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You Don’t Need a Degree to Be Successful. Here are 7 Careers That Prove It.

Feb 23, 2022 | Workforce Development

Student debt rates are higher than ever, with fewer college graduates finding satisfying and long-term careers in return. Did you know that student loan debt in the U.S. totals $1.75 trillion?

If you are open to pursuing a career in the skilled trades, a degree won’t likely be necessary. Here are 7 professions that prove you don’t need a college degree (and all the debt that comes with it) to build a high-paying and fulfilling career.


According to a new study from Porch Research, the electrician is the best overall home improvement contractor job in 2022 – based on pay, job growth, and ease of entering the occupation.

Working as an electrician does require some special training and plenty of safety precautions. From wiring basic lights to managing circuit breaker panels and electric loads, electricians are highly skilled in their niche. Though there are certifications and licensing tests that vary from state to state, most of your electrician training can be accomplished through an apprenticeship.

According to the Porch Research study, the average annual salary for experienced electricians ranges from $56,900 – $98,720.


Do you have a knack for working with tools, building furniture, and installing materials? If so, you may want to consider a career as a carpenter.

Working as a carpenter does not require a degree or higher education, though it typically requires a thorough knowledge of basic tools, building methods, and safety precautions. There are also opportunities to learn on-the-job or complete apprenticeships in carpentry.

Carpentry is one of the most popular skilled trade careers in the construction industry – with currently over 699,300 carpenters in the United States. Carpenters play key roles in residential building and remodeling projects.

The salary range for a carpenter spans from $49,520 – $87,410 based on location, experience, and/or individual clients. 

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbing is not the most glamorous of careers in the skilled trades, but it is very necessary. From installing toilets and sinks to managing clogs, fixtures, and underground piping, plumbers are well-versed in the arena of ceramics and sanitation.

Pipefitters are familiar with a wide range of piping and plumbing systems that include pipe transportation and management. Pipefitters also know how to work with various materials such as gasses and potentially hazardous chemicals.

Steamfitters are professional pipefitters that focus on installing and maintaining specialized pipes and systems for high-pressure materials – often in industrial settings.

Armed with an apprenticeship, some on-the-job training, and in some cases a postsecondary award – like a certificate or diploma of less than 1 academic year, professional plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters can earn a salary that ranges from $56,330-$98,990.

HVAC Mechanics and Installers 

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning technicians, and installers spend their days installing, maintaining, and repairing a variety of indoor climate control systems in both residential and commercial or industrial settings. HVAC professionals are in high demand.

Careers in HVAC will require a thorough knowledge of HVAC systems. There are programs that focus on HVAC training, as well as certification programs. These are often found at community colleges or vocational/technical schools and can last from six to 24 months. HVAC roles may also require some longer-term on-the-job training.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), HVAC employment is expected to increase by 15 percent through 2026. The annual pay range for HVAC mechanics and installers is $50,590-$80,820.

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Knowing how to safely erect, place and join steel girders, columns, and other pieces to form structural frameworks is a skill that can be acquired even without a degree. Iron and steel workers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support bridges, roads, and many other structures.

Iron and steel workers perform work that is physically demanding, sometimes even dangerous. Safety procedures and equipment to reduce the risk of falls and other injuries are key in these roles.

Interested in working as an iron and steel worker? Look into local apprenticeships or opportunities to train and earn while you learn. Structural iron and steel workers can earn salaries that range from $54,830-$94,140 without a college degree. 

Insulation Worker

According to the Porch Research study, if ease of getting into the field is a priority for you, you might consider a job as an insulation worker. These roles don’t require multiple credentials or long-term training. Typically, a high school diploma or the equivalent and some short-term on-the-job training will suffice.

Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings or mechanical systems. Insulation workers can earn from $45,820-$82,530 annually with very little formal training.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Residential solar installations have exploded in recent years, according to CNBC. This is most likely one of the factors that went into the Bureau of Labor Statistics prediction that jobs in solar installation are expected to increase by 52% in the next 10 years.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers can earn an annual salary that ranges from $46,470-$64,600 with a high school diploma or equivalent and a moderate amount of on-the-job training.

Build A Career in the Skilled Trades

Thousands of skilled trade professionals working in construction and other industries prove every day that a college degree is not required for a fulfilling and lucrative career.  There are many opportunities to explore if you are considering a career in construction. Jobs in high demand that pay well and set you up for self-employment (if that appeals to you) are plentiful in the skilled trades.

Interested in learning about opportunities for scholarships, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and more right here in York County, PA? Check out our YBA WorkforceNOW® opportunities page.

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​About the York Builders Association

YBA was chartered in 1964 as a non-profit association of builders and related trades, organized to promote home ownership for the citizens of York County and the improvement of the building industry. We are affiliated with the Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

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