November 9, 2021

Highest Paying Trade Jobs

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Find the highest-paying trade jobs available today including job descriptions, educational requirements, and median salaries.

Going to college is seen as the golden ticket to economic success. But what if there were a way to earn a high salary without taking on a mountain of debt?

Enter: the skilled trades.

Learn all about the highest-paying trade jobs, median salaries, and job requirements to see if a job in the trades is right for you.

In the iconic 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Al Pacino's character (Ricky Roma) says, "I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion. If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way."

Today, going to college is the norm. As a result, there are far more qualified applicants than job openings in corporate America. This creates an opportunity for those who follow the law of contrary public opinion by forging a career in the trades.

What is Considered a Trade Job?

The trades refer to professions that require specialized skills and training outside of traditional higher education. Trade jobs often refer to construction or maintenance jobs, such as plumbers, electricians, and mechanics.

But trades can also refer to professions that don't require getting your hands dirty, too. These include dental hygienists, web developers, or medical device specialists.

These jobs often require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training or one to three years of vocational school.

Why Consider a Trade?

There are a number of financial reasons why it makes sense to consider a job in the trades in favor of pursuing a career in an office setting.

Good Pay
Because these are often "blue collar" jobs, the biggest misconception about the trades is that they pay poorly. However, most tradesmen and women actually earn more than their college graduate peers.

For example, here are the median salaries of three common jobs for college graduates versus three median trade salaries:

Trade Job Salary*Traditional Job Salary*
Lineman: $80,753Teacher (K-12): $60,030
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: $78,800Copywriter: $52,069
Solar Energy Installer: $74,923Graphic Designer: $49,860
Plumber: $58,559Administrative Assistant: $43,194
*All salary data from defined by median salary as of 07/22/2021.

Less Debt
Trade jobs require less of an upfront educational investment. To start working in a trade, you typically only need two years of schooling (or less). Plus, the overall cost of each year of education is much less than colleges and universities.

During the 2017-2018 school year, the average price tag of one year of trade school at a two-year public college was $3,588 — compared to $20,790 for one year of in-state tuition at a public four-year university.

High Demand
There will always be a need for people to build and maintain the infrastructure of our society. But as Forbes notes, people employed in the trades are an aging population, which means that supply may soon struggle to meet demand.

This workforce shortage is caused by numerous factors, including the elimination of shop class from most U.S. high schools, stigma surrounding "blue collar" work, and an increase in the percentage of people obtaining college degrees over the course of the last 25 years.

However, this is good news for individuals with trade skills, as the value of their work is likely to increase over time as supply diminishes.

Do trade schools help you find a job?
Yes, one advantage of trade schools is that they prepare you for a specific profession, provide real-life training, and will help place you in a job. Most trade schools will post their job placement rate for recent grads on their website.

The 13 Highest-Paying Trade Jobs

Now that we've covered a general overview of what defines a trade job and why you may be interested in pursuing one as a career, let's take a look at what trade jobs pay the most.

Construction Manager

A construction manager oversees all aspects of a construction project from start to finish. This includes ordering materials, creating a budget and making sure a job remains within it, and reviewing contractual agreements.

The construction manager also acts as a liaison between the construction crew and the corporate executives behind a project.

Many construction manager jobs may require a bachelor's degree, but some will also accept relevant experience as well.

The median salary for a construction manager is $114,629.

Electric Power Line Installer/Lineman

If you're not afraid of heights, becoming a power line installer may be for you. The primary responsibilities for a lineman are to install, maintain, and repair the electrical lines that supply electricity and telecommunications services to homes and businesses across the country.

Responsibilities may also include digging trenches to place underground wires and installing power meters.

The job comes along with a high degree of risk, but is compensated accordingly.

The median salary for a power line installer is $80,753.

Elevator Technician

Another job that requires comfort with heights, elevator techs often work inside elevator shafts to maintain and repair the elevators of corporate offices and high-rise apartment buildings in urban centers.

Elevator service technicians also work on escalators and "moving sidewalks" like the ones you may have seen at your local airport.

This job typically requires only a high school diploma followed by an apprenticeship and state licensing.

The median salary for an elevator technician is $74,801.

Dental Hygienist

Job responsibilities for a dental hygienist include preparing the room for patients and assisting the dentist throughout exams, cleanings, and preventative dental care. You will also likely be charged with educating patients on proper dental care, like brushing and flossing.

This trade requires a two-year degree in dental hygiene from an accredited school as well as state licensing.

The median salary for a dental hygienist is $76,014.

Logistics Manager

A logistics manager oversees the supply chain of business operations, including managing warehouse staff, inventory, and making sure schedules run smoothly. The primary function of a logistics manager is to streamline costs and increase the profitability of the company they work for.

This is another trade that will often require a bachelor's degree in a related field.

The median salary for a logistics manager is $115,491.

Web Developer

To get into a highly technical trade, web developers are responsible for building and maintaining websites for businesses, educational institutions, and anyone else who requires a web presence. This job requires coding skills such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

This job typically requires web development certification or a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.

The median salary for a web developer is $72,960.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

If you're looking for a cost-effective way to get into healthcare, this job may be for you. Diagnostic medical sonographers operate sonographic equipment like ultrasound machines, record patient data, and brief the physician on findings of testing for diagnosis and treatment.

To become a diagnostic medical sonographer, you only need an associate's degree and to pass a professional exam (called ARDMS).

The median salary for a diagnostic medical sonographer is $78,800.

Radiation Therapist

Sticking with the medical theme, a radiation therapist prepares patients and administers radiation therapy in the treatment of diseases including cancer. This job requires a high degree of empathy and compassion, as radiation therapists often provide emotional support to patients and their families.

To become a radiation therapist, you'll need a bachelor's degree in radiation therapy and pass a state licensing exam.

The median salary for a radiation therapist is $84,800.


Plumbers install and repair the pipes that bring water, gas, and waste into and out of buildings. They are also responsible for installing and maintaining fixtures, such as sinks, faucets, bathtubs, and laundry machines. Plumbers can work independently or as part of a broader construction team.

This job usually requires on-the-job training and no formal education.

The salary for plumbers can vary widely depending on experience, location, and whether you are self-employed, a contractor, or a union employee, but the median salary for a plumber is $58,559.

Solar Technician

As more and more people turn to renewable energy, someone needs to install and repair this equipment. Solar energy technicians install solar panels and electrical wires, run diagnostic tests, and field maintenance requests.

Unlike a solar energy engineer, no formal education is needed to become a solar technician.

The median salary for a solar technician is $56,903.

Did you know?
Solar technicians are estimated to be one of the fastest growing fields over the next decade — with 51% anticipated growth between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HVAC Technician

A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technician is responsible for installing and maintaining the air quality systems inside buildings and other vital infrastructure (like subway stations). HVAC techs will spend most of their time either installing new units or repairing existing ones.

Becoming an HVAC technician does not require any formal education beyond high school, but several years of on-the-job training will be needed.

The median salary for an HVAC technician is $44,056.

Truck Driver

80% of all cargo in the United States is transported by truck, and this industry needs skilled drivers capable of handling the large semi trucks you see every day. Job responsibilities include driving long distances, securing cargo, and inspecting the vehicle for maintenance issues.

This job requires no formal education, but you will need to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) before being considered for employment.

The median salary for a truck driver is $54,865, but there is typically ample opportunity to work overtime for significantly higher pay.

Aircraft Mechanic

If you love airplanes and fixing things, do we have a job for you!

Aircraft mechanics are responsible for inspecting and maintaining aircraft machinery for commercial airlines, fighter jets, and private planes. This may include reading blueprints, keeping detailed service records, and ensuring all aircraft are FAA compliant.

This job requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

The median salary for an aircraft mechanic is $88,842.

Bottom Line

While not for everyone, trade jobs provide an alternative route to full-time employment and a meaningful, long-lasting career. With a trade job, you can make as much money as many of your college graduate peers (or even more) all while taking on drastically less debt.

Write to Justin Barnard at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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