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Guide to the Most Common Skilled Trades

Guide to the Most Common Skilled Trades

Posted by Matt Krak

September 10, 2021

Finding an enjoyable career path takes more than just being offered a high wage or benefits from your company (although those certainly help). If you really want to find success and career opportunities in your life, you need to discover what industries keep your curiosity high and fulfill your goals in a career.

What many job seekers don't realize is that the skilled trades can offer an easy way to combine your passion for science, hands on work, and a desire for high pay, for nearly no cost to you. The U.S. Department of Labor has shown that there are thousands of skilled trades careers that are in high demand and match or even beat the average salary of their college degree counterparts.Through an accredited trade school or community colleges, students with nothing more than a high school diploma gain valuable on the job training and access to job opportunities through apprenticeship programs.

In this career guide, we'll go over the various career options that incoming skilled tradespeople can choose when deciding on a path in the trades.

Electricians

Electrical work involves installing and maintaining electrical power systems, including communications, lighting, control system, etc. The typical trade job for journeyman electricians will have you working full time. The electrical grid has become essential for modern day work, so your schedule may often include evenings and weekends, as well as overtime due to how essential your service is.

As an electrician, you'll need to be comfortable reading blueprints and technical diagrams of electrical systems that show the location of circuits, outlets, and other equipment. You'll also need to adept at working with tools and gauges necessary for testing that components are working properly.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for electricians was $56,900 in May 2020. As electrical work becomes more and more necessary for existing industries, the demand for these skilled tradespeople will likely increase. 

Employment of electricians is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Plumbers

Plumbing work is one of the most essential jobs in the world. As a plumber, you'll be expected to repair and install water, gas, and other pipe systems in both residential and commercial spaces (depending on the job). In the residential space, plumbing work will typically involve working on plumbing fixtures, such as bathtubs and toilets, or other appliances, such as dishwashers and water heaters. This line of work will also involve cleaning drains, remove obstructions, and repairing or replacing broken pipes and fixtures. Plumbers also help maintain septic systems—large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses that are not connected to a sewer system.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for plumbers was $56,330 in May 2020. For entrepreneurial tradespeople, this pay can be even higher! The top 10% of plumbers in the industry made over $100,000. Given the right resources, time, and energy, you could grow your own plumbing business too to this size. 

Given the constant need for functional plumbing, the industry employment growth rate has remained relatively steady. Projected employment growth is likely to keep pace with the national average at around 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

​Automotive Service Technician

Automotive service technician work involves inspecting, maintain, and repairing commercial vehicles. As an automotive mechanic, you'll need to complete a training program at a community college or trade school that offers industry certification. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics was $44,050 as of May 2020. 

That being said, employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029 as systems continue to be equipped with cutting edge technology to reduce collisions, predict maintenance, and drive farther without service. 

Carpentry / Construction Trades

Carpentry involves constructing, repairing, and installing building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials. As a carpenter, you'll work indoors and outdoors on many types of construction projects, ranging from installing kitchen cabinets to building highways and bridges. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for carpenters was $49,520 in May 2020.

Employment of carpenters is projected to show little or no change from 2019 to 2029, but with large infrastructure bills being passed in 2021, this could change in a major way. 

HVAC Technicians

HVAC technicians work on heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems typically as installers or repairmen. Depending on the company you work for, your job site could be in homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. Depending on the job, your workspace may be very hot or cold due to the HVAC system needing repairs and because some systems are located partially outdoors.To be a successful skilled worker in this field, you'll need to be comfortable working in cramped spaces, and responding to emergencies during irregular business hours.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers was $50,590 in May 2020.

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Which skilled trade is for you?

Ready to find a job in one of these industries? Search for jobs by industry on our skilled trades job board.