Top 10 Jobs for Trade School Graduates

Not everyone wants (or can afford) to devote four years of their life to post-high school education. However, 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.

The good news is that education doesn’t always have to come in the form of a bachelor’s degree. Many high-paying, fast-growing jobs are accessible to workers with an associate’s degree, post-secondary award, 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.

1. Elevator Installer/Repairer

Elevators Inside 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.  

About the Job: Elevator Mechanic Career Information

Median Annual Salary: $77,580

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 13 percent

Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

2. Radiation Therapist

Radiologist at work
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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’s degree.

More About the Job: Radiation Therapy Job Description

Median Annual Salary: $66,823

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 14 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 63 percent Female/37 percent Male

3. 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.

More About the Job: Geological and Petroleum Technician Job Description

Median Annual Salary: $61,762

Projected Annual Growth Rate 2014-2024: 12 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 27 percent Female/73 percent Male

4. Web Developer

Start-up Team
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’s degree instead. If you love writing, testing, and debugging software, you’ll love this job.

More About the Job: Web Developer Job Description

Median Annual Salary: $57,662

Projected Annual Growth Rate 2014-2024: 27 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 19 percent Female/81 percent Male

5. 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.

More About the Job:  Dental Hygienist Career Information | Dental Assistant Skills

Median Annual Salary: $54,175

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 19 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 97 percent Female/3 percent Male

6. 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.

More About the Job: Ultrasound Technician Job Description | Ultrasound Technician Skills

Median Annual Salary: $51,832

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 24 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 97 percent Female/3 percent Male

7. Respiratory Therapist

Lung function test
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Many respiratory therapists have bachelor’s degrees, but an associate’s 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.

More About the Job: Respiratory Therapist Career Information

Median Annual Salary: $51,011

Projected Annual Growth Rate 2014-2024: 12 percent

Typical Education Required: Associate’s Degree

Gender Breakdown: 64 percent Female/36 percent Male 

8. Electrician

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.

More About the Job: Electrician Career Information

Median Annual Salary: $50,740

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 14 percent

Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

9. Plumber

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.  

More About the Job: Plumber Career Information | Plumber Skills List

Median Annual Salary: $50,048

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 12 percent

Typical Education Required: High School Diploma and Apprenticeship

Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

10. HVAC Technician

Air conditioner repairmen work on home unit. Blue collar workers.
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.

More About the Job: HVAC Technician Career Information

Median Annual Salary: $42,886

Projected Growth Rate 2014-2024: 14 percent

Typical Education Required: Postsecondary Non-degree Award

Gender Breakdown: 1 percent Female/99 percent Male

More Career Options to Consider

students studying before class
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 career exploring options, it's important to select choices that would be the best fit for your skills and interests.

Here are some alternatives to consider:

Projected growth data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Salary data provided by PayScale.com.

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