5 Booming Trade Careers That Don’t Require Student Loans

trade careers

Want to earn a decent income when you grow up?

If you believe the hype, you probably think you have to go to college – or live in your mom’s basement for the rest of your life.

I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. There’s another avenue out of the basement: trade careers.

Don’t believe me? Fast Company named skilled trades one of the five jobs that will be the hardest to fill in 2025, noting they “have large numbers of workers retiring but fewer young people choosing these careers, which are also difficult to offshore or fully automate.”

And the best part? Trade careers don’t require four-year degrees (and all the student loans that come with them).

Here are five worth exploring.

5 trade careers that are growing like crazy

The next time someone tells you college is the only answer, reply with this stat: According to Explore the Trades, only 35 percent of future jobs will require a four-year degree or higher.

And then show them this list of booming trade careers, which is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Note that average job growth across industries is five to eight percent, so a growth rate of 14 percent or more is considered “much faster than average.”

1. Wind turbine technicians

According to the BLS, wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. Plus, working on wind turbines means you’re contributing to an important source of green energy.

To enter this exploding career, you must attend a two-year technical school and complete at least one year of on-the-job training or an apprenticeship. And you can’t be afraid of heights or confined spaces.

“My job is physically strenuous, so it pays more than a lot of jobs in the area,” Reed McManus wrote. “It brings a lot of joy to me at the end of the day when a turbine has been down for some reason and we’re able to fix it, finally see it fire up again, and produce energy.”

Median pay: $52,260

Job growth (2014-24): 108 percent

2. Electricians

You’ve undoubtedly heard of electricians and what they do. But did you know it was such a lucrative career? Or that it was growing so quickly? Probably not.

To learn this trade, most electricians complete a four- or five-year paid apprenticeship, which consists of 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training per year.

“Four years does sound like a lot of time, but don’t forget that you are ‘earning while learning,’” electrician Jerry Higgins wrote. “[It’s] completely worth it, however, and one of the reasons is that most everyone agrees that a journeyman electrician holds the BEST job of all the construction trades.”

Median pay: $57,720

Job growth (2014-24): 14 percent

3. Elevator mechanics

Wow. Can you believe the median salary of this gig? As you might imagine, elevator mechanics install and repair elevators, escalators, moving walkways, and other types of lifts.

Elevator mechanics learn their trade through a four-year apprenticeship – which might be why elevator mechanic Casey Planchon said you should “start young, while you’re healthy and strong.”

“The job has its ups and downs,” Planchon said. “But the pay, benefits, and satisfaction of building and fixing elevators, escalators, and moving walkways are the best of all the trades. If you decide to pursue this path, push hard and be safe.”

Median pay: $78,890 per year

Job growth (2014-24): 13 percent

4. Industrial machinery mechanics

Also called maintenance machinists, industrial machinery mechanics diagnose and repair issues with (you guessed it) industrial machines.

Unlike many jobs on this list, you don’t need to obtain an apprenticeship first. Instead, you’ll receive on-the-job training, which can last a year or more.

Wondering if it’s the right path for you? OwlGuru offers a quick career quiz specifically for people who are considering the industrial machinery industry.

Median pay: $49,100

Job growth (2014-24): 16 percent

5. HVACR technicians

HVACR technicians (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration technicians) help you stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

To enter the field, you can look for an apprenticeship or attend a trade school for six months to two years.

“After 15 years of installing and repairing furnaces and air conditioners, I am very happy [with] the experience and knowledge I’ve gained,” Dan Robbins wrote. “With hands-on experience and a bit of HVAC schooling, I went from a warehouse clerk to a small-time business owner making a modest living.”

Median pay: $45,910

Job growth (2014-24): 14 percent

The important thing to remember? A four-year college is not the only path to financial security.

Although it can be wonderful, it can also be an expensive mistake – especially if you’re not sure which career you’d like to pursue.

So before you go into debt for a degree you might not use, explore all your options, including gap years, volunteering, and, of course, trade careers like the ones above.

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