Top Job Skills You Can Learn Without a College Degree

Top Job Skills Without College

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:

  • Identify Your Niche

    Which skills do you want to gain? What subjects do you want to explore? Your decision will likely involve some combination of passion and marketability.

    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 artificial intelligence.

    Hot employment niches outside of the tech space include nursing, digital marketing, logistics and fulfillment.

  • Target Marketable Skills

    Certain skills are in especially high demand these days, so you'd do yourself a favor to investigate them. In one recent survey, distributed systems saw a 26% increase in pay levels, and those with proficiency in the programming languages Elixir, Go, and Cloture each checked in with a pay bump of 19% or better.

    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!

  • Get Trained & Certified

    Whatever subject(s) you're interested in, it's almost certain that you can find online training opportunities — including certification programs — in that field.
    • Coursera is an online hub that boasts more than 77 million online learners. It offers access to “100% online” degrees in fields such as computer science and information technology from institutions like the University of Illinois and Arizona State, as well as certificates in computer science.
    • At FutureLearn, you can choose from short courses and online degrees, as well as “boredom-busting” courses that explore everything from digital wellbeing and even allow you to build a 3D digital model of ancient Rome. You can learn how to write songs or build a mobile game.
    • Check out for a list of a dozen sites where you can learn coding for free or at a reasonable price.
    • Udemy offers fee-based content at a variety of pricing levels, as well as 150 free courses on subjects like how to code a video game, programming 101, creative design using the Adobe creative suite, Amazon Web Services and more.
    • And of course YouTube has a wealth of videos that can help you gain exposure to an array of job roles, as well as some excellent free tutorials to grow your skill set.
  • Let Go of Your Assumptions

    Additionally, fields established with analog methods are now relying on computer technology more than ever before. Modern journalists don't need manual typesetters anymore; they design pages directly on their screen and monitor SEO trends while posting stories online.

    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.

  • Don't forget the basics

    General skills such as communication, time management, and sales techniques may not be directly tech-related, but they'll help you in any field you choose to enter, from IT to healthcare and everything in between. Classes are available in everything from copywriting to CPR that can help bolster your resumé and prepare you for a broad range of responsibilities and interactions.

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!

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