HVAC vs. Trades – Which One is for You?

June 1, 2021

Trades and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) both offer decent earning opportunities. HVAC technicians work in the installation, repair, and maintenance of heating and cooling systems. Trade workers such as electricians and plumbers can work in various sectors that require their services.

If you’re considering a career as an electrician, plumber, or HVAC technician, you’ll be happy to know that the median annual pay for all these jobs ranged over $45,000 in the U.S. The prospects for growth are also amazing. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the employment opportunities, salaries, job duties, skills, education, and benefits associated with HVAC and trade jobs to help you make an informed career decision.

 Trade JobsHVAC Technician Jobs
Job Types/CareerPlumbers, electricians, construction managers, elevator mechanicsInstallation, repair, and maintenance of heating and cooling systems
Degree RequiredGED/High SchoolGED/High School
Certificate RequiredPreferably YesHVAC certificate is required
Average IncomeMore than $55,000 annually.*$48,730 annually
Work ExperienceNot neededNot Needed
LicenseVaries according to the job roleVaries from state to state

*based on the average income of plumbers, electricians, construction managers, elevator mechanics – as suggested by BLS.

The associate’s degree program at NEIT features a curriculum that combines theoretical understanding and hands-on application. An associate’s degree in electrical technology, HVAC, or plumbing technology can pave the way for a fulfilling career.
Visit our website to learn more about the various programs offered at NEIT.

What is HVAC?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. HVAC describes the various systems that help in the circulation of air between indoor and outdoor areas. Such systems help heat and cool residential and commercial buildings. HVAC systems also help create proper ventilation that allows moisture to escape.

While it is a common misconception that all HVAC units are simply air conditioning units, it is not the case. HVAC is an umbrella term that is used to describe all kinds of air control systems such as:

  • Boilers
  • Air conditioning units
  • Ducts and moisture vents

HVAC units help maintain the ideal temperature in all seasons, maintain ideal moisture levels, and filter the incoming air to create optimum comfort. In commercial sectors such as shopping malls, industrial warehouses, and office buildings, HVAC systems also perform the additional function of creating the ideal environment for goods, equipment, and machinery.

What are the Steps for Becoming an HVAC Technician?

You can become an HVAC technician by following these simple steps: 

Start with a High-School Diploma (or equivalent)

Most states in the U.S. require you to have a high-school diploma or GED before pursuing a certificate or associate’s degree program in HVAC. Since HVAC technicians work in a technical environment, subjects such as physics, mathematics, and shop classes like sheet metal fabrication can help you learn HVAC concepts better. 

Taking up courses that teach you the concepts of blueprint reading, technical mathematical, and engineering drawings can be beneficial. These courses will teach you the skills essential for working on HVAC systems.


Earn your degree in HVAC from NEIT and begin your new career path today!


Pursue an HVAC Certificate or Degree

After completing your GED, you can enroll in an HVAC certificate program. Since HVAC is a specialized field, pursuing a certificate program can equip you with the right knowledge and skills essential for becoming a successful HVAC technician. 

It can take approximately nine months to complete an HVAC certificate program. In a certificate program, you will learn various technical skills such as:

  • Diagnosis and Equipment Training
  • Use of tools and testing equipment 
  • Basic principles of mechanics, electronics, and electricity
  • Steam concepts, psychrometry, thermodynamics, etc. 

An associate’s degree can also further improve your technical understanding and skills, thereby improving your job prospects. Major benefits associated with this path include higher earning potential, better job security and job advancement. 

According to the Census Bureau, the average weekly earnings for individuals with an associate’s degree is $836. That makes for an annual income of $43,472. Meanwhile, the average weekly earnings for these with a high school diploma is around $712, or an annual income of $37,024.

The organization also found that individuals with an associate’s degree enjoy a significantly lower rate of unemployment as opposed to those with just a high school diploma. 

The Associate in Science Degree in Refrigeration/Air Conditioning/Heating (RACH) at NEIT program that offers comprehensive learning to train students as industry technicians.
You will learn intensive instruction in the mechanical and electrical control devices and comprehensive training in troubleshooting and service call procedures for refrigeration/air conditioning and heating systems.

Apply for an HVAC Technicians’ Apprenticeship 

After completing your formal education in HVAC, you can consider pursuing an apprenticeship to improve your employment prospects. An apprenticeship works as an add-on to your certificate program as you get on-the-job training and experience that helps you apply your knowledge to real-world problems.

An HVAC apprenticeship can last anywhere between three and five years. Employers usually prefer hiring individuals who have undertaken a formal training program or apprenticeship. 

Some apprenticeships also offer you a stipend that can help you cover your basic expenses while learning on the job.

Look into Certifications

After completing your HVAC training, you can take up exams and certifications for taking up specialized work. North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is the largest and one of the most prolific organizations that provide HVAC technicians certification. 

NATE conducts the Industry Competency Exams (ICE) in installation and service specialties to help HVAC technicians take up entry-level jobs.

You can also take up the NATE Ready to Work Certification for HVAC technicians. Passing this exam means that the HVAC technician student has demonstrated the fundamental job knowledge and skills for an entry-level technician in component identification, tools, measurement devices, ventilation systems, and safety. 

HVAC technicians can also apply for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification exam to buy or work with refrigerants.

Steps for Becoming an HVAC Technician

What should you know about being an HVAC technician?

Aspiring technicians should know the following things before pursuing a career in HVAC


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC technicians earn a median wage of $23.43 per hour. The annual median pay for HVAC techs was $48,730 per year in 2019, while the top 10 percent of HVAC techs earned $77,920 per year.

Job Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that HVAC technicians’ employment will grow by 4 percent in the next decade. 

Type of Coursework Needed to Prepare

If you want to get an apprenticeship or get licensed as a technician, getting a certificate or an associate’s degree can prove to be helpful. Since HVAC techs work on practical solutions, hands-on training and education are essential. 

A typical HVAC coursework for professionals can include training on electrical systems, water heaters, building codes, maintenance, reading blueprints and drawing, welding, and HVAC tech such as duct systems, air conditioners, boilers, etc. 

Length of Coursework 

A certificate program in HVAC can take up to 1 year to complete, while an associate’s degree can take up to two years. However, depending upon the program that you enroll in, your knowledge and technical abilities will differ.

Licensing Requirement

HVAC techs can take up a contractor’s license to start their own business. Electricians and HVAC professionals will both likely need education and work experience to obtain their licenses. The licensing requirement is something that will vary from state to state.

What are the Benefits of Being an HVAC technician?

Short Training Time

While a traditional degree program can take up to 4 years, you can complete an HVAC certificate program in less than a year. An associate’s degree can take up to two years to complete and can help you qualify for entry-level jobs.

Fast Job Growth

Estimates predict that HVAC jobs will grow by approximately 15 percent from 2016 to 2026. There are various job opportunities in this field for budding technicians, such as installing units, maintaining air heating and cooling equipment, and upgrading existing systems for energy efficiency.

Active Work

Installation and repair workers have some of the most active jobs in the country. Working indoors and outdoors at different sites increases your activity and may help improve your health.

Career Advancement

The HVAC career path does not end after you land your first job. Additional training, experience, and specialized certifications can help technicians take up greater roles and advance their careers. HVAC technicians can even start their own business or take up freelance jobs.

What is a trade job?

A trade job is an occupation or a job that requires specialized training and skills which you can learn without getting a bachelor’s degree. Trade professions are more practical-oriented and often require you to work onsite. Some of the most common trade professions are as follows:


Electricians are responsible for installing and maintaining electrical systems in homes, office buildings, and commercial spaces. Electricians specialize in electrical wiring, transmission systems, stationary machines, and electrical equipment. Electricians remain in high demand as all places that run on electricity require an electrician’s services at some point.

what is a trade job


Plumbers carry out the installation and repair of plumbing systems. They repair pipes and install fixtures that help in the steady supply of freshwater, treatment of wastewater, and smooth functioning of drainage systems. 

A plumber also performs on-field inspections to check for leakages or pipeline damages. An associate’s degree in plumbing can help kickstart your career on the right note.

benefits of a trade job

Construction Managers

Construction managers help plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects at every stage from start to finish. They have a reputation for working on various projects such as public, residential, commercial buildings, industrial structures, roads, memorials, and bridges.

A construction manager has to work closely with other building specialists, such as architects and civil engineers. Several trade workers such as stonemasons, electricians, plumbers, and carpenters coordinate with a construction manager for making informed decisions. 

Elevator Mechanics

An elevator mechanic performs activities involving the installation, assembly, and maintenance of elevators, escalators, chairlifts, moving walkways, and a range of other similar equipment.

What are the Benefits of Jumping into a Trade job?

A trade job can also offer a steady source of income and opportunities for growth. Electricians and plumbers are in great demand across the country as both of these fields require technicians with practical expertise. These are some of the reasons why people may pursue a job in the trades:

  • Less College Debt: A four-year degree program can be expensive, while a training program for electricians, technicians, and other trade jobs is comparatively cheaper and can help you quickly take up a job and avoid hefty debts.
  • Paid Training: Electricians and other skilled workers can earn a stipend during their apprenticeship. Thus, instead of paying a university, you can learn during an apprenticeship and make decent money during your training.
  • Learn Practical Skills: Trades help you learn skills such as plumbing that lets you solve problems that crop up in your day-to-day life.
  • Excellent Income Expectations: According to BLS, the median annual pay for electricians was $56,180, while plumbers earned $55,160 in 2019. Many trades help you work on your own and even start your own business.
  • Opportunity for Growth: Skilled trades attach a great deal of importance to experience. With experience in the trades sector, you witness a higher pay scale and move to better roles and job opportunities.


HVAC and trades both offer rewarding and fulfilling career prospects. Every career comes with an associated set of pros and cons; however, if you have the desired passion and skill set, you will always have the desired job satisfaction. 

New England Tech offers several associate degrees in both – HVAC and trade disciplines. Request for more information if you wish to start your journey today!


Earn your degree in HVAC from NEIT and begin your new career path today!



Who gets paid more, HVAC or electricians?

The median annual pay for electricians was $56,180 in 2019, which is slightly higher than the median annual pay of $48,730 for HVAC technicians. However, salaries can differ according to skills, certifications, and years of experience.

Are HVAC techs electricians?

HVAC technicians often learn the basics of electrical systems. However, their work is more restricted to specialized heating and cooling systems. Electricians specifically work in the area of electrical transmission and devices.

What is the hardest trade?

Trades that involve hazardous working conditions such as roofing and demolition can be physically demanding.

How Hard is HVAC School?

HVAC schools help you learn the basic electronics, plumbing systems, heating and cooling systems, and specialized skills necessary for taking up a job in the field. It is not as hard to obtain an associate’s degree or an HVAC certificate, especially if you love practical work.