How To Get Into a Trade

Updated June 30, 2023

Many trades are in high demand as the need for more experienced labor employees continues to grow. There are several types of trades that you may explore and research before deciding to enter into a trade. Trade jobs tend to be in industries such as transportation, construction, manufacturing and maintenance, however, trades are also in career sectors like culinary arts, healthcare and cosmetology.

In this article, we provide a definition of what trades are, list trades and discuss how you can enter a trade.

What are trades?

Trades are jobs that require advanced or specialized skills that are gained through experience, on-the-job training and vocational courses. Trade careers are typically known to be more stable and require technical ability. Trades are often jobs that may be physically or mentally demanding in some way.

Related: 9 Popular Trade Jobs

List of trades

There are many trades you may consider when you choose a career path. Here are some trade jobs, categorized by industry, that you may consider:

Mechanical trades

Mechanical trades work with a variety of heavy and light machinery. Typically, they work on fixing the machinery rather than operating it. Here are some examples in this field:

  • HVAC installer

  • Machinist

  • Locksmith

  • Elevator mechanic

  • Auto mechanic

  • Mechanical drafter

  • Mechanical insulator

  • Mechanical installer

Construction trades

This trade encompasses many different construction jobs that deal with flooring, masonry, carpentry and plumbing. These jobs may require strength, coordination and stamina. Here are some examples in the construction industry:

  • Carpenter

  • Electrician

  • Painter

  • Mason

  • Carpet installer

  • Welder

  • Plumber

  • Landscaper

  • Dredger

  • Fencer

  • Heavy equipment operator

  • Pile driver

Related: 12 Construction Jobs That Pay Well

Industrial trades

This trade includes jobs that deal with technology and manufacturing. These trade jobs involve building, designing and problem-solving. Here are some examples of industrial trades:

  • Ironworker

  • Steam engineer

  • Cargo freight engineer

  • Line installer and repairer

  • Asbestos worker

  • Paving equipment operator

  • Metal fabricator

  • Boilermakers

Medical trades

Medical trades include a variety of healthcare jobs that only require about two years of education and training. Medical trade jobs can involve working with patients, technology or assisting other medical staff. Here are just a few examples in the medical field:

  • Respiratory therapist

  • Phlebotomist

  • Clinical laboratory technician

  • Paramedic

  • Dental assistant

  • Medical assistant

Culinary arts and cosmetology

These trade jobs tend to be more creative and they often require a different set of skills than some of the manual labor trade jobs. Here are just a few examples in both fields:

  • Hairstylist

  • Nail technician

  • Beautician

  • Makeup artist

  • Esthetician

  • Chef

  • Baker

  • Pastry artist

  • Restaurant manager

  • Food technologist

How to enter a trade

Choosing a trade as your career path can be rewarding and exciting. There are a few different ways you can get into a trade. Some companies in certain industries choose to hire entry-level employees without education and they train them in-house. Others require certifications, an associate degree or a registered apprenticeship before hiring.

Here are some steps you may take to enter into a trade:

1. Complete high school

The minimum educational requirement for most trade jobs is a high school diploma or GED. While you are in high school, you may consider taking a shop class or woodworking class through your school or another local program. This may help you to decide what trade you'd like to enter. You can also practice some safe trade skills on your own at home to get an idea of what interests you.

2. Pick a trade

Once you complete high school or your GED, it is time for you to consider which trade interests you the most. If you prefer being creative and working with your hands rather than sitting at a desk, then you may consider more of the skilled trades. If you know you like to fix cars, then you may consider becoming an auto-mechanic. Trade careers may directly correlate with your hobbies.

For instance, you may try writing down the things you like to do and then write down a few job descriptions that interest you next to it. Circle the things that the jobs and your hobbies have in common. You may end up choosing the trade that has the most in common with your interests.

Some other good ways that may assist you with picking a trade are to talk to a few people who work in trades that you are interested in, research pay and growth for each trade and review job opportunities.

Related: How To Find the Best Jobs for You

3. Select an educational program

You may choose to go to a technical school or take certification classes at a community college. Each trade has different requirements, and not all trades require formal education. However, taking formal education classes can help you gain a competitive advantage over other candidates.

Many trades accept certificates instead of requiring an associate's degree or higher. This means you can take classes that are directly related to your career and obtain a certificate in two years or less depending on the program.

It is recommended that you research the requirements for the trade you are interested in entering before you enter an educational program. This way, you know the specific requirements before you begin a program.

4. Obtain an apprenticeship

The next step is to search for an apprenticeship program that allows you to develop skills while you are trained on-the-job. You may find apprenticeships through local trade unions, training institutions, professional associations or employment agencies and programs.

Another option you may consider is to apply for a registered apprenticeship program that is offered through public and private sector businesses. There may be some ongoing classes that you are required to take during your apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships typically take about one to six years to complete depending on the trade, and you can expect to learn your trade, gain specialized skills and receive some payment for it.

5. Get licensed

Another item that you may need to acquire is a license that assures your right to work or practice your trade. Licensing is not necessary for all trades and the requirements may vary by state. Most license exams focus on things such as building codes, regulations and ordinances. You may have to complete a certain amount of classroom hours and on-the-job training hours to qualify for licensing tests.

Some trades that typically require a license are:

  • Electricians

  • HVAC technicians

  • Plumbers dealing with water and gas

  • Machinists

  • Paramedics

  • Asbestos workers

  • Elevator technicians

  • Hairstylist

  • Makeup artist

6. Become a journeyman

After you complete your apprenticeship, you can become a journeyman. Becoming a journeyman suggests that you have passed necessary examinations and have put in enough on-the-job training to practice your trade under your own license rather than working under the license of a more experienced tradesperson.

Depending on your trade, you may need to work as a journeyman anywhere from one year up to five years before you can become a master tradesperson. Master tradespeople can work in supervisory roles and the pay is typically increased due to your expertise.


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