Skilled trade workers are in-demand and can earn above average incomes: Nearly a quarter of all jobs with starting salaries of at least $35,000 require only some postsecondary education but no four-year degree. That's according to a 2018 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Some worry the emphasis on college may be leading students to overlook skilled trade schools. To ensure that doesn't happen, industry organizations are making skilled trades a priority. For instance, the Home Depot Foundation pledged $50 million to help train 20,000 tradespeople over the next 10 years, as of 2018.
Skilled trade programs prepare students to work in construction, welding, automotive repair, plumbing, electrical work and more. While you won't find many online skilled trade schools, they still existing, and you can find flexible programs at many vocational and community colleges.
What are skilled trade specializations?
The term skilled trades covers a number of occupations. What they all have in common is that these jobs require specific skills in a hands-on field.
Here's a closer look at some of the specializations you can study at skilled trade schools.
- Welding: Welders use heat to join metal parts. Many skilled trade programs not only teach how to safely weld but also provide instruction in soldering, metal cutting and brazing. Welding skills can easily transfer across industries, and graduates may be able to pursue jobs in the manufacturing, automotive and oil and gas sectors, among others.
- Construction: Construction workers include carpenters, masonry workers and heavy machine operators. While general laborers may be able to head straight to the workforce after graduating high school, others need training first. Skilled trade programs for construction may include an apprenticeship or on-the-job training as well as formal education through a community college or technical school.
- HVAC: This specialization stands for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. HVAC technicians are in demand and often command higher than average salaries, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may install new ventilation systems or repair existing ones. Workers have to be certified to work with refrigerants, and most skilled trade programs are designed to help students pass the certification exam.
- Plumbing: Plumbers have another in-demand job with good income potential. These professionals install new pipes and fixtures as well as repair existing plumbing systems. You don't need a degree to become a plumber, but you probably will need to complete an apprenticeship. Most states require plumbing professionals to be licensed before they can work alone; learn more about plumbing programs.
- Baking and Pastry: Not all skilled trade jobs involve building or repairing structures. Bakers and pastry chefs are also considered skilled laborers. Some workers in this field are self-taught while others enroll in one of the many skilled trade schools available for the culinary arts. After graduation, students may work for bakeries, restaurants, manufacturers or grocery stores. Some even open their own businesses.
What are educational requirements for skilled trade jobs?
It varies. Just as there are many skilled trade occupations, there are many ways to pursue a career in this field. While not required of all positions, formal training can be helpful. Skilled trade programs often fall into one of the following categories:
- Apprenticeships: An apprenticeship typically combines on the job training with some classroom instruction. Plumbers may be apprentices for up to five years while HVAC technicians and carpenters may complete apprenticeships for shorter periods. Work completed during an apprenticeship is paid.
- Certificates: These are short-term skilled trade programs that may be completed in less than a year. Certificates may be earned by HVAC technicians, welders and bakers among others. Although the curriculum varies by field, these programs are intended to provide the skills needed for entry level positions.
- Associate Degrees: Two-year degrees are rarely needed in skilled trade occupations. However, they may be useful for those who want to work in supervisory positions, such as that of a construction manager. While you're unlikely to find fully online skilled trade schools, some associate degree programs allow students to take general education classes online.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed October 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh
- The Home Depot Foundation Commits $50 Million to Skilled Trades Training, Home Depot, March 8, 2018, Accessed October 2018, http://ir.homedepot.com/news-releases/2018/$50_Million_to_skilled_trades
- Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs: High School, Middle Skills, and Bachelor's Degree, 2018, Accessed October 2018, https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/3ways-FR.pdf