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15 Highest-Paying Trade Jobs With Low Barriers to Entry

15 Highest-Paying Trade Jobs With Low Barriers to Entry

Trade jobs are some of the highest-paying jobs out there. Don't underestimate them.

February 27, 2024

Daniella Flores

You don’t have to work in a corporate office to increase your salary. Trade jobs are great career options that don’t require a 4-year degree, are in high demand, and many have the potential to earn six figures as your seniority grows. 

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However, breaking into the highest-paying trade jobs may require some schooling or work experience. Several trades have low barriers of entry where you can even get paid to learn with an apprenticeship or other on-the-job training options. Other education requirements may include trade schools, associates degrees, certifications, or licenses. 

But what actually qualifies as a trade job?

Key points:

  • There are trade jobs that pay over $60,000 with low barriers of entry.
  • Some of the highest-paying trades are sonographers, IT system administrators, and occupational therapy assistants. 
  • Well-paid trades with lower barriers of entry include plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
  • Several trade workers are protected by unions which provide higher pay with good benefits. 
  • Our Salary Database has access to more high-paying trade job titles.

 

What are trade jobs?

Trade jobs are careers that require specialized training, involve working with one's hands, and typically focus on a specific skill or craft. They exist in various industries, such as construction, manufacturing, transportation, and maintenance. There are also lesser-known careers that qualify as trade jobs, such as medical trades, cosmetic trades, and technical trades. 

Several trade jobs are also union jobs. Union jobs are positions in which workers are represented by a labor union, which is an organized group that negotiates wages, pay raises, benefits, and working conditions on behalf of its members. Because of this, they tend to be some of the highest-paying jobs.

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According to Union Plus, Union workers make 30% more than non-union workers and 92% of union workers have job-related health coverage versus 68% of non-union workers. Many also have guaranteed pensions, which is extremely rare in today’s job market.

15 Highest-Paying Trade Jobs With Low Barriers of Entry 

Use this list of 15 top-paying trade jobs and requirements to start thinking about your next career steps. 

This list was put together using salary information from Glassdoor where you can also view open roles for each position. Job growth information was pulled from the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

All jobs below are listed from highest to lowest salaries. Keep in mind that the numbers below may change depending on your location. You may notice that the higher paying trades may include more education requirements such as completing accredited programs and obtaining licenses, but keep in mind that those may change depending on the company and state.

Our Salary Database is another great resource for salary reporting. Thankfully, pay transparency laws and the salary transparency movement has allowed for easy access to that salary information.

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Trade Job Salaries | Salary Transparent Street Compilation

1. Sonographer

A sonographer is a medical trade worker who uses ultrasound technology to create images of internal organs, tissues, and blood flow patterns within the body. These images, called sonograms or ultrasounds, help physicians diagnose and monitor medical conditions in patients.

Sonographers must have the ability to understand how to use ultrasound technology and equipment, as well as good communication skills to convey information clearly when discussing images with the healthcare team.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and depending on the company and state, completion of an accredited sonography program or sonography certification. License requirements vary by state.

Work experience required: Some companies may require work experience but clinical hours from certificate programs normally fit requirements.

Median annual salary: $98,732

Total potential pay: $77,000 - $128,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 10%

2. IT System Administrator

System administrators are technical trade workers that are responsible for managing and maintaining a company’s computer systems, networks, and infrastructure.

This trade requires a high level of technical proficiency and some programming skills to be able to work with different types of hardware and software. They should also possess problem-solving skills for troubleshooting and reverse engineering problems. These can be learned through specific programs, online courses, or on the job.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent. Some companies will hire without a degree if there is some work experience such as working in a help desk IT support role or past freelance experience. Other companies may require an associate's degree, completion of a technical trade program, or specific certifications for specialists.

Work experience required: It depends on the company and role. Typically no prior experience is required when education qualifications are fulfilled.

Median annual salary: $90,396

Total potential pay: $71,000 - $116,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 2%

3. Occupational Therapy Assistant

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Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) work under the supervision of licensed occupational therapists to provide rehabilitative services to individuals with physical, developmental, or emotional challenges. Their role is to help patients live independently through developing goals and improving their ability to perform daily tasks and activities.

Due to their close interaction with people, they must possess genuine empathy and compassion along with strong communication and interpersonal skills.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant program, certification, and license. Follow the steps lined out by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Work experience required: There are some fieldwork requirements, but those are already required when applying for a license.

Median annual salary: $86,455

Total potential pay: $67,000 - $111,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 23%

4. Radiology Technician

Working as a radiology technician is another medical trade in which they perform diagnostic imaging procedures to help physicians treat their patients. They operate imaging equipment such as X-ray machines, computed tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, and fluoroscopy equipment to produce images of the inside of the body.

They must possess radiation safety knowledge and math skills to calculate the right amount of radiation emitted in imaging procedures. Technical skills are also required to operate imaging equipment and technology.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and completion of an accredited program. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accredits programs in radiography. It depends on the state if licenses or certifications are required. 

Work experience required: None

Median annual salary: $85,861

Total potential pay: $70,000 - $105,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 6%

5. Web/Graphic Designer

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How much does a self-employed #GraphicDesigner make in Chicago, IL📍? #salarytransparentstreet

Web and graphic designers are creative professionals responsible for designing visual elements for websites, digital media, print materials, and other marketing collateral. They usually work within design teams that work with different departments such as product, marketing, and technical teams for projects. 

Web and graphic designers must have both creative and technical skills to be able to use different software for crafting designs. As they become more experienced in their career, they can move on to other higher-paying roles like UX design.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent. Some companies may require completion of a technical trade school program. But you may not need specific education credentials if you can demonstrate prior related work experience or project work.

Work experience required: None but some companies may require internships or apprenticeships (which you can learn on the job). Portfolios of past work based on personal projects, school projects, or freelance projects can also be shown in the place of work experience.

Median annual salary: $82,695

Total potential pay: $65,000 - $105,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 16%

6. Union Plumber Pipefitter

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Union plumbers and pipefitters install and repair piping systems for homes, businesses, factories, and other places. They work with various materials, including copper, PVC, steel, and cast iron, to create piping systems for water supply, drainage, heating, and cooling.

Skills required are mechanical skills for using different types of tools and maneuvering them precisely. Troubleshooting skills are also required to be able to quickly find and repair problems.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and an apprenticeship where they get paid while training on the job. License requirements depend on your state.

Work experience required: None

Median annual salary: $82,313

Total potential pay: $66,000 - $102,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 2%

7. Massage Therapist

Massage therapists are healthcare professionals who use touch and manipulation techniques to provide therapeutic relief to clients. They work in a variety of settings, including spas, wellness centers, and medical offices. 

Important skills to have include the ability to evaluate the needs of their clients and recommend treatments. They must also be physically capable to apply pressure and manipulate muscles while administering massage therapy.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent and massage therapy education programs. Currently, 45 states require massage therapists to be licensed.

Work experience required: None but some companies may require internships or apprenticeships (which you can learn on the job). Some companies like to see portfolios of past work based on personal projects, school projects, or freelance projects. 

Median annual salary: $75,542

Total potential pay: $57,000 - $100,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 18%

8. Union Electrician

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#electrician in Washington, DC📍#salarytransparentstreet #paytransparency #tradejob

Union electricians are skilled tradespeople who specialize in the installation, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems. A few of their key duties include inspections, troubleshooting, making upgrades, reading blueprints, and following safety protocols.

Good skills to have as an electrician include color vision to identify wires by color, critical thinking skills, and physical strength. 

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and an apprenticeship where they get paid while training on the job.  

Work experience required: None 

Median annual salary: $70,000

Total potential pay: $53,000 - $91,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 6%

9. Nail Technician

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How much does a #NailTech make? Eugene, OR📍#salarytransparentstreet #salarytransparency

Nail technicians specialize in providing nail care services to clients. Their primary focus is enhancing the appearance and health of clients' nails, hands, and feet. Their responsibilities include manicures, pedicures, nail art and design, and health and sanitation, among many others. 

Nail techs should have a high attention to detail, creative abilities, and customer service skills. Nail technicians who run their own salons must understand business principles to manage a salon and make it profitable. 

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent. State licensing requirements vary.

Work experience required: None

Median annual salary: $68,398

Total potential pay: $51,000 - $94,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 9%

10. Hair Colorist

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#Hairstylists in Atlanta, GA📍#salarytransparentstreet #salarytransparency #hairstylistjob

Hair colorists specialize in applying hair color treatments to enhance the look of their client’s hair. They use various coloring techniques and products to achieve desired hair color results. Responsibilities include consulting clients, hair color techniques, lightening hair, color correction, and general hair care and maintenance. 

Hair colorists should have a strong understanding of color theory to create hair color combinations that complement clients' features.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, completion of a state-approved cosmetology program, and state license. License requirements vary by state.

Work experience required: None 

Median annual salary: $66,137

Total potential pay: $50,000 - $89,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 9%

11. Esthetician

Estheticians are licensed professionals who specialize in providing skin care services to clients. They usually work in spas, salons, skincare clinics, or medical spas. Their responsibilities may include skincare analysis, facial treatments, and consultation, among many others.

Skills used include skincare knowledge, hygiene and sanitation practices, and good communication skills to provide customer service.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, completion of a cosmetology or esthetician program, and state license. Licensing requirements vary by state.

Work experience required: None 

Median annual salary: $64,139

Total potential pay: $46,000 - $80,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 9%

12. Union Carpenter

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Carpenters work with wood and other materials to construct various structures and fixtures. Their work encompasses a wide range of tasks in the construction industry, from framing buildings to crafting custom furniture.

Skills that are helpful as a carpenter include reading blueprints, carpentry techniques, and a high attention to detail. They should also be familiar with using hand tools and power tools.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and training is usually done on the job through paid apprenticeships.

Work experience required: None 

Median annual salary: $64,000

Total potential pay: $52,000 - $80,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 1%

13. Commercial HVAC Technician

Commercial HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) technicians specialize in the installation, maintenance, repair, and servicing of HVAC systems in commercial and industrial buildings.

Their skills usually include technical HVAC knowledge, and mechanical and electrical skills. Commercial HVAC technicians should also have strong diagnostic skills to identify and resolve HVAC system issues.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and on the job training through apprenticeships and other training programs.

Work experience required: None 

Median annual salary: $63,376

Total potential pay: $51,000 - $79,000 

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 6%

14. Union Iron Worker

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#Advisor and #UnionIronWorker in Chicago, IL📍#salarytransparentstreet #salarytransparency

Ironworkers fabricate and install structural iron and steel components used in construction projects. They work primarily with iron, steel, and other metal materials to build frameworks, structures, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Skills needed include metalworking skills, the ability to read blueprints, and physical strength to handle heavy steel. They’ll also need to be able to work at great heights and walk on narrow beams.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma, and on the job training through apprenticeships.

Work experience required: None

Median annual salary: $62,456

Total potential pay: $50,000 - $79,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 2%

15. Tattoo Artist

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How much does a #TattooArtist make? Eugene, OR📍#salarytransparentstreet

A tattoo artist creates permanent designs on the skin using tattooing techniques and equipment. They work in tattoo studios or shops, where they provide tattoo services to clients seeking personalized body art.

Tattoo artists usually possess artistic talent, creativity and innovation, and technical tattooing skills. They must also pay close attention to detail when applying tattoos since they are permanent.

Entry-level education required: High school diploma or equivalent, and on the job training through apprenticeships that lead to certification or a license. 

Work experience required: None

Median annual salary: $60,663

Total potential pay: $49,000 - $76,000

Projected growth rate up to year 2032: 4%

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade Jobs

How do I know what trade job is right for me?

Choosing the right trade job for you involves considering various factors, including your interests, skills, personality traits, career goals, and lifestyle preferences. For example, if you’re curious about the human body and are normally interested in medical subjects, you should explore medical trades.

Can you make 6 figures in a trade?

Many trade workers don’t start out making 6 figures right away but can grow their salaries to six figures as their seniority grows. Union workers may hit 6 figures quicker than non-union workers due to high overtime pay by the hour.
 

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Discussing salary with coworkers can also help get a good idea of how much you can expect to make as you build your experience.

What is the highest-paying trade job?

The highest-paying trade workers include sonographers and dental hygienists. However, dental hygienists have more education requirements and longer programs.

Which is the quickest trade to learn?

The "quickest" trade to learn can vary depending on factors such as your existing skills, interests, and the specific trade's requirements. Trades that tend to have shorter programs are welding and construction, although they aren’t the highest-paying trades.

How to Get Into a Skilled Trade

There are tons of high-paying trade jobs that require minimal schooling and paid training so you get hands-on experience as you learn your job. This is the complete opposite of paying thousands on a bachelor's degree that doesn’t provide any sort of experience. 

If you have a trade in mind, the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource for looking up each trade, the requirements for it, and information on how to actually land the job. 

For trades that require program completion with a certification, the handbook has links for which ones are accredited and are better to take. This way you’re not confused about how to proceed forward. You can also search job sites for any trade position to see what current trade jobs are requiring.

Our YouTube channel is another great resource for learning more about different professions and how much they make.

Don’t forget to browse our Salary Database and join the movement

That wraps it up for this week. Until then, stay awesome, stay strong, and keep advocating for yourself no matter what! I’m Daniella, a writer, engineer, and creator of I Like to Dabble and Remote Work Bestie - my blog and podcast for leveling up your money, career, and side hustles. I’m extremely passionate about workers' rights and financial freedom, so it’s a pleasure to be able to bring you this type of content through the Salary Transparent Street blog (thank you for the opportunity, Hannah!) You can also follow me on Instagram, TikTok, Linkedin, and Twitter. Chat soon!

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