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How to Learn a Trade at a Community College

How to Learn a Trade at a Community College

Almost everywhere you turn today, people are talking about the necessity of a bachelor’s degree. However, there are a lot of very lucrative skills and careers many of which you can have by learning a trade at a community college or vocational school. Trade specific programs at community colleges are a great way to gain the necessary skills you need if you already know which trade you wish to enter. Due to accelerated programs and industry-specific curriculum, many community college graduates can quickly learn a new trade in a short amount of time and without the burden of large student loans often accumulated through longer degree programs.

Despite the more common focus on bachelors and graduate degrees, recent conversations point out the need for more vocational training. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, career sectors with high levels of trade or vocational training are projected to have the most growth between now and 2026. Some trades in healthcare support positions are among the fastest growing with an estimated 23% increase between now and 2026. With higher than average growth across many trades, now is the time to explore what community colleges and vocational schools have to offer. Below you’ll find a handful of the most common trades you can learn at a community college and their resulting job prospects.

Medical Records and Health Information

Medical Records and Health Information technicians are coding specialists within the medical industry. Typically these technicians take information from medical records and assign appropriate diagnoses and procedure codes. Such codes are used for a variety of purposes, especially by insurance companies, as well as public health officials and researchers. Typically, medical records and health information technicians earn an associate’s degree or certification at a community college. During that time, students take courses in medical terminology, healthcare reimbursement, as well as classification and coding systems.

Relevant Skills:

  • Detail-oriented, especially in finding information in technical documents
  • Professional certification, such as Registered Health Information Technician
  • Organize and maintain data for clinical databases
  • Use classification software to assign clinical codes
  • Maintain confidentiality of patients’ records

Medical Records Salaries and Job Prospects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that medical records and health information technicians will see an employment prospects increase of 13%, and lab technicians will see a similar 14% increase, while EMTs will have a 15% increase. Each of those occupations has a 10% higher projection than occupations on average. That means there are a lot of job opportunities to be had by enrolling in a community college’s medical records program. For medical records and health information technicians, the median salary is nearly $35K per year. People in this position typically have opportunities for advancement into positions like a medical records coder, medical coder, or certified coding specialist.


HVAC, or heating, ventilation, and air condition, is a common vocational degree at many community colleges or trade schools. HVAC certification covers residential structures, like single family homes and apartments, to medium and large industrial and office buildings. In addition to including furnace and air conditioning maintenance, HVAC certifications and technical degrees earned at community colleges also cover issues of air quality related to temperature control systems. Students in HVAC programs at community colleges learn their trade by taking courses in electricity, climate control systems, air conditioning design, and often in commercial refrigeration.

Relevant Skills:

  • Proper equipment installation of HVAC systems
  • System design and energy efficiency elements
  • Communicate technical information related to HVAC maintenance with industry specific terminology
  • Commitment to continuing education in industry-specific knowledge
  • Identify and solve technical and mechanical problems

HVAC Salaries and Job Prospects

Between now and 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that HVAC technicians will see a 14% increase. Like many of the other trades we mention in this post, those projected employment numbers mean that there will likely be a lot of job prospects in the years to come. The median annual income for HVAC Service Technicians is $49K. Many HVAC Service Technicians advance into more specific roles like an Refrigeration Technician, HVAC Mechanic, or even a Service and Repair Technical Manager.

Information Technology

Information Technology associate’s degrees from community colleges allow for several areas of specialization, like general IT, cybersecurity, network security, and computer service and support. With a variety of options, many community college IT students can gain more industry-specific knowledge and cater their degree to the type of career they desire. Community college students in these programs take classes in database design, technical writing, networking and network security, as well as hardware, operating systems, and programming. Often community college and vocational school IT programs offer certifications necessary for many industry jobs, including the Computing Technology Industry Association’s A+ certification.

Relevant Skills:

  • Identify and troubleshoot computer information systems and related technology
  • Develop and implement technology solutions for large organizations and small businesses
  • Evaluate technology infrastructures for risk assessments and improvements
  • Install basic networking systems
  • Develop maintenance and update schedules for open source and proprietary systems

Information Technology Salaries and Job Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and mathematical occupations are projected to have a 13% employment increase. That’s nearly double the estimated average for all occupations, but right in line with many other trades you can learn at a community college. Certain groups with information technology, like cybersecurity or information security analysts, will see a 28% increase in employment opportunities. At the entry-level, information technology specialists have a median annual salary of $54K, while someone starting out as a cyber security analyst can earn $67K per year. Many people starting out in IT eventually advance into positions like IT Manager, project Manager, and Systems Administrators.

Accounting Services

While jobs that require a Certified Public Accountant might require a master’s degree, many accounting services jobs only require associate’s degrees that you can earn at a community college. With a wide variety of specializations and career options, learning accounting at a community college could be the right choice for you. Since there is also a lot of upward mobility in accounting, community college graduates can work in their field while enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programs if they want higher level certifications. At a community college, accounting degrees typically cover the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), as well as the accounting cycle, merchandising, preparing and analyzing financial statements, and using different inventory methods. Most community college programs also cover common accounting software like Excel and QuickBooks.

Relevant Skills:

  • Perform billing-related duties
  • Prepare and compile financial statements
  • Create reports for and perform calculations for payrolls
  • Enter changes to employee or client records
  • Balance daily and month-end accounts
  • Maintain familiarity with industry-specific laws and regulatory bodies

Accounting Services Salaries and Job Prospects

Business and financial operations will see a 9% projected employment increase. While noticeably lower than healthcare support jobs, it’s still higher than average for all occupations. With an associate’s degree from a community college, graduates can start careers as an accounting assistant, clerks in accounts payable and receivable, a bookkeeper, or payroll clerk. Accounting Assistants’ median annual salary is $38K, which is similar to the annual salary of other associate’s degree jobs like payroll clerks and accounts receivable clerks. After several years of experience, many people with these jobs will move into positions as an accountant, financial analyst, or payroll administrator.