What Are The Most Lucrative Trades?


The average student loan borrower graduates
with around $37,000 in debt and a monthly payment of almost $400. Considering that the
average starting salary for a college graduate is around $50,000, that means that many recent
grads will have to fork over more than 10% of their paycheck for years to manage their
college loans. That’s quite a burden to be carrying at the start of one’s journey. It’s no wonder, then, that many young people
faced with this prospect are looking for alternate ways to prepare for their future, and one
such option is trade school, otherwise known as vocational school, or CTE. The purpose
of these programs is to train you for a very specific career, and they tend to be shorter
(and cheaper) than a four-year degree, so you can get into the workforce quickly and
start making money. If trade school is something you’re considering,
you might be wondering what kind of training will offer the best bang for your buck. Of
course, salaries can fluctuate based on time, region, and your level of experience, but
here’s a rough countdown of ten of the most lucrative trades that you could train for
in two years or less: 10. Heavy Equipment Operator
9. HVAC Technician 8. Paralegal
7. Plumber 6. Electrician 5. Geological and Petroleum Technician
4. Sonographer 3. Dental Hygienist
2. Elevator Installer/Repairer and
1. Radiation Therapist Keep in mind, these are median salaries, meaning
half the workers in these fields make more, and half make less. So while you probably
won’t make this much right out of trade school, there is potential to earn an even
higher salary someday. Because of health and safety demands, many of these careers require
licensure, or apprenticeships, or both. And while some employers might prefer a bachelor’s
degree, all of these fields should be accessible to someone with just a two-year associate’s
degree. Salary isn’t the only factor that makes
these careers attractive.The “job growth” percentage represents how much employment
is expected to increase by 2026–in other words, how much the demand for workers in
each field will rise–and you can see that most of them are well above the general employment
growth rate of 7%. This might be because these jobs are more difficult to outsource than,
say, computer programming or manufacturing. Office buildings and homes will always need
plumbing and air conditioning, and you can’t send a patient overseas for a sonogram or
a teeth cleaning. This might sound promising, but there are
some important caveats. First of all, many trade schools are for-profit, so they’re
incentivized to use aggressive recruiting strategies, including exaggerating their results.
In 2015, one of the largest such companies, Corinthian Colleges, was fined $30 million
and forced to close its 28 schools because it was using fraudulent data to promise unrealistic
employment prospects to potential students. And because these schools often target low-income
students whose loans are backed by the federal government, there’s no incentive for them
to keep tuition low and no consequences for poor results. This has contributed greatly
to the national student debt crisis, with over 40% of for-profit college students eventually
defaulting on their loans. Even if you find a reputable, affordable vocational
school, you should be aware of the trade-off. That training may allow you to make more money
right after graduation, but in the long run, a 4-year bachelor’s degree will eventually
earn a higher salary. This is partly because the modern job market tends to reward flexibility.
It’s estimated that the average American changes careers between 3 and 7 times in their
lifetime. Demographic and technological changes can reduce demand for some jobs while increasing
others, and someone who’s trained in only one very specialized skill will have more
trouble adapting than someone with a more rounded education. There are other benefits to a 4-year college
education that are harder to quantify, like leadership, communication and analytical skills.
If after 20 years of fixing pipes, Pete decides to start his own plumbing business, he’s
going to have to contend with economic theory, social demographics, employee management,
client relationships, marketing and design… He’ll be trading in his tool belt for a
whole new set of skills that a strictly mechanical education might not have prepared him for. There is a movement to make vocational training
more holistic, to include more extensive classes on things like history, social sciences and
writing, so vocational students not only prepare for a career, but understand how that career
fits into the overall economy, and how it might change in the future. Unfortunately,
many people still see trade school as nothing more than an alternative for people not “smart”
enough to attend 4-year college. Vocational teachers in high schools often complain that
their classes are treated as a place to stick “problem students.” In fact, there are many reasons someone might
opt for CTE that have nothing to do with academic capabilities. It might be simply unfeasible
to spend 4 years at an expensive university, followed by lengthy internships before one
can even start to make an entry-level salary. And a lot of people who seek vocational training
genuinely love their work. Many of the trades on this list report higher than average job
satisfaction ratings. Like any education, you should research vocational
schools before enrolling, and speak directly to graduates about their experience. And ask
yourself honestly whether you’d be happy practicing this one trade for the rest of
your life. If the answer is no, you should think about
supplementing your training with more general academics, perhaps at a local community college,
so you’ll have the flexibility to shift gears in the future. And that’s our two cents! Hey guys! PBS Digital Studios wants to hear from you. We do a survey every year that asks about what you’re in to, your favorite PBS shows, and things you’d like to see more of from PBS Digital Studios. You even get to vote on potential new shows. All of this helps us make more of the stuff YOU want to see. The survey takes about 10 minutes and you might win a sweet t-shirt. Link is in the description. Thanks! We’d love to hear your personal stories about your experiences with trade schools or for-profit colleges. Share them with us in the comments.

100 thoughts on “What Are The Most Lucrative Trades?

  1. Automotive trade schools are very aggressive marketers sending these new guys into the field full of false hopes and promise and little experience Spending upward of $45k+ then they have to buy tools on top of that usually on a entry level wage I would recommend a local college auto program and attend as many free or low cost seminars and training parts stores and vendors offer thru out the year also most good shops pay better for an ASE guy.

  2. I went to school to become an EMT and then a Paramedic. I love my job, it's fun and rewarding. Though, its pay is pretty lacking for the job you do and the dangers you face with very little retirement you will get in the end.

  3. when I was in tech school (studying industrial technology) there were two options for many of the courses, two semesters for a certification or four semesters for an associates degree, I went the degree route, managed to maintain a 4.0 and then found out about Berea college, I applied there and was able to use my excellent grades combined with being poor to get in, it's a work college so my total student debt ended up at $500

    I'm an odd person so I'm not making anywhere near what I "could" be, I loved learning about making and fixing stuff, but didn't want to work in a factory, I should have found a school for construction haha, I prefer working mostly outdoors.

  4. I went to a trade school for veterinary technician while in High School, 64 students in the state of utah could get in and I was one of them. It was only a hundred or so out of pocket for books, supplies, ect. and it took 2 years to complete so you had to be on top of your grades so you could still graduate from high school with enough credits or you wouldn't be eligible to test in for a spot.

    Saved me THOUSANDS of dollars, even for the same class at another trade school that offers it here since it was for High School students only and the state paid for it through public education. I got a job at a veterinary clinic for 3 years. My teacher warned me that only 3 students on average each year get a job, even though I wasn't the best student, I stuck with it and got a job when a new clinic opened up 6 months after graduation.
    Trade schools are great, but make sure you like it before completing it, also make sure you can realistically pay back any loans with the income you earn or interest will eat you alive. If I hadn't done it in High school I wouldn't have done it honestly, where I live veterinarians don't pay much since employers are cheap here in utah in order to keep costs down. (plus human medicine uses the same stuff we do wich jacks up the price by a ton….say 50%+ of your bill is the supplies alone, no joke… that doesn't even include overhead or employee pay….) other employees had $50,000 in student debt after a couple years and didn't earn near enough to pay it off, so they ended up switching jobs to something better, like nursing or pharmaceutical assistant. Either that or left from burn out after 3-10 years. Its a fun and rewarding yet physically demanding and emotionally demanding job. (its hard to have a good day when you have pet parents screaming at you blaming you for not seeing your dog or cat for free ect… …. animals are all good, the humans on the other hand…..)

    Either way, I LOVE technical schools, skip the BS and learn something worth while. If you can do it though High school, DO IT, it saves you lots of time, money and if you didn't like it, you can allays change and learn about what you do or don't like to do.

  5. Funny because I make more than most doctors in the HVAC trade working for myself within the first ten years with only an apprenticeship. First six months unpaid but after the first year of being in the field on your own will make up for it if you sell yourself well.

  6. Our corporate activism for my business is a free trade school. We teach people how to be casino dealers and help them get a job for free without having to pay to go to school. Casino dealers can make anywhere from $30k to $80k depending on what casino they work at. We also have a World Toke Board so you can see how much dealers make at what casinos. vegas-aces .com

  7. Sorry I have to disagree about Plumber Pete starting business requiring 'economy theory'.
    I am a dental technician and started my own business.
    During my career in working for a trade company, I have developed connections, inside knowledge and social skills which helped to set up my own company.
    Learning 'economy theory' would be helpful but there are many other aspects in trade than just trade skills.

  8. It feels like high schools loves to force the path of 4 year college down soon-to-be graduates throats, without providing any other alternative paths.

    Thank you for providing all of us valuable information and financial tools that many educational institutions and guidance counselors aren’t. You guys are the best!

  9. In Germany this apprenticeships need more time, but it cost you nothing. You get paid and don't have to pay. Okay our System is a little bit different with dual education.

  10. union vs trade school?

    I wish I knew about the union before going to trade school. I wouldn't have student loans and in the union I would be getting paid to not only work but learn as well.

    Also in trade school your book smart, not tool smart. I would have definitely learned better if I was working as an apprentice from day 1.

  11. wow! you guys are soooo awesome! thanks for highlighting imaging techs like me! i am quite grateful to have went that route. sonographers do need licensure. our tuition cost?… $7,000 for a community college program, in California!!! median income?… $100,000 plus gross annual salary!!!

  12. 0:26 "Many recent grads will have to fork over more than 10% of their paycheck for years"

    Okay, the sentence isn't technically wrong. But it doesn't match with the average figures shown on screen.
    Average payment is $400/month, which $4800/year.
    Average starting salary is $50,000/year, so 4800/50000 is only 9.6%.
    I'm not saying it's little, but it's not >10%.

    So I'm just confused as to why a channel with such attention to details, especially numbers, would imply confusing figures.

  13. In Tennessee, the TN Promise program, which is funded through the state lottery system, provides associates level education for free.

    Graduated straight out of tech school making $37k/yr with $0 in debt.

    In just 1 year I had moved to a new position at a new company making $45k/yr.

    I also have good friends who graduated with in the same program as me working at larger companies within the state capitol making $50k/yr, but they trade that extra salary for daily commute and/or higher living expenses.

  14. or better off just move to europe like netherlands or germany study there for like 5k a year and like 3k for living costs and u can become a doctor and move back to the us with like no student debt and make 100k a year

  15. Lineman, median salary 61,400 a year. You do a 4 year apprenticeship, during which you get paid. We're working the hurricane right now so we're making tons right now, but on a typical week the journeyman make $3,000 a week.

  16. I received training in massage therapy, the experience was AMAZING! They really cared about my education and I made a decent living off of it in AZ ($30/hr average). Then I went to culinary school, the worst and most expensive mistake I've ever made!!! I went $32k in debt and was only making $10/hr in Scottsdale, AZ. So young and dumb! Now I'm a senior about to get my electrical/computer engineering degree. Starting out I'll probably make between $60-$70k/year which is more than I've ever made. My brother makes $200k with his masters in EE.

    My suggestion to someone new to the market is to get a 2-year nursing (LPN) certification. That way you make $50k/year, have 4 DAYS OFF A WEEK and have time to plan out your next step in life (kids, different/actual career, travel, more education, etc).

  17. This list is not what it seems.
    Union Heavy Equipment Operators make that median a lot higher than it other wise would be.
    To join the union and actually get a job you will either have to work cheap a long time non-union and then roll the dice on what is known as C listing in.
    Most will quit the industry before ever getting in to the higher paid positions. This helps keep that median number much higher.

    The other way in is the apprenticeship. It pays well and gets you A list status when your done.
    The catch with the apprenticeships is you have to test to get in.
    Those who test the highest will get jobs. The other 90% will never get in as an apprentice. That is on the good years. On bad years almost no one gets in.

    Other issues with the industry is the growth rate is based on right now. The construction industry always takes massive hits and shakes out the majority of it's workers.
    You also will be broke during the times when things like housing are cheap and have all that high income when things are the most expensive. Always betting against yourself.
    Don't think by being good at your job in such an industry will save you either. I've watched companies of 200 men go down to 2 men during bad times when no other places are hiring and the two that make it are politically connected. (It's all about who you know)

    The devil is in the details and I noticed the details were left out of this video.

  18. I was in trade school durning 11 grade of hightschool for computer repair and now I’m in drones there in 12 grade and to us it’s all free but to non high school or 13 year student have to pay but can’t find a job with it tho

  19. I, personally, never utilized trade schools, but know plenty of people who did.

    My old high school has a vocational school. A friend used the vo-tech to become an auto mechanic.

    On the flipside, my cousin got ripped off by a for-profit school training to be a phlebotomist.

  20. 🤗😍😍 Thank-you for this great video! I love that you are helping to change mindsets on the 'kinds' of people who go to a trade school over a university. I love that you show actual figures of what it will cost in money, years spent as well as future work opportunities. It's so perfect, I will definitely share this with my members. I'm always trying to get them to understand it's more about teaching a solid financial education that matters over a specific industry. Do what you love and know how to make it lucrative, especially how to take your natural passions or talents and turn them into recurring passive income, rather than solely relying on a 'degree' that you may require to upgrade later on. Your videos are always awesome, informative and enjoyable! Great job!!! 😀

  21. America should replicate Canadian trade school system. It’s sooo much better and trains young people in the trade so much better

  22. I got a Bachelor’s Degree, graduates Magna Cum Laude from a good school. Turns out my field was bogus. I’m making more, and happier, working in the trades now.

  23. We have been sold a fantasy by the educational system for years especially with No Child Left Behind which offered one path for every child’s economic future – college. Then came the obscene hike in college tuition with no economic justification for those fees. The reality is it takes a diverse village to provide a viable civilization.

  24. And here is the generic European that's sooo glad that in his country vocational training is not only free but students earn money right away, while complaining how cold and over-capitalist the US education system is 😉

  25. I’m glad you guys did a trade episode It is a great opportunity for people to go out and experience immediate economic success With little schooling and time but you have to understand is it right for you I think sometimes we over romanticize the trades yes they are extremely vital to the bedrock of society but they’re not for everybody if you’re not a person who wants to do the same job your whole career or you’re not somebody durable enough to work long strenuous hours laboring It’s not gonna be worth it for you You guys always do a great job keep up the work

  26. This is such great information! If a traditional university is the only option for you, as I believed it was for me at the time, then I HIGHLY recommend you at least start at a community college and then transfer over the university of your choice. I went straight to it, and looking back I believe that it would of have been a better route with the same result.

  27. Great episode! Would you do one about the military. I’ve been in for 15years now and transitioned from enlisted to officer. There are a lot of avenues for people to learn, earn, money and travel that people don’t know about from military service

  28. I’m going for radiology and none of my friends thought it was good but then they saw this video and they apologized HA

  29. To be perfectly honest, most 4 year college programs are not as academically nourishing as they claim, and the education they provide can be anything but holistic. In my experience, most kids coming out of college take 1-2 liberal arts classes, some writing, diversity, maybe language and science, and the rest is focused on their major and minor. Some programs are more flexible than others. General business education is a great example of a program that usually allows its students to take a wide variety of positions, and have great flexibility, but other programs like language, literature, or even certain engineering programs, have the same issue as 2-year vocational schools: lack of flexibility. Consider that most 4-year programs do not really prepare you for a wide range of careers.

    Also, more than 95% of all knowledge mankind has ever accumulated is available online, for free or very cheap. If you truly want to learn, do it that way. You won’t have a degree, but in many cases, you can prove to an employer you have the knowledge and skill set, and get the job anyways. Employers don’t really care about your degree – they care about what you can do for them. A degree is just a signaling device.

  30. Also don't forget about CDLs. Most companies will pay for your training, you can find a job practically anywhere in the country and in some places like NY you can make over 100k if you have a class A. Just to drive around and unload something. Don't have to spend 2-4 years of your life in class and your training is cheap or free.

  31. Well first off I'd like to say I'm an Electrician and I make more than what they put there. I have an associate's degree and it did not make me more money. And I did take two years of schooling to get my journeyman's and now I have a super Kush job and your timeline about electricians or anyone being stuck in their trade is nonsense. Because we don't have to change careers like everyone else to keep up with the economy. You always need electricity you always need plumbing and you always need HVAC. Lastly I talked to several bean-counters who couldn't tell their ass from their elbow but they have a super high degree doesn't mean they always make more money. And vocational schools do not need to involve bullshit like history and all that other nonsense. We're in here to learn our trade to go out there and make money. Save all that BS fluff school work for the underwater basket degrees .

  32. The problem with this country is we keep telling people they need to go to college if they're going to be somebody. Then these sane Mary Sue's cry that they're in debt and want someone to pay for their college. Go work with your hands like our ancestors used to.

  33. Great video ! This time you stayed on topic and the side facts were not twisted, but short and clear. Keep up the good work and thank you !

  34. I see what you did there.. making the "Marketing and Design" comic sans. These videos are such high quality, so much detail is put into them <3

  35. I know that machinists are at a median of around 42k but I love my job and I'm making close to 80k with OT as a manual machinist so it's definitely something to consider.

  36. The biggest issue I see personally with people learning trades, or going to trade schools, is that some people simply aren't cut out for the trade that they are trying to get into. For example, I'm a heavy duty diesel mechanic, I did not go to school for it, I got a job sweeping floors in a dump truck garage, started learning everything I could from service manuals, and information available online. I worked my way up very quickly, and after only a few years, I'm one of the highest paid mechanics in the shop. I've worked with guys who went to college for four years for diesel mechanics, and some of them have trouble understanding even basic mechanical concepts, and don't seem to retain much of what they should have learned. My point here is, being successful in a trade takes a lot more than just having a formal education in that skill. If you are not a mechanically inclined person, going to college is not going to change that and you should probably consider a career in something that you will be good at. I'm not trying to discourage anybody from doing what they want to do, but merely trying to point out reality. I've seen too many people waste their money on a trade school just because the career is "lucrative", and end up quitting and changing careers after several years of getting nowhere and hating their job.

  37. I’m in a union apprenticeship as an electrician. Earning while I work. Books are cover in my local which is cool. Better to look into union apprenticeship than trade school . If u can’t get a union apprenticeship community college in votech will prob be the next best option

  38. Trade Schools should definitely not become more wholistic! The reason that my people I know went there was because colleges make you take “core” classes. Which is another way to get money out of students.
    I went college for 5 years to get my Civil Engineering degree. The only classes that I truly needed were taught during my last 2 semesters. I basically spent 38k on nonsense and 12k on my degree.

  39. Tell all this to my b.s. in criminal justice degree. I'm a security guard at 17 an hour. Graduated in 14. I'm so stuck if I don't want to be a cop. Jails don't pay.

  40. I'm an industrial Electrician and I've been looking for an Electrician job for 3 years because ever since 2014 the price of oil crashed Industrial electrician are not in demand. I gave up and switched my career and now I make more money and I can do this new career well into my 60's if I want to.
    I know a lot of guys that when they got older or injured they could not complete with a cheap apprentice or a young journeyman. An Electrician needs to get his work done fast to complete and most jobs site only needs a few experienced jurymen and the rest is just moderately skilled labor. An electrician is a career path that only gets harder with age for most people unless you are one of the few that make it to the top of the company.

  41. while i agree.. but here is what i learned so far in life.

    experience is so much valuable than a bachelor degree, meaning if i went to trade job school and worked for 10 years i would have so much real life experience.
    and then you can start your own business and learn as you go, but as for us will remain in companies that we work for and our bosses buy new cares every quarter.

    yes im venting 🙂

  42. It's not a trade, but I have a TEFL certification (teach English as a foreign language) that I'm using after I realized that I can't afford the internships I need to go through in order to get a job related to my Master's degree. I'm about to start a teaching job in Thailand.
    Most teaching jobs abroad do require a 4 year degree though (what it's in doesn't matter in most places) and a TEFL certification of some sort

  43. If I could go back and do it over again I would trade my MBA for a welder's certification or electrician's license in a heartbeat.

  44. Trade school are for wasted kids …& Trust me every trade you told are some of the most low paying jobs in India . An electrician earn $200 per month in a job it can go upto 500$ if a successful service provider you become . Similar for plumber & a radiologist get somewhere between 300-500 USD per month . & College education is cheaper here comparing west

  45. I went to a trade school and made 6 figures in less than 5 years, the difficult part is navigating the industry fresh out of school

    Any one else notice Julia's baby weight is just melting off of her!!

  46. You rightfully point out how for profit schools increase tuition and don't worry about results due to federal student loans, but it needs to be pointed out that public universities are guilty of this as well.

  47. I went through a IT and business management trade school for disadvantaged youths. Its called Year Up and there is no tuition cost, you just have to qualify and secure a spot. It worked out really well for me. I'm currently working as a sys admin in the Bay Area.

  48. Honest to goodness, I think my masters degree is only valuable because employers think it’s valuable. When it come to teaching and the ability to convey knowledge, college professors, with a few rare outstanding exceptions, are complete garbage…

  49. 3:16 well thank god public universities have an incentive to lower tuition because they don't target low income students with government backed loans. Oh wait

  50. Slight problem, I'm in Precision Metal Cutting, so 2.5 k hours times low end of $20/hour (not including shift bonus) should at lead be #7.5.

  51. Job Corps is an option. I went there 10 years ago. Funded by the government and no student loans. Plus they pay you to learn a trade.

  52. My brother is a heavy equipment operator with a salary of $1800 a week. He quit school in the 9th grade and learned his trade in prison. Now he is married with 2 teenage daughters. He really turned his life around.

  53. I was one of the millions of high schoolers preached to about the necessity of college. Began college in 2007 studying sociology with the goal of becoming a cop. With the recession, most police forces went through long hiring furloughs. I decided I had to figure out another path. Went to trade school for refinery operations and got hired before graduating (so technically I still just have a high school diploma). This decision changed my life. Started making great money, became a volunteer firefighter and now fire instructor at the refinery. Best thing I could have done.

  54. Be a Commercial Pilot and enter your career field with the same debt as a private university graduate but with the initial pay of a garbage man…. 🤗

  55. I was fortunate enough to go to a trade high school. Even though I didn’t stay in my field, I was able to use the hands on skill and problem solving to move on. I have no debt and make really good money. I never imagined I would doing what I am today, but I’m grateful that I didn’t need 4 years of college to get there.

  56. This was the most accurate look at trade schools I've ever seen. You covered a lot of points most miss.

    I went to trade school (I'm Canadian) and I'm glad you suggested supplementing trades education with more education (typically business education will be most benwficial)

    We have a bit different of an education structure, but I essentially did exactly that, and now have my own business making six figures where I am highly in demand. There is incredible growth possibilities for me like there would be any business owner.

    Many post secondary institutions in Canada are now offering extension training to anyone with (what you would call) a two year degree. Hopefully, this catches on in The States.

  57. I both have a Bachelors and a trade-school diploma. I make way more with my trade-shool diploma because it is in demand and the competition is easy. Not all bachelors are the same and that goes for technical trades also. In the end, what matters is the market and if there is demand for your target occupation. Regulated occupations are harder to get but once you get in, you are set for life. Also if the job is harder either mentally or physically expect that there is less competition involve.

  58. I went to a trade school through the military.
    I completed the BMET program.
    I went from 24k a year salary to 114k a year in a year literally.

  59. For profit Education.. gasp.. how dare business charge for their services. Aggressive recruitment campaigns.. Over promising.. Thats every state university and private for profit ivy league.

  60. I was an IBEW apprentice for 5 months. My body suffered. It's called a "trade" because you sacrifice health for wealth.

    I worked with journeymen who complained about feeling geriatric in their early 20s and 30s — back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, wrist pain and other chronic ailments that require painkillers, therapies and surgeries.

    It's easy to focus on the money. I know I did: $22.69/hr. to start ($45.38/hr. on overtime) with generous benefits and pensions. But I was also commuting 1-2hrs. each day while working full-time and completing online school; I paid union dues and tuition fees, buying several tanks of gas weekly as well as expensive job-specific gear that's useless to me now.

    My trade was Power Line Tree Trimming, and I apprenticed through NWLineJATC. Once I dreamed of becoming a lineman, but I've come to realize that I value my life and time over money and prestige.

    So, if you're still reading — thank you, and please consider the drawbacks of the trades, which really ought to be emphasized along with their benefits.

  61. Went to community college for a year and a half then went to trade school for 10 months. Now, 12 years later, I have my own electrical company. I had always been interested in the trades as a kid and later in life came to find out I’m dyslexic. The electrical trade has given me an opportunity to thrive and I make a comfortable $70k/yr.

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