How to Get into the Trades

Frequently Asked Questions About Learning Trade Jobs

What trade can you learn in 6 months? true

Becoming a diesel mechanic, truck driver, or personal trainer takes less than six months. Exact timelines depend on the program and type of training pathway pursued.

Because of the growing trucking shortage in the United States, the federal government has removed time delays in getting a CDL license, expanded apprenticeship opportunities, and reduced financial barriers. You can earn a CDL license and become a truck driver in under six months, or as few as 3-4 weeks. Future truck drivers can also get hazmat or air brake endorsements in that time. Trucking schools also provide job placement and time in the cab to prepare for road exams.

What trade has the shortest apprenticeship? true

While electrical apprenticeships can last as long as seven years for advanced certifications, welders in training spend about 3-4 years in apprenticeships under the supervision of certified welders.

Welding certificates or diplomas take about six months, and associate degrees take up to two years. After completing a postsecondary program, future welders work in apprenticeships that provide paid on-the-job training. Private companies, local unions, and state departments offer paid apprenticeships for welders to teach them how to make welds with galvanized or carbon steel and sheet metal.

To enter apprenticeships, candidates may need to pass a security clearance and show proof of a high school or GED diploma with a minimum 2.8-3.0 GPA or higher.

What is the hardest trade to learn? true

Electrical and HVAC trades require intensive technical training, which can be difficult to learn. Electrician schools teach students how to install, maintain, and repair electrical systems. The curriculum covers math, electrical safety checks, state electrical codes, and how to read diagrams and blueprints.

HVAC technicians must also have a well-rounded knowledge of plumbing, electrical work, and welding. Employers seek candidates with at least three years of work experience or trade school training. The job also requires a certain level of fitness since HVAC technicians crawl through tight spaces or climb up high ladders while carrying a tool belt.

Despite the challenging coursework required for HVAC technicians and electricians, students who have a passion for their trade often enjoy the rigorous hands-on training.

How to Get Into a Trade School?

If you’re interested in pursuing a trade career, you’ll need to look up accredited trade schools online or in your area. To ensure you are considering a quality program, review the school’s record of job placements for your particular trade. Research the trade’s program, mission statement, and fees. If you can, connect with alumni on LinkedIn and ask them about their experience studying at the school in question. 

Once you’re satisfied with your research, apply to the school, complete your coursework, earn your certification, and continue on your professional journey!


Are Trade Jobs in Demand?

In a way, trade careers make up the backbone of our working society. Trade jobs are considered to be in high demand because they constitute a highly skilled workforce that facilitates a variety of everyday tasks. Trade Workers specialized skill sets make them useful for solving general, creative, or niche problems. Knowledgeable and experienced trade workers are desirable employees because they are hard to replace.   

List of trades

There are many trades you may consider when you choose a career path. Here are some trade jobs, categorized by industry, that you may consider:

Mechanical trades

Mechanical trades work with a variety of heavy and light machinery. Typically, they work on fixing the machinery rather than operating it. Here are some examples in this field:

  • HVAC installer

  • Machinist

  • Locksmith

  • Elevator mechanic

  • Auto mechanic

  • Mechanical drafter

  • Mechanical insulator

  • Mechanical installer

Construction trades

This trade encompasses many different construction jobs that deal with flooring, masonry, carpentry and plumbing. These jobs may require strength, coordination and stamina. Here are some examples in the construction industry:

  • Carpenter

  • Electrician

  • Painter

  • Mason

  • Carpet installer

  • Welder

  • Plumber

  • Landscaper

  • Dredger

  • Fencer

  • Heavy equipment operator

  • Pile driver

Related: 12 Construction Jobs That Pay Well

Industrial trades

This trade includes jobs that deal with technology and manufacturing. These trade jobs involve building, designing and problem-solving. Here are some examples of industrial trades:

  • Ironworker

  • Steam engineer

  • Cargo freight engineer

  • Line installer and repairer

  • Asbestos worker

  • Paving equipment operator

  • Metal fabricator

  • Boilermakers

Medical trades

Medical trades include a variety of healthcare jobs that only require about two years of education and training. Medical trade jobs can involve working with patients, technology or assisting other medical staff. Here are just a few examples in the medical field:

  • Respiratory therapist

  • Phlebotomist

  • Clinical laboratory technician

  • Paramedic

  • Dental assistant

  • Medical assistant

Culinary arts and cosmetology

These trade jobs tend to be more creative and they often require a different set of skills than some of the manual labor trade jobs. Here are just a few examples in both fields:

  • Hairstylist

  • Nail technician

  • Beautician

  • Makeup artist

  • Esthetician

  • Chef

  • Baker

  • Pastry artist

  • Restaurant manager

  • Food technologist

Some Postsecondary Education Expected

In addition to, or in place of, formal certification or licensure, these jobs may expect or require one postsecondary credential, such as an associate’s (two-year) degree.

27. Wind Turbine Technician

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: Wind energy technology certificate (one-year program) or associate’s degree (two-year program)
  • Training Requirements: Twelve or more months’ on-the-job training
  • Median Salary (2020): $56,230
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $40,490 to $83,580
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 4,300 new positions (61% growth)

America’s booming wind power industry needs technicians to service the wind farms sprouting across the heartland — lots of them. The BLS projects wind turbine technician employment will increase by more than 50% through the end of the 2020s, although from an admittedly low base.

You’ll need to budget two to three years for pre-hire certification — available at many community colleges and online universities — and on-the-job training, but the payoff is worthwhile; median pay starts north of $50,000 per year.

Servicing wind turbines isn’t all fun and games. Once installed, turbines reside atop 20- to 40-story towers. Much of your on-the-job training will cover all the precautions necessary to work safely at that height, as well as everything that can go wrong up there.

28. Police Officer

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required; most agencies require some postsecondary coursework in criminal justice or related fields
  • Training Requirements: Four to six months of academy training, often followed by on-the-job training under a more experienced officer
  • Median Salary (2020): $67,290
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $39,130 to $113,860
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 40,600 new positions (5% growth)

It’s increasingly rare for law enforcement agencies to hire rookies straight out of high school, but lengthy employment records aren’t required either. Police work is a young person’s game. It’s physically and emotionally demanding, not to mention dangerous, but the upshot is early retirement. Many officers turn in their badges, with a full pension, at age 50. That leaves plenty of time for a second career.

If you’re serious about becoming a police officer or detective, narrow down your list of potential employers and get the details on their employment requirements. Some may require two- or four-year criminal justice degrees, for instance.

29. Public Relations Associate

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, public relations, or a related field
  • Training Requirements: A semester-long internship may be helpful; otherwise, variable on-the-job training
  • Median Salary (2020): $62,810
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $35,350 to $118,210
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 19,700 new positions (7% growth)

Many public relations associates are refugee journalists seeking a more lucrative, stable line of work, but plenty go into the field straight out of college. Unlike most of the roles on this list, a bachelor’s degree is all but required for entry-level public relations work.

Strong written and verbal communication skills are critical as well. For those working in client-facing capacities, thick skin and impeccable customer service skills come in handy.

30. Health Information Technicians (Medical Records Technicians)

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: Postsecondary certificate (one-year program) or associate’s degree (two-year program) strongly preferred
  • Training Requirements: Variable on-the-job training; state licensing and certification may be required
  • Median Salary (2020): $44,090
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $28,800 to $73,370
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 29,000 new positions (8% growth)

Health information technicians manage and organize paper and digital health records for hospital systems, private clinics, and health insurance companies. Most employers require at least one year of postsecondary education, and some require an associate’s degree. State licensing is generally required as well.

Ambitious health information technicians can boost their earning power by pursuing subspecialties. For instance, cancer registrars collect and manage the vast reams of data necessary to track and treat cancer patients’ disease.

31. Tax Preparer

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Training Requirements: A few weeks’ on-the-job training; some employers may offer formal coursework through internal “academies”
  • Median Salary (2020): $44,300
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $22,090 to $93,540
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): -600 new positions (-1% growth)

You don’t need an accounting degree to become an income tax preparer. All you need is an eye for detail, existing or acquired familiarity with tax prep software, and a willingness to work hard for two to three months out of the year.

National tax prep behemoths like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt hire thousands of seasonal tax preparers each winter and retain the best of the best throughout the year for help with complex business returns and audit responses.

The obvious drawback of working as a tax preparer is the job’s sporadic nature. You’ll want to have another reliable source of income to tide you over during the second, third, and fourth quarters.

32. Medical Assistant

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: Medical assistant certificate or diploma (one-year program) strongly preferred; medical assistant associate’s degree (two-year program) may be helpful; optional state certification may be helpful
  • Training Requirements: For noncredentialed new hires, several weeks of on-the-job training; shorter onboarding period for new hires with diplomas or degrees
  • Median Salary (2020): $35,850
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $26,930 to $50,580
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 139,200 new positions (19% growth)

For ambitious entry-level workers, the rapidly growing field of medical assisting is a fantastic toehold in the medical industry. Starting pay is decent, on-the-job training requirements are manageable, and projected demand is off the charts. The BLS expects nearly 20% growth through the end of the 2020s.

Many medical assistants go on to obtain nursing degrees — which can easily double or triple their earning power — or even become physicians.

33. Fitness Instructor

  • Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required; fitness certificate (one-year program) or associate’s degree (two-year program) preferred
  • Training Requirements: Variable on-the-job training
  • Median Salary (2020): $40,510
  • Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $21,640 to $76,550
  • Growth Outlook (Change in Employment, 2019 – 2029): 57,600 new positions (15% growth)

Fitness instructors work in a variety of active settings, such as yoga studios, spin studios, and school gymnasiums. The surest path to higher earnings is personal training, or delivering one-on-one fitness instruction to private clients willing to pay $50 or more per hour for the privilege.

Employers prefer trainers certified through private industry organizations like the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. If you’re specializing in a particular type of practice, such as yoga or Pilates, you’ll need to complete additional training or certification before or during the onboarding process.

2) What are the best paying trade jobs?

Close-up Of Plumber Fixing Sink In Bathroom
Close-up Of Plumber Fixing Sink In Bathroom

Now that we’ve covered the trade jobs that are easiest to join, a related consideration is salary. What are the skilled trade professionals that tend to offer the best pay?

A recent article from shared information on some of the highest-paying trades. Here is a summary of some of the top options.

HVAC Technicians

We’ve already mentioned that professionals who install, repair, and maintain heating and cooling systems are in high demand. It makes sense, then, that they also tend to get decent pay. According to Indeed, the average national rate for an HVAC professional is $23.20 per hour.


Another great option for tradesmen looking to make some decent money is to seek a career in plumbing. Plumbers, of course, work to install, repair, and maintain both water and gas lines. The average national salary for plumbers is $25.37 per hour.


Electricians make the list once again. According to Indeed’s salary information, the average national rate for electricians is $25.61 on an hourly basis.


A boilermaker is a skilled trade professional who assembles boilers, vats, and tanks. These vessels are then used to store or transport oil and other chemicals. It is something of a niche job, but also a high-paying one, offering an average national salary of $31.22 hourly.

Construction Managers

One additional option to consider is becoming a construction manager. This is a more arduous path that may require added time and a higher level of education than some of the other skilled trades we’ve mentioned here. With that said, it is a good, high-paying job, with an average annual salary of $75,386.

As you think about how to get a trade career off the ground, these are just some of the options that are worth having on your radar.

Mechanical Trades

Many mechanical trades require a certification of competency that spans two qualification levels. The first level is referred to as the journey level, and this requires an apprenticeship or experience that is equivalent. The second level is the master level. You must work as a journeyman or journeywoman for a minimum of a year and take a competency test to become a master. Attaining a college degree or taking classes at a vocational school provides additional knowledge, but it is possible to become certified through job training or an apprenticeship. Working as an assistant in a mechanical trade while in high school or networking with mechanical experts will help pave the way.


  • Auto mechanic
  • HVAC installer
  • Machinist
  • Mechanical drafter
  • Locksmith
  • Mechanical insulator
  • Elevator mechanic
  • Mechanical installer

The state-mandated education is one of the factors that make a trade school education different from a 4-year college. 

Students at 4-year colleges must take required courses to earn their degree. But even students in the same major can take different courses to fulfill their requirements. And the same course at two or more different colleges may cover vastly different material, as course material is not mandated by the state. 

In addition, prior experience in a subject does matter, as professors expect students to already know many of the topics covered in the class. This is especially true in upper division courses. Remember, electrical training courses have only one track. There are no upper level courses required, so what you learn in class and lab is what you will need to know on the job.

Electrical trainee courses are built for beginners. Never hammered a nail? It really won’t matter. You may need to play catchup in developing your mechanical abilities. But when it comes to school, once the course starts, everyone in the class will receive the same training. It’s different for students at a 4-year college. These students may have more options, but those options don’t guarantee the same experience, even for students in the same major. 

If you are interested in becoming an electrician—and you are just a beginner with no previous experience—contact I-TAP! Our 26-week trainee program is perfect for people of all backgrounds and experience levels. Get in touch to learn more today.

On-the-Job Training

Training happens on the job for many skilled trades. In fact, for some skills-based jobs, such as mold remediation technician, construction helper, butcher and even power plant operator, on-the-job training and a high-school diploma may be all you need. 

Goodwill’s Albright says there’s no shortage of companies that offer excellent on-the-job training. After all, she notes, “Skilled trade employers are all about getting people into the workforce as quickly as possible.”

Job fairs, either virtual or in person, are a great way to find jobs that offer on-the-job training. (One place to check for upcoming job fairs in your area is the Goodwill Career Center.) If you’re in high school or community college, ask your counselor or advisor about companies in your area that have training or technical development programs. 

Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer in Arlington, Virginia. His work has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Consumer Reports, Entrepreneur magazine, Money magazine, and Kiplinger’s, among others.