As the economy diversifies, so do the choices you face when you're preparing to enter the workforce. A four-year degree is no longer a must for many lucrative positions, nor is it an automatic ticket to career success. And with the cost of a traditional college education continuing to rise, student loans are becoming more of a burden, as well.
In short, it pays to look around at the growing number of alternatives that can jump-start you on a career path. Specialized professions in the culinary arts, sewing, carpentry, and money management (everything from credit to budgeting to investing) offer a wealth of opportunities through affordable certificate programs and apprenticeships.
But nowhere are the opportunities greater than in the IT field, which is good news because you can pursue training and certification in much of this space online. This has become even more crucial during the pandemic, as distance learning has become the norm in many places.
And if you're trying to save money (and who isn't?), here's some good news: There are numerous free online courses to explore, and plenty of places to get started.
Follow these steps to gain real-world expertise without a college degree:
Cybersecurity is one area with massive growth and job opportunities, with hackers continually working to breach the firewalls of major companies. Big players ranging from Yahoo! to Facebook, from Equifax to Capital One, have recently experienced massive security breaches. Job skills like app development security and cloud security are expected to grow by 164% and 115%, respectively, over the next five years.
Other marketable skills in IT worth exploring include cloud computing, software development, and robotic process automation.
Hot employment niches outside of the tech space include nursing, digital marketing, logistics and fulfillment.
Complementary skill sets showing big growth included artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), algorithm development, and cloud computing technologies such as Amazon Web Services. Other possibilities include data science, project management, and graphic design.
Then there's always autonomous driving (you know, those cars that drive themselves), where engineers get paid an average of $238,018 a year. That's a pretty marketable skill!
The same is true for documents in construction and design. Blueprints and floor plans are now produced by computers. In fact, computer-assisted design (CAD) is applicable to everything from automotive to architecture, from computer animation to prosthetics. Within this space, AutoCAD drafting is a great job skill you can learn without a college degree. But you don't have to learn everything online, either; hybrid training has exploded in popularity under lockdown.
Keep this in mind as the pandemic eases: On-site classes will be reopening, but that doesn't mean you need to attend a four-year college. Do yourself a favor and forget the stigma associated with community colleges. Tuition fees are affordable, and specialized certificates are available that can open the door to high-paying jobs. And the option to transfer to a 4-year school or advanced degree will always be there after you finish community college.
Do your research. Sign up for several classes or training sessions. Test the waters and find out what you enjoy and what you're good at. Then take the next step and begin targeting more specialized instruction in the area(s) you've chosen to pursue. There's plenty of opportunity out there, so decide what you want to do, make a plan, and go for it!