What makes a top career? Salary, job availability, job growth and advancement potential are important, per how the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) presents its data. Most of the top careers in the country offer a livable wage, growth, and possibility to advance in the career. Another common thread: they all require some degree of education. While some may require a bachelor’s degree, in many cases these careers may only require a certificate, diploma, or associate degree.
Technology and medicine are represented in a variety of vocational, trade and technical careers, but those who like to work with their hands or their creativity can expect to find ample careers including mechanics, skilled trades, HVAC, welding, and interior and video game design.
Here is a career comparison of the top 10 Vocational Careers of the United States of America using data from the BLS and other sources. Compare the top 10 careers on the basis of Salary, Job availability or Job Growth. Pick the vocational career that suits you the best.
Vocational and Trade Careers: Career and Salary Information
In the grand scheme of higher education, one might say vocational and trade careers are too often overlooked. In 2012, even the White House began to campaign for career and vocational education as a valuable alternative to more "traditional" four-year degrees, and countries like Germany have long held these professions in high regard. It makes sense: According to Forbes, many vocational careers are in demand. Here is a quick overview of many different types of vocational careers and what they entail.
Vocational and trade job descriptions
Vocational careers. Trade jobs. Skilled trades. Call them what you will, vocational and trade careers make up an important sect of the U.S. economy. They come in many forms, however, and each has its own training path. The following are just a few examples of vocational careers along with a brief description of each drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov).
- HVAC technicians. Heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration technicians, often called HVAC or HVACR technicians, repair, service and install the systems that control the temperature and air quality in homes and other buildings. They may work closely with other craft workers, like sheet metal workers, duct installers and boilermakers. The BLS reports that employers prefer applicants with a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree. Apprenticeships are also available.
- Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters. Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters install, maintain and repair the types that carry liquids and gases in and out of buildings. Master plumbers may also work with construction professionals when developing blueprints. The BLS reports that while some plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters learn on the job through apprenticeships, many attend vocational school. Most states require these professionals to be licensed, though requirements vary.
- Welders. Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers weld, or join, metal parts using hand-held equipment. They may also fill holes or seams of metal products. The BLS reports that common training requirements for these professionals range from a few weeks of technical school to several years of on-the-job training combined with technical school.
- Cosmetologists and hairdressers. Cosmetologists and hairdressers provide beauty and hairstyling services, usually, but not always, in a salon setting. The BLS notes that nearly half of these professionals were self-employed in 2012. All states require cosmetologists and hairdressers to be licensed to practice, which usually means they must first complete formal training through beauty or vocational schools.
Note that the careers listed above are only a small sampling of vocational and technical careers. You can learn more about others by visiting the BLS, or by researching elsewhere here on this site.
Vocational and trade career prospects
Generally speaking, vocational careers are in demand. According to Forbes, research suggests that by 2018, nearly a third of new jobs are expected to require only a certificate or postsecondary certificate -- the type of training associated with most skilled and technical careers. Of course, a number of factors influence employment demand, from geography to economic variability. The following is a list of common vocational and trade careers and their projected growth between 2012 and 2022, as reported by the BLS (bls.gov, 2012):
- HVAC technicians: 21 percent, faster than the average for all occupations
- Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters: 21 percent, faster than the average for all occupations
- Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers: 6 percent, or a bit slower than average
- Cosmetologists: 13 percent, about as fast as average
Note that demand for these and other vocational careers tend to fluctuate over time.
Salaries for trade careers
How much do vocational professionals earn? As with employment demand, a number of variables influence one's earnings, like location, training and experience. Though graduating from a career or vocational program does not guarantee you will earn more, the BLS reports that earnings generally tend to improve with higher education. Salaries also tend to be higher for in-demand professionals, and for those living in areas with a higher-than-average cost of living. The following is a list of various vocational careers' 2013 national median salaries, as reported by the BLS:
- HVAC technicians: $43,880
- Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters: $50,180
- Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers: $36,720
- Cosmetologists: $23,140
Again, graduating from a career or vocational program does not guarantee you to earn more, though the BLS reports that earnings generally tend to improve with higher education. Salaries also tend to be higher for in-demand professionals, and for those living in areas with a higher-than-average cost of living.
Job and training statistics
We briefly discussed common minimum training requirements for select vocational careers above, but it can be helpful to to know what type of training these professionals actually pursue. The following is a breakdown of the the actual training requirements employers expected of most of the same vocational careers in 2012. Note that all data is provided by O*Net, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor.
- HVAC technicians: 72 percent of employers required a postsecondary certificate; 16 percent a high school diploma; 6 percent some college training, but not a credential
- Plumbers: 61 percent of employers required a postsecondary certificate; 31 percent a high school diploma; 5 percent an associate's degree
- Welders: 41 percent of employers required a postsecondary certificate; 40 percent a high school diploma; 13 percent some college training, but not a credential
- Cosmetologists: 74 percent of employers required a postsecondary certificate; 20 percent some college training, but not a credential; 6 percent a high school diploma
These training trends can give future professionals a sense for the type of credentials they need to enter these fields, but as the BLS notes, earnings and employment prospects often improve with higher education. Candidates who invest in more training -- even on a supplemental or voluntary basis -- may stand out from lesser trained career competition, especially within tighter job markets.
- "Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists," Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/barbers-hairdressers-and-cosmetologists.htm
- "Building American Skills Through Community Colleges," The White House, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/building-american-skills-through-community-colleges
- "The Best Jobs That Don't Require A Bachelor's Degree," Forbes, June 21, 2012, Jenna Goudreau, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/06/21/the-best-jobs-that-dont-require-a-bachelors-degree/
- "Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers," Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/current/oes499021.htm
- "Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers," Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- "Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists," Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/current/oes395012.htm
- "Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters," Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/current/oes472152.htm
- "Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters," Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm
- "Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers," Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/welders-cutters-solderers-and-brazers.htm
- "Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers," Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/current/oes514121.htm