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Vocational & Skilled Trade Schools

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Skilled trade schools near you offer the chance to learn how to use your hands to make a noticeable impact in the world. In 24 months or less, you can gain essential, in-demand abilities that can't be outsourced overseas. Plus, these jobs frequently offer the potential for good wages and other benefits.

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Education & Training

Getting an education for this type of blue-collar work generally takes much less time than for fields that require a bachelor's degree. That means you can find a job and start getting paid a lot more quickly. Plus, the hands-on skills training you receive is likely to be fun and satisfying.

Length of Training

For most skilled trades, you can expect your formal schooling to last anywhere from about six to 24 months.** But some trade school programs take more or less time, depending on the credential awarded, the depth of the training, and how the classes are structured.

It's also possible to find courses of study that take up to three or four years (such as some programs for construction management), but those aren't as common for this type of work.**

Most Common Length of School**
(range in months)

  • Automotive technology
    6-24
  • Electrical technology
    6-24
  • Welding
    7-24
  • HVAC technology
    8-24
  • Aviation maintenance
    14-24

Program Options

A skilled trades education is generally offered through one or more of the following formats:

Certificate or diploma program: This is the shortest option (often just a year or less).** You'll have courses that aim to teach you the basic concepts and skills. You'll have few, if any, courses that are unrelated to the vocation you're pursuing. However, it's easier to find online programs at this level.

Associate degree program: With this option, you're looking at up to two years in school. But some schools offer streamlined programs that take as little as 15 months.** Regardless, you'll have a mix of general and trade-specific classes, with an emphasis on the development of practical skills.

Apprenticeship: Many people start apprenticeships after earning a certificate, diploma, or associate degree from a trade school. Others are able to start one without prior training. As an apprentice, you'll get paid while learning both on the job and in the classroom. (However, if you've already attended school, you may not have to take all of the classes.) Most apprenticeships last about four years, but it may take less time if you have already taken some classes. You can find a registered apprenticeship through the U.S. Department of Labor.

You can also pursue a bachelor's degree in a field like construction management. However, most people who choose to enter the skilled trades go with one of the above options.



Typical Courses

Your specific classes will depend on your particular program and the trade you want to learn. Generally, however, you'll have courses that cover topics like the following examples. (This is not a complete list.)

  • Blueprint reading
  • Safety procedures
  • Relevant codes, standards, and regulations
  • Trade-specific:
    • Theory and concepts
    • Systems, components, tools, and equipment
    • Diagnostics and repair
  • Residential, commercial, and industrial applications (as relevant)
  • Math
  • Physics
  • Written communication

Most trade schools incorporate both classroom instruction and hands-on training.

Skills You Can Learn

The particular abilities you develop will depend on your specific program. But this type of training can help people learn skills related to tasks like:

  • Understanding technical drawings
  • Identifying and solving complex problems
  • Operating power tools and special equipment
  • Installing, building, inspecting, maintaining, testing, and repairing trade-specific:
    • Systems
    • Components
    • Structures
    • Equipment
    • Machinery
  • Adhering to proper safety practices
  • Following government regulations

Licensing & Certification

Some trades require state and/or local or federal licensing, certification, or registration. The laws vary from region to region. In fact, certain trades require a license in some states but not in others. You can use the National Occupational Licensing Database to learn about the requirements in your state for the trade you want to pursue.

For occupations that require a state license, you often need to accumulate a minimum amount of classroom hours and supervised on-the-job experience. You may also need to pass one or more exams. That's particularly true of trades in which you can gain the title of "master" or "journeyman."

Examples of skilled trades that often require state, local, or federal licensing include:

  • Aircraft mechanic
  • Building inspector
  • Commercial truck driver
  • Electrician
  • HVAC technician
  • Plumber or pipefitter

In every state, you'll need a special license in order to be a self-employed contractor who works independently or operates a business that employs other people.

Even if state, local, or federal licensing isn't required in your trade, you may benefit from pursuing voluntary certifications. Many third-party organizations offer the chance to become professionally certified by passing exams that test your knowledge and skills. Voluntary certifications can:

  • Signify your competence
  • Boost your appeal to potential employers
  • Give others confidence in the quality of your workmanship

Education & Training FAQs

What do I need in order to get into trade school?

You may need a high school diploma or GED. Some schools also require you to have a high school grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or higher. However, many technical and vocational colleges are not selective. Some will even enroll students who have not yet completed high school or the equivalent. Depending on the particular state, school, and program, the minimum age requirement is 16, 17, or 18.

If you don't have a high school diploma or GED, you may just need to pass a simple exam that tests your ability to benefit from a college-level education. Then, once you are enrolled, you may need to take a few remedial courses before starting your chosen program.

You shouldn't need to provide any SAT or ACT scores. And you probably won't be asked to write an essay or provide any recommendation letters.

Can you learn a trade part-time?

Yes. In fact, you can probably find a trade school near you for adults who have work or family commitments. Many schools offer the choice of day or evening classes. In some cases, you can even take courses on the weekend. Plus, online programs are available for some trades. They can help you learn the basic concepts from the comfort of home, on your chosen schedule.

How much does it cost to go to a trade school?

Based on 2017-18 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public two-year degree-granting school is $3,243 a year. At a private two-year school, the average cost is $14,894 per year. But your costs may be more or less depending on your particular school and program.

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Career Information

Learning a trade can bring you closer to a life you feel proud of. That's especially true if you enjoy building stuff, fixing problems, and doing work that is truly useful. Many of these vocations offer good pay and reliability.

Career Snapshot

Career Outlook*
6.8% growth from 2018-2028

Median Salary*

Job Openings*
Average Yearly Openings

Length of Training
Most Common Length

Work Settings

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings

For Americans with jobs related to installation, maintenance, and repair, the median yearly pay is $46,630. The top earners make more than $79,540.

For those in construction or extraction jobs, the median yearly wage is $47,430. The highest earners in that category make over $85,810.

Median Annual Wage Comparison

  • Construction managers
    $95K
  • Aircraft mechanics
    $64K
  • Electricians
    $56K
  • Plumbers
    $55K
  • Commercial divers
    $50K
  • Diesel engine specialists
    $49K
  • HVAC technicians
    $49K
  • Carpenters
    $48K
  • Auto body technicians
    $44K
  • Auto mechanics
    $42K
  • Welders
    $42K

Job Openings & Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), installation, maintenance, and repair jobs are projected to grow in number by 3.8 percent from 2018 to 2028. Job growth for construction and extraction vocations is expected to reach 9.8 percent over that period. So the average growth between those two categories is 6.8 percent.

On average, a total of more than 1.5 million job openings are expected to be available each year across both categories. That number includes:

  • Newly created openings: 93,720
  • Openings from people retiring: 437,800
  • Openings from workers moving into other occupations: 1,009,000

Key Benefits

  1. Enhanced job security: Many trades are in high demand, meaning that good job openings tend to be available on a frequent basis.
  2. A real sense of satisfaction: It feels good to see the direct results of your work.
  3. The chance to become your own boss: Some tradespeople start their own businesses as licensed contractors.

What a Skilled Tradesperson Does

Man in a blue hat and technician uniform using a screwdriver to work on air conditioning equipment outside a buildingSpecific day-to-day tasks can vary a lot from trade to trade. In general, depending on their particular industries and vocations, skilled tradespeople may do things such as:

  • Read blueprints and technical drawings
  • Measure and cut materials
  • Build, install, or erect structures
  • Identify, troubleshoot, and diagnose problems
  • Install, inspect, test, adjust, replace, or repair:
    • Systems
    • Parts
    • Structures
    • Motors
    • Wiring
    • Equipment
    • Machines
  • Operate power tools, heavy equipment, or industrial machinery
  • Use computerized diagnostic equipment
  • Set up or disassemble machines
  • Comply with local, state, and federal regulations
  • Follow standard safety practices
  • Keep written or electronic records of repair or maintenance work
  • Supervise less skilled or experienced workers

Work Settings

People in the skilled trades are employed in construction, energy, transportation, manufacturing, repair services, natural resources extraction, and other industries. Depending on the specific occupation, a tradesperson may perform work in settings like:

  • Homes
  • Businesses
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Factories
  • Repair shops
  • Service garages
  • Airfields
  • Aircraft hangars
  • Machine shops
  • Outdoor construction or utility sites
  • Underwater work sites
  • Mines
  • Oil and gas fields
  • Warehouses

Some tradespeople eventually become contractors (i.e., business owners) and either work by themselves or with people they hire, train, and supervise.

Skilled Trades Careers

You can choose from a huge variety of hands-on vocations. This list isn't comprehensive, but here are some of the most popular examples:

Aircraft mechanic: Help ensure that airplanes or helicopters stay in safe working condition by doing inspections, testing, maintenance, and repairs.

Auto body technician: Repair and refinish the frames and outer structures of cars and small trucks that have been damaged due to accidents, storms, vandalism, or other causes.

Auto mechanic: Carry out inspection, maintenance, and repair services on the engines, braking, transmission, and other critical systems of cars and light trucks.

Carpenter: Help construct, renovate, or repair homes or other large buildings by creating wooden frameworks, scaffolding, concrete forms, or other structures.

CNC machinist: Use computer numerically controlled machines to create metal or plastic parts for automobiles, aircraft, or other manufactured products that require a high level of precision.

Commercial diver: Install or perform inspections and repairs on underwater structures or equipment by using scuba gear, welding torches, drills, and other tools.

Construction manager: Oversee residential, commercial, industrial, or civil construction projects through the planning, budgeting, and execution phases.

Diesel engine specialist: Inspect, maintain, and repair buses, large trucks, and other heavy vehicles or equipment powered by diesel fuel.

Electrician: Install or repair wiring and other systems that provide electricity throughout existing or newly constructed buildings.

Heavy equipment operator: Control large construction machinery such as bulldozers, pile drivers, excavators, industrial tractors, or road graders.

Home inspector: Examine existing or newly built places of residence to ensure that they are safe and structurally sound and that they comply with all relevant building codes and regulations.

HVAC technician: Carry out installation, maintenance, or repair work on the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that provide comfortable indoor climates for homes, businesses, and other buildings.

Industrial machinery mechanic: Ensure that factory equipment and production machinery stay in good working condition by conducting tests, adjustments, and repairs.

Marine mechanic: Provide repair services on motorboats or other watercraft that have mechanical or electrical problems.

Motorcycle mechanic: Fix and troubleshoot problems with motorcycles, dirt bikes, scooters, or other powered two-wheel vehicles.

Plumber: Install or fix the pipes and fixtures that provide access to running water and natural gas throughout various kinds of buildings.

Solar photovoltaic installer: Help building owners generate electricity from the sun by putting solar panels into place, activating and testing them, and providing any necessary maintenance.

Truck driver: Transport food or manufactured goods across long distances by operating heavy tractor-trailer trucks.

Welder: Fuse metal parts or structures together using special torches and safety equipment.

Wind turbine technician: Help install, fix, monitor, and maintain the huge devices that produce electricity from the wind.

Career FAQs

What are the best-paying skilled trades?

Based on median hourly wage estimates from the BLS, the five highest-paid occupations in the trades include:

  • Construction managers: $45.80
  • Elevator and escalator installers and repairers: $40.86
  • Electrical and electronics repairers (of powerhouses, substations, and relays): $39.80
  • Refinery and petroleum pump system operators: $35.66
  • Railroad signal and track switch repairers: $35.52

What skilled trades are in the highest demand?

Employment projections for the period from 2018 to 2028 show that trades with the fastest rates of employment growth (and that often require vocational schooling and/or apprenticeship) include:

  • Solar photovoltaic installers: 63 percent
  • Wind turbine service technicians: 57 percent
  • CNC machine tool programmers: 20 percent
  • Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: 14 percent
  • HVAC technicians: 13 percent

Skilled Trades Careers
Sample Average Annual Job Openings

  • Commercial truck drivers
    238,400
  • Carpenters
    116,300
  • Electricians
    94,600
  • Auto mechanics
    74,000
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
    66,100
  • Steamfitters
    66,100
  • Welders
    48,800
  • HVAC technicians
    42,800

How do I get a job in a skilled trade?

First, choose a particular path that fits your strong interests. For example, do you like cars or airplanes? (You could become an auto or aircraft mechanic.) Next, find out what kind of licensing or certification you may need. Then, get some formal training from a trade school.

Depending on your trade and where you intend to work, you may or may not need to complete a paid apprenticeship. But your formal training should make it easier to find an employer to hire you for an entry-level role or sponsor your apprenticeship (if needed).

From there, you just need to keep learning on the job (and maybe a little in the classroom too) until you have enough experience to qualify for any required licensing or certifications.


* Salary, employment growth, and job opening numbers are based on BLS estimates for installation, maintenance, and repair occupations as well as construction and extraction occupations.

** Length of training information is based on a combination of information from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Education, and a wide sampling of relevant program lengths from about 30 individual school websites. They are a mix of public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions.