four-year college if they choose to.
People mistakenly assume that a career in skilled trades won’t earn you as much as a college degree. However, those who complete trade school programs typically earn a great living. Many earn just as much or even more than those with college degrees (we’ll talk a little more about salaries later on).
Part of the reason why trade school jobs are paying so much is that their skills are in high demand. America is facing an unprecedented shortage of skilled labor workers. The electrician industry alone is estimated to have a labor shortage of about 60,000 workers in the next five years.
What Kind of Trade Schools Are There?
There are many different types of trade schools out there that offer specialized training in a variety of careers. Completing a vocational school program may earn you one of the following:
- Associate’s degree
Regardless of whether you earn a certificate or associate degree program, you should complete your program with the skills and education needed to start your career.
So, what types of careers can you venture into through trade school training? Let’s look at some examples of trade school programs.
Trade School Examples
- Criminal Justice (paralegal, homeland security, law enforcement, etc.)
- HVAC Technician
- Automotive Tech
- Trucking (CDL Training)
- Massage Therapy
- Health and Medical
- EMT and Paramedics
How Much Does Trade School Cost?
People enter a trade school for a variety of reasons, but cost is one of the top reasons. While costs vary depending on the vocational school and training, trade schools are still only a fraction of the cost of a public or private college.
According to reports, technical school programs cost about $33,000 – the equivalent of a single year of college. A bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, costs $127,000 on average.
Some trade school and training programs are more expensive than others, but many trade schools qualify for financial aid programs. This allows students to take advantage of grants and federal student loans.
How Long Is Trade School?
The cost of trade school is one advantage, but it also takes less time to complete trade school programs. This means that you can enter your career faster and start gaining valuable experience.
How quickly can you complete your training at these schools?
Education lengths can vary, but programs at vocational schools can range anywhere from 8 months to two years. That’s much quicker than community colleges, and there are many career opportunities in the trades.
What Trade Makes the Most Money?
Many trade schools offer excellent salaries. Some of the top paying trade jobs include:
Salary: $85,560/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Completing certificate programs, or completing an associate or bachelor’s degree program
A radiation therapist plays an important role in caring for patients with cancer and other diseases that require radiation treatments. They work closely with doctors and oncology nurses to provide patients with specialized care. This is one of the highest paying trade school jobs out there.
Their duties and tasks include:
- Assisting with treatments prescribed by radiation oncologists
- Operating radiation machines
- Determining the location of area needing treatment
- Monitoring patients undergoing treatment
Each state has its own requirements for certification and licensing. Employers prefer to hire certified candidates. To qualify for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, or ARRT, you must either work full-time for two years or complete an accredited program. Many community colleges and trade schools offer training as a radiation therapist.
Salary: $76,220/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Accredited dental hygiene programs, or associate degree
A dental hygienist is a healthcare worker that provides preventative care to patients under the supervision of a dentist. This is another one of the highest paying trade school jobs. As a dental assistant, hygienists are responsible for:
- Cleaning patients’ teeth
- Removing plaque, stains and tartar
- Educate patients on proper oral hygiene
The services hygienists are legally allowed to provide vary from state to state. Training takes about three years. Many choose to attend vocational schools.
Dental hygienists must be licensed, and license requirements vary from state to state. Most states will require dental hygienists to complete the National Dental Hygiene Board exam, a clinical exam and an ethics exam.
Salary: $73,760/year (Median)
Education Requirements: No formal education is required, but technical coursework is desired
Web developers play a key role in the design and development of websites. While no formal education is required, those who enter this field must have knowledge of computer programming and graphic design.
Vocational schools offer specialized training courses for web development.
Duties and responsibilities of web developers include:
- Develop and test web apps
- Write code to develop websites
- Incorporate audio, video and images into a website
- Work with other team members to create content plans for websites
- Use critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills to overcome challenges
Developers can take on different roles:
- Back-end Developers: They create the framework for websites and ensure that everything is working as intended.
- Front-end Developers: They are responsible for the website’s layout, menu, graphics and other visual content.
- Webmasters: They are responsible for maintaining and updating websites.
While trained developers will find that there are plenty of job opportunities available, many developers that attend trade schools choose to work freelance. Self-employment offers freedom, flexibility and the ability to earn as much as you desire.
The job growth rate for web developers is high, providing many opportunities to enter this career.
Utility Line Installer and Repair Technician (Line Workers)
Salary: $65,700/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Trade school program and on-the-job training. Apprenticeships are very common.
Line workers are responsible for installing and repairing utility lines and telecommunications cables. It’s a hazardous, dangerous job, but it pays very well. Those who enter this career work with high-voltage electricity and often work at great heights. The work can be physically demanding, and many work evenings and weekends.
Although this career has its risks, it’s a vital job that helps keep our world running. Line workers typically work outdoors. They may work above or below ground.
Many line workers enter apprenticeship programs, which incorporate both on-the-job and classroom training under the supervision of a Journeyman Lineman. Apprentices are paid while they learn. There are also trade schools for line workers, which are great alternatives to colleges.
Salary: $63,060 (Median)
Education Requirements: Training at an FFA-approved school, on-the-job training or the military
Aviation mechanics perform maintenance on aircraft and emergency repairs. They also perform inspections periodically. It’s their job to ensure that aircraft are in a safe condition to fly.
Their responsibilities and duties include:
- Diagnosing electrical or mechanical problems
- Inspects aircrafts for defects
- Repairs aircraft components, including brakes, wings and electrical systems
- Replaces defective parts
- Keeps records of repair and maintenance work
- Inspects their completed work to ensure it meets performance standards
- Uses precision instruments to measure parts for wear
Aircraft mechanics may be licensed or unlicensed. Licensed mechanics obtain their FAA Mechanic Certificate or Repairman Certificate by completing written, oral and practical exams.
Salary: $58,730 (Median)
Education Requirements: Certification program through a trade school or associate program
If you want to enter the healthcare field but don’t want to work as a nurse or doctor, a cardiovascular technician may be a great alternative. Trade schools are a great alternative to colleges for training in this career.
Cardiovascular techs conduct pulmonary and cardiovascular testing. They work closely with doctors to help diagnose heart-related problems.
Duties and responsibilities of a cardiovascular technician include:
- Register patients
- Support doctors in diagnosing and treating patients
- Perform electro-cardio-grams (EKGs)
- Complete treadmill stress tests
- Document patient services
- Maintains equipment
Those who enter this field can specialize in three key areas: cardiac sonography, invasive cardiology and vascular technology. To specialize, you will need to obtain a professional certification.
Most cardiovascular techs complete a 2-year program and earn an associate degree. Some students will move on to a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer.
Salary: $56,180 (Median)
Education Requirements: Apprenticeships, or trade school program
Electricians have an important job. They install, maintain and repair electrical products and systems in industrial, residential and commercial environments. Electricians have many responsibilities, including:
- Planning electrical systems for new construction
- Installing lighting, wiring and control systems
- Installing electrical equipment, such as circuit breaker panels, switches and relays
- Inspecting electrical systems
- Repairing and upgrading outdated electrical equipment
Electricians learn most of their skills on the job, but they may also attend a vocational program. To enter a program, trade schools only require a high school diploma. Apprenticeships require 144 hours of technical training per year and 2,000 hours of practical, hands-on experience.
Attending a trade school does its advantages. They cover the basics, and they also provide credit towards an apprenticeship. Most states require electricians to be licensed.
Demand for electricians will continue to grow through 2024, with a 14% increase in the field. More than 85,000 positions are expected to be created during this period.
Salary: $55,160/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Trade school program, or apprenticeship
Like electricians, plumbers have an important job. They’re responsible for installing and repairing plumbing pipes and systems.
Completing a trade school program will provide you with the basic knowledge you need to enter an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships can last anywhere from 4-5 years. Trade schools offer an advantage in that they give you access to these apprenticeships, which are hard to come by otherwise.
After completing an apprenticeship or technical training program, the next step is to get licensed. Most states require plumbers to be licensed. Requirements vary from state to state, but 2-5 years of experience is typical.
Salary: $54,760/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Certificate or associate degree
IT technicians are responsible for handling a business’ IT issues. Their job is to install, maintain and repair computer systems.
IT technicians have a variety of responsibilities and duties, including:
- Installing and managing new hardware and software
- Troubleshooting IT issues for customers or employees
- Diagnosing and repairing hardware issues
- Upgrading systems to ensure system compatibility
- Installing servers, firewalls, hardware and software
- Monitoring servers and networking equipment
As one of the most popular IT trade school careers, IT technicians are in high demand. Trade school programs can provide the training needed to enter this field. Certification is optional but can increase employability and salaries.
Wind Turbine Technician
Salary: $52,910/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Completing a trade school program (2 years) and on-the-job training
Wind turbine technicians are responsible for installing, maintaining, repairing and operating wind turbines. They can repair or diagnose issues that can cause the turbine to shut down or fail unexpectedly.
Some technicians also help build new wind turbines, but their work is primarily focused on repairing and maintaining the turbines.
Duties and responsibilities of wind turbine technicians include:
- Inspect and repair turbine equipment
- Inspect towers to determine their physical integrity
- Perform routine maintenance
- Collect data from the turbines for research and analysis
- Troubleshooting malfunctions
- Testing hydraulic systems and electrical components and systems
- Replace any malfunctioning components
Trade schools can provide the training needed for this job, although many colleges also offer training. As demand for wind energy continues, demand for wind turbine technicians will also grow.
Salary: $48,370/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Completion of a vocational school program or apprenticeship
HVAC technicians install, repair and maintain heating and cooling systems. Some who enter this career specialize in a certain type of system or refrigeration.
Duties and responsibilities of HVAC technicians include:
- Inspecting and troubleshooting HVAC equipment
- Installation of heating and cooling systems, or overseeing the installation
- Provide technical support and customer service as necessary
- Attend after-hours calls for repair or service
Most employers require HVAC technicians to have training at a trade school or a post-secondary education at colleges. Apprenticeships are also available, which can last three to five years. These programs include a combination of classroom and on-the-job training.
Some states do require HVAC technicians to be licensed. To obtain a license, you must pass a written test.
Licensed Practical Nurse
Salary: $47,480/year (Median)
Education Requirements: Complete a trade school program or degree
A career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can be a rewarding one. It can serve as a stepping stone to a career as a registered nurse (RN).
LPNs provide basic care to patients while under the supervision of a doctor or RN. They may work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes or even in a patient’s home.
An LPN’s duties and responsibilities include:
- Taking vital signs
- Interviewing patients
- Administering treatment and medication
- Reviewing medical records
- Administering immunizations
- Preparing IVs
- Drawing blood
- Taking supply inventory
- Giving oxygen
- Taking phone calls
Training takes about a year to complete, allowing you to enter your new career more quickly. A position as an LPN is typically the first step in a nursing career, but many in this field are content to stay in this position.
Students can earn a trade school degree in this field, but many community colleges also offer training.
The Key Takeaways
Trade schools are an alternative to college and provide an opportunity to train for a high-paying career. With a growing shortage of skilled labor, these careers offer job security and excellent salaries.
While there are many career paths you can take through a technical school program, these are the highest paying careers right now.