Skilled Trades

Last Updated: 04/11/2024

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Skilled trades are careers that require experience-based skills and knowledge. These are typically hands-on careers; they rely on apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs to teach entry-level professionals how to succeed in their trade roles; and many individuals may be able to join the professional workforce at a faster rate than those who choose to complete a college education before entering the workforce.

Skilled trades are often broken down into three categories:

  • Skilled industrial trades, such as welders and machinists
  • Skilled construction trades, such as plumbers and carpenters
  • Skilled service trades, such as nurses and hair stylists

The skilled trades are growing in importance in the learn-and-work ecosystem. This has been fueled by a serious shortage of jobs in the trades, rising pay, and new technologies. Fields such as plumbing, welding, machine tooling, HVAC, solar, construction, and the electrical occupations are increasingly appealing to the youngest generation of American workers (often called “Gen-Z”), many of whom are deciding to skip a traditional college path after high school graduation in favor of seeking employment in the trades. Gen Z’s embrace of the skilled trades reflects a pragmatic approach to career readiness—one which emphasizes skills over traditional college degrees.

Labor gaps in the skilled trades are expected to widen as the federal government increases its investment on infrastructure projects which are staffed, in large part, by workers in the trades.

Examples of Salary Levels (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • Boilermakers: median annual salary: $64,290; projected job growth (2021-2031): -5%
  • Electricians: median annual salary: $64,040; projected job growth (2021-2031): +7%
  • Elevator/escalator installers and repairers: median annual salary: $97,860; projected job growth (2021-2031): +3%
  • Industrial machinery mechanics: median annual salary: $59,840; projected job growth (2021-2031): +16%
  • Millwrights: median annual salary: $60,330; projected job growth (2021-2031): +5%
  • Plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters: median annual salary: $59,880; projected job growth (2021-2031): +2%

Education and Training

The education requirements for skilled trades vary depending on the career path. Some employers require professional certificates or apprenticeships. Most require a high school diploma or GED certificate.

A skilled trades education is generally offered through one or more of the following types of programs:

  • Certificate or diploma program: Programs are often 1 year or less. The program’s courses cover basic concepts and skills. There are typically both online and in-person programs available at this level.
  • Associate degree program: Programs are typically 2 years in duration. Some schools offer streamlined programs that take as little as 15 months.
  • Apprenticeship: Individuals typically enter an apprenticeship after earning a certificate, diploma, or associate degree; others can start one without prior training. Apprentices are paid while learning both on the job and in the classroom. Most apprenticeships extend over 4 years but the time is often shorter for individuals who have already taken some classes.
  • Bachelor’s degree program: Some fields offer a bachelor's degree such as construction management. Individuals who are seeking supervisory positions often seek a bachelor’s degree after they have worked in the profession for a period of time.

There are many ways in which education and training paths are changing to accommodate the growing interest in the skilled trades.

At the high school level, many schools have accelerated a three-track system that allows students to explore their interests in the trades and gain practical skills: (1) students take 2 years of foundational courses including math, science, history, and language (General Education); (1) in junior year, students choose two potential career tracks (Career Tracks); and (3) senior year focuses on a particular area of study related to a chosen career path (Specialization).

Interplay Academy, an Austin-based company founded in 2016, offers online courses and 3D, interactive simulations to help learners build the skills needed to enter the workforce in the skilled trades. The Academy offers an immersive learning platform, SkillMill, which enables students to train and practice hands-on learning from any device or in virtual reality. Programs enroll individuals who may have no or limited skills; learners complete the program with a certification(s); and programs leverage the power of immersive 3D simulations and high-impact video content to help build the skills needed to enter the workforce. For example, the Academy's HVAC track includes 61 hours of expert-led learning, preparation and testing for three certifications, and the opportunity to earn a job-ready certificate in the virtual programs.

The Academy approach:

  • Offers curated training programs to learners.
  • Enables learners to work toward earning an Interplay Learning Job-Ready Certificate—a streamlined curriculum to get learners job-ready.
  • Enables learners to earn industry-recognized certifications.
  • Provides options for learners to connect with future employers.
  • Partners with some community colleges as feasible. For example, a college in North Carolina offers Interplay’s training as part of associate degree programs.
  • Offers an apprenticeship program that is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. This allows learners to start to earn hours toward their apprenticeship while enrolled in the Interplay Academy.


Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Interplay Academy

Skilled Trades School Guide | Vocational Trade Career Training (

Types of Skilled Trades and Technical Training (With Examples) |

U.S. Department of Labor (apprenticeships)

What Is A Skilled Trade? Top-Paying Trades To Consider – Forbes Advisor


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