Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

While attending trade school is known as the quicker way to get a job compared to completing a degree from a university, the demand for trade school graduates saw an unprecedented increase from March 2020 through January 2021. This means that trade schools have been producing fewer graduates. What most students do not realize is that the best jobs for trade school graduates offer earnings that are comparable to their peers from four-year colleges.

Major companies such as Google are also promoting the importance of short certificate courses that equip students with the right skills that are in high demand. In fact, the company is now crediting certificate courses with the same value as that of a four-year degree. This move signaled that sub-baccalaureate programs are no longer on the sidelines, and that skills are becoming more important than mere credentials.

Trade schools provide a blend of technical and conceptual learning alongside the hands-on experience. It is intended to address the demand for middle-skill jobs. Countries with a highly-technical workforce are more competitive and they see to it that they remain so by offering a dual vocational education training program that combines training and apprenticeship, such as the one being implemented in Switzerland.

These career-oriented programs are offered as certificates, associate’s degrees, or diploma programs. Typically, after two years, students are equipped to take on jobs that provide wages that are even higher than their four-year degree counterparts.

This guide on the best trade school jobs will identify the fast-growing careers from the different vocational education clusters. Part of this guide is the essential skills required for each job, including the certificates that can lead to career advancement.

Trade School Jobs Table of Contents

  1. Why should I pursue a trade school job?
  2. Trade School Jobs Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Trade School Jobs
  4. How to Start Your Career as a Trade School Graduate
  5. How can I advance my career as a trade school graduate?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Trade School Graduates

Why should I pursue a trade school job?

Trade school jobs that involve specialized trade skills and allied health practice are always in high demand. The skills acquired by trade school graduates bring job stability as they result in having a particular skill set. While traditional university education has always been equated with a secured future, the way jobs are evolving in the 21st century has significantly challenged that notion. Upskilling and reskilling are the new norms, and trade school jobs are becoming more valuable as foundational skills in the evolving workplace.

Trade school careers can offer higher wages and stable employment. The diploma, associate’s, certificate, and even online graduate certificate programs offered by trade schools require less time and money compared to the traditional four-year degree, but the former is more career-oriented. Trade school graduates can pursue high-paying jobs such as web developers, medical sonographers, and environmental technicians (BLS, 2021).

As technology becomes more advanced, skilled trade jobs will increase in demand. Robots do not have the dexterity required to perform jobs that can only be performed by highly skilled workers. Graduates of trade schools have traditionally been perceived as having lower earning potential compared to university graduates, but today that is no longer the case. The Association for Career and Technical Education (2021) reports that graduates with technical or applied science associate degrees out-earn bachelor’s degree holders by an average of $2,000 to $11,000 in annual median wages. Trade school job salary is now competitive with the salary of university graduates.

Trade schools offer contextualized learning and advanced training. The partnership between trade schools with employers for on-the-job training ensures that the exact skills for the job are learned by the student. Also, the apprenticeships ensure that the student will effortlessly transition from training to the actual job as onboarding is part of the trade school program.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Trade School Jobs Outlook

COVID-19 has severely affected most professional sectors but many trade jobs saw double or triple growth (Businesswire, 2021). Trade careers are consistently in high demand because they constitute a highly skilled workforce with specialized skill sets that are able to solve general, creative, or niche problems. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, there are 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $55,000 annually that do not require a bachelor’s degree.

A report from the U.S. Department of Education states that people with career and technical education are more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study (NCES, 2016).

The U.S. economy is currently experiencing a labor shortage in skilled jobs due to digital takeover and the prevailing technology culture that has distorted the landscape for technical skills, plus the skilled labor retiring en masse. Throughout the U.S., there is a general lack of gifted trade laborers in HVAC, plumbing, carpentry, mechanical and electrical work. The Associated General Contractors of America reports that roughly 70% of contractors are having a hard time finding new trade specialists (Cohen, 2021).

A study by Toppin (2018) entitled “Who is Going to Build the Wall? A Building Trades Crisis in the U.S.A.” focused on the skilled labor shortage in the U.S., which is due to a lack of pipeline of prospective workers and training programs. Published in the International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, the author identified the importance of trade schools in addressing the very broad workforce shortages that can have a deep impact on the economy.

But as the labor shortage stands, Toppin said the gap can be filled in by immigrants, although that’s a thorny issue exacerbated during the Trump administration. He quipped, “It should be expected that if the [U.S.-Mexico border] wall is to be built, a disproportionate number of workers on that project will reflect the way it is on projects across the country, namely, many of the workers will be immigrants. And, if immigrant workers are not available the wall will either take longer to build, or may not be built at all.”

Given this scenario, there is a clear need for vocational education as offered by trade schools and community colleges to ensure economic stability. While academic programs still remain important, more people with bachelor’s degrees are going back to school to learn skilled trade (Marcus, 2020).

Food Science Technician$41,9708%
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician$68,5709%
Elevator or Escalator Mechanic$88,5406%
Aircraft Mechanic$66,44011%
Dental Hygienist$77,09011%
Respiratory Therapist$62,81023%
Nuclear Medicine Technologist$79,5908%
Broadcast, Sound and Video Technician$50,00018%
Environmental Science and Protection Technician$46,85011%
Medical Sonographer$75,92014%

Required Skills for Trade School Jobs

The 16 vocational clusters of trade schools require different essential skills. Jobs in diagnostic imaging which belong to the health sciences cluster, for example, would require a different set of specific skills from the STEM cluster. The following are the general skills required for trade school jobs.

Technical skills – these are the knowledge, abilities, and expertise required to perform specific, job-related tasks. Trade school graduates learn their technical skills through on-the-job experiences or through structured learning.

Critical thinking – the ability to evaluate and analyze information is important because some contain bias and manipulation. In every job, workers that are able to think critically provide added value to the organization and, therefore, contribute to overall advancement.

Problem-solving – the ability to use accessible resources to work out issues in a productive manner is an essential skill that every employee should have. Trade school graduates are trained to solve problems in their specific fields of expertise.

Communication – the ability to understand an idea or a set of instructions, and convey the same is crucial in organizations. Good communication skills also allow other people to understand information accurately, thus minimizing errors or miscommunication.

Interpersonal – the ability to communicate and interact with people is an important skill in every job, including the ability to relate with clients and co-workers and establish relationships.

average no. of job postings for skilled trade sector

How to Start Your Career as a Trade School Graduate

Since trade schools typically involve apprenticeships and on-the-job training, career pathways are pre-determined prior to graduation. This smooth transition from school to the workplace is one of the advantages of pursuing a trade school education. Unlike in the university, where job hunting takes place post-graduation, trade schools have a direct link with employers that are willing to train students early on and eventually absorb them into the organization.

There are 16 vocational clusters in trade school and the following is a list of the certificate, associate’s, or diploma programs that have favorable growth projections based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To start your career from a trade school, choose the program that best suits your interests and build a strong network as you engage in on-the-job training. It is important to continually develop and enhance your technical skill set and find ways to increase productivity at work by honing your time management and organizational skills to advance in your chosen profession.

Here are some of the most in-demand job roles for trade school graduates, by median salary:

Elevator or Escalator Mechanic

Median salary: $88,540

The installation and repair of elevators and escalators is the main responsibility of the elevator or escalator mechanic. These include moving walkways and other lifts. The employment of elevator or escalator mechanics is projected to grow 6% from 2020-2030.

Essential Skills for Elevator or Escalator Mechanic

  • Ability to work with heights – the installation and assembly of elevators and escalators often require mechanics to work atop ladders and mechanical lifts, thus the elevator or escalator mechanic should be comfortable working on elevated areas.
  • Mechanical – having the right mechanical skills is important for the elevator or escalator mechanic because everyday work requires the handling of power tools and hand tools.
  • Physical strength – Elevator or escalator mechanics may also be required to lift heavy elevator and escalator parts, and other installation equipment. To perform this job effectively, the elevator or escalator mechanic should be physically fit.

Certification for Career Advancement

Elevator or escalator mechanics are required to be licensed by most states.  To become a Certified Elevator Technicians (CET) or Certified Accessibility and Private Residence Lift Technician (CAT), the elevator or escalator mechanic should apply through the National Association of Elevator Contractors. The National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities International also awards certifications for elevator or escalator mechanics to become Qualified Elevator Inspectors (QEI).

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Median salary: $79,590

The nuclear medicine technologist is responsible for the preparation of radioactive drugs as used in imaging and treatment. Providing technical support to physicians and other personnel that provide critical care is among the tasks of a nuclear medicine technologist. In the event of a nuclear disaster, the nuclear medicine technologist may also take on the role of an emergency responder. Licensing requirements for this particular role vary by state. Jobs for nuclear medicine technologists are expected to grow by 8% through 2030, or roughly 1,500 openings per year.

Essential Skills for Nuclear Technologists

  • Math and Science – as the one in charge of handling radioactive drugs, the nuclear medicine technologist should have the ability to quickly do the numbers and check the corresponding efficacy of particular dosages.
  • Detail-oriented – checking the accuracy of drug preparation and following instructions is crucial in the effective performance of the nuclear medicine technologist.

Certifications for Career Advancement

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board issues certifications for nuclear medicine technologists. Specialty certifications are also available that attest proficiency in using different equipment and procedures, which include certifications in positron emission tomography, nuclear cardiology, or computed tomography. The nuclear medicine technologists may advance to become chief a technologist or a department administrator. By earning multiple certifications, some also become involved in nuclear cardiology or research laboratories.

Dental Hygienist

Median salary: $77,090

The dental hygienist assists the dentist in taking care of the patient’s oral health. The dental hygienist may perform teeth cleaning, taking X-rays, checking teeth and gums for disease, and also takes part in teaching patients how to maintain oral health. Aside from patient services, the dental hygienist also takes care of documentation and other office management tasks. Dental hygienists typically need a license to practice their profession. This job is projected to grow by 11% through 2030.

Essential Skills for Dental Hygienist

  • Manual Dexterity – in performing dental procedures, the dental hygienist should have skillful and coordinated hands. In using precise tools and instruments, dental hygienists should possess fine motor skills.
  • Non-verbal Communication – the ability to identify what the patient needs while on the dentist chair is an essential skill of the dental hygienist. Since patients often find it hard to communicate, the dental hygienist should be able to identify non-verbal cues and address them accordingly.

Certifications for Advancement

In addition to clinical practice in dental clinics, dental hygienists may also pursue careers in the field of education, research, administration, public health, and advanced practice. The American Dental Hygienists Association offers a continuing education program that could lead to expanded roles in the field. The Dental Assisting National Board also provides further licensure and certification exams in fields such as radiation health and safety.

Medical Sonographers

Median salary: $75,920

The medical sonographer uses equipment that produces high-frequency soundwaves to produce images of the inside of the body. Certification is required for practice, which is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

A large aging population translates to the need for more diagnostic service requirements, which makes medical sonographers in high demand. The job outlook is 14% growth per year through 2030, which is significantly higher than most jobs. Aside from the consistently positive job outlook, medical sonography is among the trade school jobs that pay well.

Types of medical sonographers:

  • Abdominal sonographer
  • Breast sonographer
  • Cardiac sonographer
  • Musculoskeletal sonographer
  • Pediatric sonographer
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographer
  • Vascular sonographer

Essential Skills for Medical Sonographers

  • Detail-oriented – with their knowledge of human anatomy, medical sonographers are able to obtain accurate and precise images that are needed to diagnose and treat patients. Attention to detail is also crucial in evaluating the images on the screen.
  • Hand-eye coordination – this skill is essential for the medical sonographer to accurately move the instrument on the patient’s body in response to what is being displayed on the screen, and acquire quality images.

Certifications for Career Advancement

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) issues various certifications for medical sonographers. Aside from specializing in diagnostic imaging, the medial sonographer may also advance as a diagnostic imaging manager, educate future sonographers as a clinical educator, or organize image databases as a picture archiving and communication systems administrator.

percentage of bachelor degree holders taking technical education

Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologist

Median salary: $68,570

The aerospace engineering and operations technologist is tasked to install, run, and maintain the equipment that is used to develop, test, produce and maintain spacecraft and aircraft. The role of the aerospace engineering and operations technologist is crucial in ensuring safety in aerospace explorations. This line of work is expected to grow 9% until 2030, which equates to roughly 1,200 job opportunities per year.

Essential Skills for Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologist

  • Math skills – this is an important skill in this job because aerospace engineering involves a lot of measurement, analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
  • Mechanical skills – since aerospace engineering and operations technologists assist aerospace engineers, they need technical and mechanical skills to make informed decisions from design to production.

Certifications for Career Advancement

While certification is not required for aerospace engineering and operations technologists, the National Science Foundation’s Center for Aerospace Technical Education also known as SpaceTEC, offers Certified Aerospace Technician Core Certification. Aerospace engineering and operations technologists may advance to become supervisors and engineering managers as they gain experience.

Aircraft Mechanic

Median salary: $66,440

The aircraft mechanic is responsible for the regular maintenance and inspection of aircraft. The aircraft mechanic refers to the detailed regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  for maintenance schedules for different operations. Most aircraft mechanics undergo on-the-job training to learn their skills and to be able to pass the FAA exams. From 2020 to 2030, the overall employment of aircraft mechanics is projected to grow by 11%, or about 14,400 openings per year, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Essential Skills for Aircraft Mechanic

  • Observational skills – this skill is crucial among aircraft mechanics because they should be able to recognize engine noises, read gauges, and collect other information to ensure that systems are functioning properly.
  • Detail-oriented – since precision is crucial in aircraft safety, aircraft mechanics should be able to adjust airplane parts to exact specifications, for which they often use precision tools.

Certifications for Career Advancement

The FAA certifies airplane mechanics to be allowed to perform aircraft maintenance. The FAA issues different certifications for bodywork (Airframe mechanics, or “A”) and for engine work (Powerplant mechanics, or “P”). The A&P ratings of aircraft mechanics signify that they have met basic knowledge and ability standards.

Aircraft mechanics that have their A&P ratings for at least three years may apply for Inspection Authorization to be able to review and approve major aircraft repairs and alterations. Aircraft mechanics may advance to lead a mechanic, lead inspector, or shop supervisor as they gain experience. Aircraft mechanics with IA are best positioned to eventually become FAA inspectors and examiners.

Respiratory Therapists

Median salary: $62,810

The respiratory therapist provides care to patients who are experiencing breathing problems. Providing emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, shock, or drowning is also part of the job of a respiratory therapist. Except in Alaska, a license is required to become a respiratory therapist. Jobs for respiratory therapists is expected to grow 23% from 2020-2030, or about 10,100 openings for each year, on average.

Essential Skills for Respiratory Therapists

  • Situational awareness – since the respiratory therapist is also an emergency responder, awareness of the situation is important to clearly identify and prioritize critical care. This is to ensure that patients will receive the exact treatment and medications as needed.
  • Dynamic risk assessment – providing care and relief to patients involves assessing the different factors related to the breathing difficulty. The respiratory therapist should be skilled in assessing multiple situations at the same time.

Certifications for Career Advancement

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main agency that issues certifications for respiratory therapists. The NBRC offers two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist. From staff therapist, opportunities for advancement include becoming shift supervisor and department manager.

Cardiovascular Technologist

Median salary: $59,100

The cardiovascular technologist creates images and performs tests on the heart and lungs. The employment of cardiovascular technologists is projected to grow at 14% through 2030. Hospitals, both local and private, are the biggest employers of cardiovascular technologists.

Types of cardiovascular technologists:

  • Cardiovascular Invasive Specialists
  • Cardiographic or Electrocardiogram Technician
  • Pulmonary Function Technologist

Essential Skills for Cardiovascular Technologist

  • Detail-oriented – in generating accurate images, the cardiovascular technologist should be able to follow precise instructions and pay attention to the diagnostic image being generated while scanning the patient’s body. The ability to contrast healthy areas with unhealthy parts may not be so obvious, thus the cardiovascular technologist should be detail-oriented.
  • Hand-eye Coordination – Knowledge of human anatomy is crucial in diagnostic imaging, the cardiovascular technologist should be able to place the equipment as images are being shown on screen.

Certifications for Career Advancement

Cardiovascular technologists are required to be certified after completing associate or certificate programs. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Most employers prefer hiring applicants who have basic life support certification as this also shows that the candidate has been trained to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Broadcast, Sound, and Video Technician

Median salary: $50,000

The job description of a broadcast, sound, or video technician is flexible as dictated by the industry and the size of the organization. Responsibilities include setting up and operating audio and video equipment. Work for broadcast, sound, or video technicians is more specialized in big stations, while work may entail more responsibilities in smaller stations. The demand for this line of work is expected to grow by 21% through 2030, or about 18,000 job openings annually.

Essential Skills for Broadcast, Sound, and Video Technician

  • Manual dexterity – operating audio and video equipment requires a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination. During live performances, the broadcast, sound, and video technician should also have the ability to make quick adjustments that require manual dexterity.
  • Computer skills – in operating sound, video, and other broadcast equipment, the broadcast, sound, and video technician uses different apps in editing and recording material, thus the need to have the appropriate computer skills.

Certifications for Career Advancement

Voluntary certification in this line of work may offer advantages for advancement as it shows proficiency in using the latest state-of-the-art equipment and solid knowledge in industry standards. The Society of Broadcast Engineers offers operator level, engineering level, broadcast networking, and specialist certifications. General Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) credential, as well as the design CTS and installation CTS, are also offered by the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Median salary: $46,850

The job of the environmental science and protection technician includes monitoring the environment and identifying the possible sources of contamination and pollution, including those that impact public health. Often working with scientists and engineers, the environmental science and protection technician looks for solutions to problems related to environmental degradation and public health.

The employment of environmental science and protection technician is projected to grow 11% through 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. For environmental science and protection technicians that focus on hazardous waste, training in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards is required.

Essential Skills for Environmental Science and Protection Technician

  • Observation – in collecting and recording data, observation skills are essential to be able to construct and test hypotheses and theories.
  • Analytical – the ability to see patterns and trends and make meaningful conclusions is crucial in keeping the environment safe and secure for all inhabitants.

Certifications for Career Advancement

Certifications are available to the environmental science and protection technician, such as the certification for technicians who test buildings for radon as offered by the National Radon Safety Board, or the Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian credential from the National Environmental Health Association.

Food Science Technician

Median salary: $41,970

The primary responsibility of the food science technician is to measure and analyze the quality of food and agricultural products by performing a range of agricultural work. Laboratory testing is also part of the food science technician’s job, which includes record-keeping duties as well as other office work. From 2020 to 2030, the employment of food science technicians is projected to grow by 8% or about 3,700 job postings per year.

Essential Skills for Food Service Technician

  • Analytical skills – in conducting observations and on-site measurements, the food service technician needs to have the capacity to analyze data and uphold accuracy to ensure safety.
  • Physical stamina – a huge part of the food service technician’s job involves physical labor, thus the need to have a fit and strong body to be able to perform the job well, especially when working in agricultural settings.

Certifications for Career Advancement

Certificate programs for food science technologists are available. Most practitioners initially take the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points as employers typically look for this certification. Certificates in Food Safety, Food Processing Technology, and other programs for continuing education are offered by various associations in the industry. Once they have gained significant experience, food service technicians may move into supervisory or management positions.

Can you get a good job after completing a program in Trade School?

Trade schools provide a quality education that enhances student success in the workforce. The career-focused training provided by trade schools empowers the student to easily transition from school to the workplace, with mentors that are experts in their respective fields. While the pandemic brought massive unemployment, jobs for the skilled trades grew during the economic downturn with roughly 281,000 jobs available to skilled workers as of June 2021 (Business Wire, 2021).

Source: Strada Work and Education Survey

How can I advance my career as a trade school graduate?

Aside from the career advancement path provided for each job, trade school graduates may also register with key industry organizations to expand their network and meet possible employers that are looking for experienced skilled workers. While an associate’s degree, a diploma, or a certificate from a trade school may be enough for select professions, the life sciences often require a bachelor’s degree or postgraduate degree for advancement to senior management.

Alternative Job Options for Trade School Graduates

Trade school education is very specific and focused on specific skills. However, this does not mean that trade school graduates cannot transfer to other professions. Trade school programs also overlap in a variety of ways.

What else can a trade school graduate do?

Graduates of the information technology cluster may find related careers in business administration, manufacturing, marketing, or STEM. The trade school graduate may also choose to put up his or her own business. They may also work as trainers in trade schools, or CTE teachers in secondary school. Since trade school graduates are primarily highly technical in their training, it would be relatively easy to transfer from one industry to another. Trade school graduates may also choose to pursue further education by completing a bachelor’s degree and postgraduate studies.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Trade School Advantage

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than 40% of recent graduates are underemployed—working in jobs that are not related to their college degrees. Although there are a number of reasons for this underemployment trend, this also highlights the advantage of pursuing trade school. Career and training programs in trade schools take less time, require less financial investment, and provide clear and direct career pathways.

Aside from the non-transferable skills that you will gain from trade school, some of the occupations pay even higher wages compared to jobs that require four-year degrees.  Gone are the days of white-collar versus blue-collar jobs. Today, as the importance of credentials slowly fades, we can see that trade skills matter more and will stand even the most unprecedented technological and industrial disruptions of our time.



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  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), Occupational Outlook Handbook,
  3. Cohen, A. (2021), Why Finding Workers Is Getting Harder for U.S. Homebuilders,
  4. Irwin, D. (2021), Skilled Trade Jobs Are Booming in Pandemic Economy,
  5. Marcus, J. (2020), More people with bachelor’s degrees go back to school to learn skilled trades,
  6. National Center for Education Statistics (2016), Career and Technical Education Statistics,
  7. Ngo, Y. (2021), Skilled Workers Are Scarce, Posing a Challenge for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan,
  8. Toppin, I. (2018). Who is Going to Build the Wall? A Building Trades Crisis in the U.S.A. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, 5(1), 64–76.

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