For some reason, many people have a big misconception about skilled trade jobs: they (mistakenly) believe they don’t pay well. In reality, though, it’s common for workers in skilled trades to earn around the U.S. national average salary–about $53,500 a year–and many earn much, much more than that.
To prove it, we’ve gathered the data on a dozen of the highest-paying skilled trade jobs, many of which allow you to get started without a four-year degree. If you’re looking to earn a great living doing engaging work that you love, consider one of these trade professions.
HVAC stands for heating, venting, and air conditioning, and those are exactly the systems you’ll install, repair, and maintain as an HVAC technician. After learning the ropes, many HVAC techs choose to specialize in one area, focusing on new construction, for example, or refrigeration.
Because HVAC technicians are often called on in the case of an unexpected system failure, working odd hours like nights and weekends is common.
Education: On-the-job training or an HVAC program, which may include coursework in equipment design, temperature control, blueprint reading, and mechanical systems. Apprenticeships are also available.
Average Salary: $48,730
Highest Pay Range: $77,920+
Plumbers install, repair, and maintain plumbing systems in homes, offices, and commercial buildings. They install fixtures that involve plumbing, like sinks and toilets, and can repair appliances that use hoses like dishwashers and washing machines. They clear clogged drains, replace broken pipes, and help with the maintenance of underground septic systems.
Pipefitters and steamfitters are often grouped with plumbers, but their work is a little different. Pipefitters typically work in an industrial setting on pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. Steamfitters work on pipes that carry liquids or gases at high pressures. Welding is often a major component of those jobs.
Education: High school diploma or equivalent, plus training through a program like an apprenticeship.
Average Salary: $55,160
Highest Pay Range: $97,170+
Also called general contractors or project managers, construction managers oversee building projects and supervise the various trade workers involved in them. They prepare cost estimates, create plans, set deadlines, monitor budgets, and timelines, and make sure every aspect of the project is moving along according to plan.
Construction managers work closely with other professionals in the building industry like architects, engineers, electricians, and plumbers. Pretty much anyone who has a hand in building a structure will have some level of interaction with the construction manager.
Education: A solid history of construction experience and some courses in subjects like construction management, business, or accounting. Many employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in a field like building construction or civil engineering.
Average Salary: $95,260
Highest Pay Range: $164,790
Rotary drill operators run the various drills needed to remove gas, oil, and core samples from their location underground. They carefully monitor equipment and site conditions like pressure to maintain the appropriate drill speed, so knowledge of the proper drilling procedures and safety protocols is paramount.
In addition to conducting drilling, drill operators set up and maintain the machinery, including drill bits, pulley, cables, and blocks. They keep accurate records regarding the footage, amount of time, location, and nature of the area drilled
Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Some coursework in welding, mechanics, and heavy equipment operation may be helpful.
Average Salary: $57,070
Highest Pay Range: $83,600+
Boilers are large metal vats designed to hold hot gas and liquid. They use high pressure to create heat or generate power. A boilermaker fabricates these containers out of steel, iron, or copper and maintains the systems that go along with them. Boilermakers usually work on vessels that contain water, but they might also contain other liquids, gases, chemicals, and even beer.
Boilermakers also have inspection skills, which they use to identify problems in systems and conduct the necessary repairs before they lead to bigger issues.
Education: Boilermakers typically learn their skills through a formal apprenticeship program. Many have welding experience or get their welding certification before becoming a boilermaker.
Average Salary: $63,100
Highest Pay Range: $94,440+
Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical components, wiring, and controls. They install the wiring that allows power to flow into new buildings and repair and replace old systems so they’re safe for continued use.
Electricians are well-versed in local and national electrical codes and inspect buildings to make sure their electrical systems comply with them. In the event of a power outage or system failure, electricians step in to troubleshoot and repair the problem.
Education: Becoming an electrician is one of the more involved of the trade jobs we’re covering here. Most apprenticeship programs last four years and culminate with the receipt of your electrician’s license. You do get paid during an apprenticeship, typically increasing your hourly wage with each additional year in the program.
Average Salary: $56,180
Highest Pay Range: $96,580+
A home inspector visually inspects homes and buildings to spot existing and potential problems. They make sure structures and any improvements to them are done in compliance with the relevant building codes and flag any that need remediation.
A home inspector prepares a written report for their client that details their findings and makes recommendations for follow-up repairs or further inspection.
Education: Requirements vary by state, with coursework ranging from 60 to several hundred hours of training. You’ll need to pass an exam to obtain your home inspector’s license at either the state level, national level, or both depending on where you live.
Average Salary: $60,710
Highest Pay Range: $98,820+
Elevator mechanics are expected to be in high demand over the next decade thanks to a skills shortage. Workers in this profession install, repair, and maintain elevators and other people-moving transportation mechanisms, like escalators and moving walkways.
They may work in tightly confined spaces like elevator shafts and machinery rooms and are often on call around the clock.
Education: High school diploma plus on the job training or apprenticeship. Most states also require licensing.
Average Salary: $84,990
Highest Pay Range: $124,150+
A lineman also called a lineworker or line electrician is a type of electrician who works primarily outdoors on the high-voltage lines that transmit power and telecommunications infrastructure to neighborhoods and commercial developments.
They often work high above the ground, climbing poles or using cherry-pickers to reach elevated power lines.
Education: Most linemen learn their skills through an apprenticeship or a two-year program at a vocational school. An associate’s degree in electronics or electrical contracting may be beneficial but is not a requirement.
Average Salary: $72,520
Highest Pay Range: $103,500+
Geological and petroleum technicians play an important role in oil and gas exploration, helping identify the best locations for oil and gas drilling.
They support scientists and engineers in extracting fuel from underground sources, helping to determine the quickest, most efficient, and most cost-effective ways of getting oil and gas out of the ground and turning it into a consumer-ready product.
A petroleum technician sets up and operates equipment, collects and tests samples, keeps records, and creates a variety of reports. They may work in the field or a lab setting.
Education: You’ll usually need an associate’s degree in a science-related field, like petroleum or geothermal technology, plus some on-the-job training. Some jobs may prefer a bachelor’s degree.
Average Salary: $51,130
Highest Pay Range: $104,660+
Wind turbine technicians were the fastest-growing job of 2020, with 61% projected job growth by 2029. They work outdoors, often at great heights, installing, repairing, and maintaining the giant turbines that generate wind power.
Turbines are monitored 24 hours a day, and when a problem is detected, a wind tech travels to the work site immediately to make the required repairs. They also conduct routine maintenance several times a year to keep the turbines and their various components in proper working order.
Education: Most wind turbine technicians complete coursework in subjects like wind energy technology, electrical maintenance, hydraulics, mechanical systems, and computerized PLC systems. Some vocational schools offer programs dedicated specifically to wind turbine technology.
Average Salary: $52,910
Highest Pay Range: $80,150
Aircraft mechanics have the important job of keeping airplanes safe and ready to fly. They perform routine maintenance on mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic systems, troubleshoot problems, and perform necessary repairs using a variety of tools.
They read complex plans and blueprints, run diagnostic tests, and use maintenance and repair logs to document their work.
Aircraft mechanics must have a thorough knowledge of aviation safety rules and regulations and ensure the aircraft they work on comply with them.
Education: Aircraft mechanics usually learn their skills at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified technical school. Such programs typically range from 18 months to two years. Some jobs require an engineering degree.
Average Salary: $64,090
Highest Pay Range: $101,070
These are some of your best options for a well-paying career in the skilled trades, but we’ve only scratched the surface–there are virtually hundreds of options out there.
Plus, you’ll find that many trade skills are transferable; if you get your start in one job, it’s often easy to transition your skills into another, more advanced role once you have a little more experience or training.
Working in the skilled trades will set you up for an engaging career that pays well, comes with job security, and offers the satisfaction of doing a job that impacts society for the better.
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