15 High-Paying Trade Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

Forge a lucrative path with your hands and skills in these well-paying degree-free trades.
Updated April 11, 2024
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You don't have to go to college to build a fulfilling and financially attractive career. If you’re thinking about skipping student loans, trade jobs can be an excellent choice.

With dozens of options to choose from, you may find something you love to do that uses your unique talents and interests.

Still, you’ll want to be paid well and reduce your money stress. We’ve pulled together a list of 15 high-paying trade jobs you don’t have to get a college degree to do.

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Elevator and escalator installer

Tomasz Zajda/Adobe technician fixing building elevator

Median wage: $97,860 per year

It’s not common to hear about people wanting to enter the elevator industry, but doing so could be quite valuable with a high median wage. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals handle the installation, maintenance, and repair of elevators, escalators, lifts, and other moving walkways.

To work in the field, you’ll need a high school diploma or the equivalent and complete an apprenticeship to obtain your license and start boosting your bank account.

Line installer and repairer

A Stockphoto/Adobe electrician using multimeter on electric cabinet

Median wage: $74,530 per year

Line installers have higher-risk jobs, often installing and repairing power systems, fiber optics, and telecommunication electrical systems. 

Their work tends to include both heights and dangerous circumstances, and they may have to work irregular hours after a storm. 

Over the next 10 years, there will be a 6% rate of growth in the field, according to the BLS.

To work in this field, you’ll need to receive training through a technical school or vocational program. On-the-job training may also be available, and apprenticeships are readily available in most states.

Police and detectives

Aldeca Productions/Adobe police in street with autompbile

Median wage: $66,020 per year

Working as a police officer or detective is dangerous, hard work, and it’s a must needed profession, often compensated by a higher pay rate than average. There will be a need for more than 20,000 additional officers in the field by 2031.

Police officers go through training academy before they work on the job, though a lot of their skill comes from their work in those first years.

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Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics

Евгений Панов/Adobe engineer inspecting helicopter

Median wage: $65,550 per year

You don’t have to be a pilot to earn well in the airline industry, especially if you work as a mechanic. These professionals inspect, maintain, and repair aircraft of all types. Their work is in demand and likely to see a growth of about 9,000 jobs, or 6%, by 2031.

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics typically get their education in a trade school with a Federal Aviation Administration-approved program.

Flight attendant

Akarawut/Adobe female flight attendant closing luggage compartment

Median wage: $61,640 per year

Flight attendants may seem to have a fabulous job traveling around the world, but their demanding job requires long hours and lots of time away from home. The higher earning capacity is also an attractive reason to choose this position. 

More so, from 2021 to 2031, a 21% rate of growth is expected in this industry, according to BLS data, which means finding a job could be easy.

The good news is you do not need a college degree to work as a flight attendant. Most receive on-the-job training and certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to do their job.

Construction and building inspectors

pololia/Adobe male tehnician inspecting roof top leakage

Median wage: $61,640 per year

You can work as a construction and building inspector without a college degree but with hands-on education. 

Though fewer jobs in this field are expected over the coming years, for those that enjoy factors like overseeing building codes and zoning rules, this could be a rewarding job.

These professionals need to complete a construction trade to gain hands-on experience and then will likely receive on-the-job training.

Railroad workers

APchanel/Adobe engineers inspecting railway switch

Median wage: $61,150 per year

Working as a railroad worker can be interesting, though it requires a lot of time away from home. You’ll work on passenger and freight trains, completing various tasks onboard and in the rail yard. With a 4% expected growth rate, this job could be available to many.

You don't need a college degree to work as a railroad worker, but you may need a high school diploma or the equivalent. Most offer on-the-job training.


Kadmy/Adobe electrician working on electric connections

Median wage: $60,040 per year

Electricians work to maintain, install, upgrade, and repair electrical systems in residential and commercial locations. 

They typically handle lighting, control systems, communications, and general power needs. They're also in demand, with the BLS estimating a 7% growth rate from 2021 to 2031.

To be an electrician, you’ll need to complete an apprenticeship, and, in some states, you may need to maintain a license.


Drobot Dean/Adobe plumber using mobile phone on work

Median wage: $59,880 per year

Plumbers work in homes and commercial establishments to manage all aspects of water and drain management. 

It’s a critical job, and they're often very much in demand, so they may work weekends and evening hours. 

The BLS shares that there’s an estimated 2% expected wage growth in the next 10 years in this field.

To be a plumber, you’ll need to work through an apprenticeship, though many attend vocational-based programs during their last years in high school or just after. Many get on-the-job training, too.

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Computer support specialist

Bojan/Adobe female call centre consultant at work

Median wage: $57,910 per year

Working as a computer support specialist means balancing technology and people, which often means a lot of hands-on interaction. 

This job can be desirable for those who enjoy working to build and maintain computer networks and systems. The estimated growth rate for this industry is 6%.

The type of work you do and the skill you provide determine if you’ll need college-level courses after high school in this field, but many jobs don’t require it.

Concrete finisher

sframe/Adobe man finishing concrete sidewalk

Median wage: $53,890 per year

Pouring concrete and finishing it with textures and detailing can be an impressive job, combining physical labor and artistic talent. 

Those who work in this industry may do patios, driveways, and roads. Cement masons and concrete finishers will see some increase in jobs in the coming years, but the BLS pins that growth as slower than average.

The good news is that you'll get on-the-job training with some vocational school opportunities.


VAKSMANV/Adobe confident firefighter smiling outdoor

Median wage: $50,700 per year

Working as a firefighter is dangerous and pays a bit more than some jobs. There's a need for about 13,900 more firefighters, or about 4%, from 2021 to 2031.

These professionals work to respond to fires, smoke alarms, and CO2 alarms while often putting their life on the line for others.

You'll need to complete some postsecondary education, usually through a training academy, to work as a firefighter, and some will also earn their emergency medical technician certification.

Real estate broker and sales agent

Drazen/Adobe happy female real estate agent

Median wage: $48,770 per year

Working as a real estate agent or broker means helping people buy and sell homes and commercial property. It’s a job for those who enjoy working directly with others and have a keen understanding of the real estate industry. 

Growth in this field is about 5%, meaning an additional 30,100 people will be needed by 2031.

As for your education, you’ll need to complete a state-mandated license, which often requires some trade school or certificate program.

Diesel service technicians and mechanics

funfunphoto/Adobe mechanic pouring oil into engine

Median wage: $48,690 per year

Though automotive technicians earn less, those who work as diesel service technicians could earn a reliable wage for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining trucks, buses, and other diesel-engine systems. With a 4% job growth rate, this job has opportunities.

There's quite a bit to learn in this field, which often means completing a trade school or vocational program in diesel machines and, in some cases, working through an apprenticeship.

HVAC technician

DimaBerlin/Adobe male worker installing air conditioner

Median wage: $48,630 per year

The heating, air conditioning, and ventilation industry — along with those who work as refrigeration mechanics — fit into this field, according to the BLS. They're likely to see growth in the coming years of about 5%. 

The work typically involves working in any type of residential or commercial building, providing hands-on labor in planning, installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting heating and cooling systems.

To work in this field and get ahead financially, you will likely need to complete some postsecondary education in a vocational or trade school. Many will go through an apprenticeship as well.

Bottom line

thanksforbuying/Adobe desk witth job applications and resume

Keep in mind that none of these careers require a college education, and the median wage listed is just that — the mid-range earnings for those in the field. Many people earn much more, especially once they gain experience in the field. 

That could mean there’s a significant amount of earning power in any of these areas, and you can stop living paycheck to paycheck relatively quickly.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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