Top 10 Highest Paying Trade Jobs
Before finishing high school, you need to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. That decision is the type of career you want and how you are going to get there.
Many people will advise you to go to college and attaining a bachelor's degree.
But college is not for everybody. With the changing nature of the work landscape, college is not the only lucrative option.
There is a belief that trade jobs are poorly paid; however, a government census published in 2018 found that the median income for those working in trade jobs is $61,937 higher than the national median income.
For those who excel at their trade, there is also the potential for a six-figure salary and the opportunity to be your own boss.
What Is a Trade Job?
Trade jobs fall into four main categories:
Agriculture – Farmer, gardener, horticultural farmer, etc.
Metal and electrical – Welder, aircraft engineer, vehicle technician, boat builder and electrical engineer, etc.
Construction – Bricklayer, plumber, carpenter and gas engineer, etc.
Textile and other industries – Tailor, chef, baker, fishmonger and nurse , etc.
These jobs are usually physical and involve using your hands and strength in one way or another, either by lifting and building or with hand tools.
Entry into most of these trades does not require higher education. This is often where the negative perception of trade workers comes from.
However, these roles require various skill sets, and the learning process can take just as long, if not longer than a bachelor's degree.
Most commonly, trade jobs require a four or five-year apprenticeship before you are fully licensed.
Others may follow a dedicated training program or ask you to attend vocational school or a local community college.
Everyone is different, and some people may prefer a more hands-on job rather than working at a desk. While everyone has their opinion, you need to choose a career that suits you.
What Is the Advantage of a Trade Job?
For those considering a trade job, there are several advantages:
Gaining Practical Skills
The skills you learn in a trade job can help you in your own life, such as understanding how buildings/plumbing systems/electrics work and how to fix them.
No College Debt
The perception is that going to college will earn you a higher-paying job so you can pay off the tuition debt.
But starting your career debt-free can help you in the long run, especially if you maximize your potential and all your opportunities.
Apprenticeships and training programs are paid, so you earn money for learning rather than paying to learn.
This means you earn a salary straight out of high school.
Those who go to college will have to wait three or four more years before they can start earning and saving.
Those who excel in their field have the potential to create their own businesses and earn six-figure salaries .
But to do this, you need to be one of the best at your trade and have an excellent reputation.
Once you earn your trade license, you can:
- Continue as a sole-trader
- Build your own business with employees from the same or different trades
- Continue your education and explore different roles and industries
To help you decide if a trade job is for you, here is a selection of the top 10 highest paying trade jobs.
Top 10 Highest Paying Trade Jobs
1. Construction or Site Manager
Average salary: $95,260
Expected job growth rate: +8%
A construction or site manager oversees building projects and supervises other tradespeople. They are responsible for creating plans, budgets and team management.
Entry into this role requires some college-level courses, such as accounting and construction management. However, a majority of the learning is done on-the-job with a senior construction manager.
Once your training is complete, this role comes with an excellent salary. Your workdays are varied as you spend time in an office and on-site, working on different projects.
You will also work with many different people, allowing you to build up your list of contacts.
Depending on your goals , this role could lead to you creating your own construction company.
2. Elevator Mechanic
Average salary: $84,990
Expected job growth rate: +7%
This is a very specialized role as you only work with elevators. However, as most buildings use elevators, there is no shortage of work.
An elevator mechanic needs a high school diploma before starting a four-year apprenticeship. During your training, you learn:
- Electrical and digital theory
- Elevator and escalator parts
- Applied physics
Some states require elevator mechanics to have a license.
- The National Association of Elevator Safety Authorities International licenses you as a certified Quality Elevator Inspector (QEI)
- The National Association of Elevator Contractors provides licenses as Certified Elevator Technicians (CET) or Certified Accessibility and Private Residence Lift Technicians (CAT)
This role requires a lot of specialized learning, and it is a role that you will have to continue actively learning in.
Technological developments happen daily, and the technology used five years ago is no longer relevant today.
Elevator mechanics now need to understand motion sensors and voice-activated systems.
To succeed in this role, you need to be ok with heights, working in confined spaces, and physically demanding work.
3. Landscape Designer
Average salary: $69,360
Expected job growth rate: –2%
A landscape gardener is responsible for designing, budgeting and overseeing landscaping sites such as parks, public gardens and private properties.
Research shows that entry into this role requires a degree in landscape architecture and a license from the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Board .
However, a majority of the course involves real-life projects and internships.
This could be an ideal role for those who love working outside, nature and pushing the limits of creativity.
To succeed in this position, you need a lot of creativity, analytical, problem-solving and communication skills.
4. Home Inspector
Average salary: $60,710
Expected job growth rate: +3%
A home inspector:
- Monitors construction sites to ensure all the standards are met
- Surveys equipment to ensure it is up to standard
- Issues violation orders if necessary
Some employers prefer those with bachelor's degrees. However, many are happy with a community college certificate in building inspection technology or a high school diploma as there is a lot of on-the-job training .
Each new inspector works with an experienced home inspector, who teaches:
- Inspecting techniques
- State codes, ordinances and regulations
- Contract specifications
Each inspector needs to be licensed before completing inspections by themselves. Every state has its own licensing rules and requirements, but the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors offers a good guide for succeeding.
As building techniques are constantly evolving and regulations keep changing, a home inspector needs to keep learning.
Home inspectors may spend time in an office and visiting various sites. They will meet and work with different people.
Role progression may lead to becoming a building official, a plan examiner or running your own inspection agency.
Average salary: $56,180
Expected job growth rate: +8%
An electrician can choose to work on private or commercial properties. Their role includes:
Designing and installing lighting, communications, security and safety systems
Maintaining, repairing and updating electrical systems
The four or five-year apprenticeship includes practical and technical instruction, including:
- Electrical theory
- Blueprint reading
- Electric codes and regulations
- Occupational Safety and first-aid
- Fire alarm systems
Upon completion, each electrician needs a license. The requirements vary between states, but guidelines can be found on the National Electrical Contractors Association website .
The Home Builders Trade offers pre-apprentice roles for eight different trades, including electricians, so those still in high school can get a head start.
This is another role that will have to adapt to new technologies. The most successful and profitable technicians will be those who can stay ahead or help develop new trends.
This trade is one where you will need to keep learning, and that will vary from project to project.
As you become more experienced, you can focus on specialties such as security systems or start your own company.
Average salary: $55,160
Expected job growth rate: +4%
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for a plumber is $55,160. However, the top plumbers earn on average $97,170, and in some states, the average is closer to $86,000.
The typical role for a plumber is house visits to fix any toilet or drainage blockages. But the more experienced plumbers can consult on construction sites, advising on the best place for sewage systems, kitchens, bathrooms and restrooms.
Apprenticeships last between four and five years and need at least 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training each year.
The program consists of practical on-site training and technical instructions teaching:
- Local plumbing codes and regulations
- Occupational safety
- Applied physics
After four or five years, you can apply for a journey-level license and eventually a master-status license.
There is much more learning and knowledge required for this role than people think.
Once you have your master’s license, you can choose to move to commercial sites or set up your own plumbing company.
Average salary: $51,530
Expected job growth rate: +6%
While the average salary for a chef is $51,530, there is a potential to make a lot more.
The role of a chef is to cook food. They also create their own recipes and build menus for the restaurants they work in.
But thanks to social media, chefs have more income opportunities. They can use Instagram and YouTube by:
- Creating tutorials
- Sharing their own recipes
- Taking photos of your creations
The income potential then becomes six figures as you incorporate advertising, sponsored posts and brand partnerships.
There are two routes to becoming a chef:
- First, start at a low position in a kitchen and work your way up through a mentorship
- Second, attend culinary school or community college, followed by a two-year apprenticeship
Although accreditation is not always necessary, the American Culinary Federation Accreditation can lead to higher-paying opportunities.
Average salary: $48,330
Expected job growth rate: 0% no growth change
A carpenter creates and installs structures, frameworks and fixtures. They are answerable to the client and often brief other tradespeople before a project starts.
Community college courses in carpentry are available, but apprenticeships are the most common route to becoming a carpenter.
The apprenticeships are often sponsored by unions and differ between states. However, all apprentices must complete a 10 hour OSHA safety course before starting.
During the four-year apprenticeship, you will learn:
- Building code regulations
- Blueprint reading
- First-aid and safety
- Scaffold building
Though predicted job growth has not changed, carpentry is a steady job that will always be in demand.
Advancement can lead to self-employment, starting your own business, or changing fields to something like remodeling.
This role is very physical and will require you to keep up with technological developments that influence the construction industry.
The most successful carpenters are those who can stay ahead of trends.
9. Licensed Practical Nurse
Average salary: $47,480
Expected job growth rate: +9%
A licensed practical nurse assists registered nurses and doctors in hospitals or care facilities.
They are permitted to offer medical advice and assess a patient's vital signs. An LPN's main role is to provide additional care to patients, such as bathing, changing bandages and answering any patient queries.
Before working in a hospital or care facility, an LPN needs to complete a one-year state-approved nursing program.
The on the job learning program varies in length depending on what the LPN wants to accomplish. Progression in the role leads to supervisor positions and eventually a registered nurse.
For this role, you need to be caring and empathetic, as well as have an understanding of human biology. You will need to be prepared to work long hours and in high-stress environments.
However, this can be a gratifying job that will always be in demand. The role will provide you with a life-saving skill set as well as a host of other transferable skills and future opportunities.
Average salary: $42,100
Expected job growth rate: +2%
A roofer is responsible for all elements of creating, installing, maintaining and fixing a roof, including insulation.
To become a roofer, you do not need any previous experience or knowledge; just a completed 10-hour OSHA safety certificate.
Everything is taught through on the job training.
While it takes only a few months for you to get to the stage of measuring and fitting, it can take several years before you are experienced in all roof types.
Some systems, such as solar panels, are rare, so you have fewer opportunities to learn and perfect.
There are no official licenses for roofers, but accreditation with unions such as the National Roofing Contractors Association can lead to higher pay.
For roofers, job progression includes:
- Starting your own company or becoming a sole-trader
- Working through managerial roles at existing roofing companies
- Getting involved with your local union and becoming a business manager or apprenticeship trainer
For those not wanting to take the academic route, trade jobs can provide the same quality of life as degree-dependent jobs.
The benefits include:
- More active lifestyle: office jobs are known to have health implications, but tradespeople are often active and can work outside
- A greater opportunity for you to be your own boss
- You are not starting your professional life in debt
Of course, learning and training is not always easy. However, once you are qualified, you have many advancement routes that you can take advantage of.
Before deciding on a career, make a list of your goals and create a plan so you can see which route suits you best.