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There’s a misconception that the only way to make a decent living is to earn a college degree. But if you can offer a service that most people can’t do on their own — repairing and maintaining equipment and appliances, fixing cars or wiring a home — you could stand to make a nice living.

Best of all, most training happens on the job. So rather than going into debt for your education, you’re actually earning money.

Here are some tips on getting started in a skilled trade career.

Pick your trade

The great thing about trade careers is that they often correspond with your hobbies. Do you like fixing cars or creating elaborate meals? Consider a career as an auto mechanic or chef. Do you love gardening or working with wood? Perhaps a career as a horticulturist or cabinetmaker will suit you.

After you’ve narrowed down your choices to three or four, learn more about them by talking to people in the field and researching job opportunities, pay and long-term possibilities for growth.

Many skilled trade jobs are more mentally demanding than physically demanding. Stamina, dexterity and good problem-solving skills are usually more useful than brute strength. If you’re someone who prefers being creative and active or working with your hands to sitting at a desk, the skilled trades could be an ideal choice for you.

Become an apprentice

The next step is finding an employer who’s interested in hiring and training you. You can find potential contacts through trade unions, professional associations or training institutions, as well as local employment offices, programs and agencies.

Or you can apply for a registered apprenticeship. Operated by the private and public sectors, registered apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with theoretical and practical classroom instruction. Sponsors include employers, employer associations and joint labor/management organizations. Program sponsors pay most of the training costs while simultaneously increasing wages as your skill levels increase. These standards-based programs generally range from one to six years depending on the needs of the program sponsor.

A great resource is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Registered Aprenticeship program. ApprenticeshipUSA offers opportunities to earn a salary while learning the skills necessary to succeed in high-demand careers. Go to for a list of the program’s available occupations.

To search available Department of Labor registered apprenticeship and non-registered apprenticeship opportunities near you, visit the Glassdoor Apprenticeship Finder on the USDOL website,, or

Becoming certified

Career-training program participants receive national industry certification upon graduation. This certification is applicable anywhere in the United States. For more information about becoming certified, contact your trade union.

For more information about apprenticeship training, visit