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Now Hiring: Six Occupations Not Requiring a 4-Year Degree

 

Pursuit of a 4-year college degree has been the default expectation for many high school graduates for decades. Rather than applying for jobs to enter the workforce, high school seniors seeking a career that could give them a more prosperous future would instead be mailing in college applications. Of course, the push for more students to attend college is not without justification. In general, lifetime earnings tend to increase in conjunction with the level of higher education degree attainment.[1]

That being said, not every degree will provide graduates with the same career opportunities. While many occupations require a standard 4-year degree, some require only a 2-year degree or even simply a high school diploma. For workforce developers, it is imperative to understand which occupations are most accessible for those who are only capable of or only interested in pursuing 2-year degrees or similar short-term credentials.

There are many ways to go about uncovering the best occupations that don’t always require a 4-year degree. For this article, we use Chmura’s Real-Time Intelligence[2] job postings to retrieve data on the occupations for which employers in the real world are hiring. Specifically, we consider only the jobs which require either an associate’s degree or a high school diploma (or equivalent).[3]

After filtering the occupations according to various criteria,[4] we identified six occupations paying more than $40,000 per year that job seekers may be able to pursue if they do not plan on acquiring a 4-year degree:

  • Sales Representatives, Services, All Other
  • Network and Computer Systems Administrators
  • Registered Nurses
  • Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists
  • Insurance Sales Agents
  • Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers

To be clear, sometimes jobs in these positions will require a 4-year degree, but this will not always be the case. Also, this is by no means an exhaustive or definitive group, but these occupations could give workforce developers a starting point for determining which areas should be given resources for career training and development. In the remainder of this article, we highlight some of the basic requirements for each of those six occupations and give an overview of important characteristics including job demand.

 

Sales Representatives, Services, All Other

Arguably, this occupation is one with the fewest barriers of entry among the six we are highlighting. Of the online job postings requesting either an associate’s degree or high school diploma, about 80% only require a high school diploma. Moreover, few job postings require certifications to work in the field. The most notable aspect of online postings for this profession is, not surprisingly, the high number of postings requiring skills in sales. Other skills also required tend to be Microsoft Office, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Presentation. Sales representatives in services most commonly have job titles such as Sales Representative, Outside Sales Representative, Inside Sales Representative, and Account Manager.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment:[5] 1,021,047
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 1.1%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads:[6]7%
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 85,987
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $47,853

 

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

This occupation sometimes requires a bit more education to gain entry. The online postings for network and computer systems administrators—among those not requiring a 4-year degree—are evenly split between those which require an associate’s degree and those which require only a high school diploma. Also, many of the postings require candidates to possess certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Secret Clearance, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). Job postings require that network and computer systems administrators be skilled in computer networking, Microsoft Office, Linux, and computer programming-coding. Workers in this field tend to have titles such as System Administrator, network engineer, and Network Administrator.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment: 397,480
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 0.7%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads: 21.9%
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 23,888
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $47,840

 

Registered Nurses

This occupation typically requires a 4-year degree or higher, but not always—plus the pattern varies by state. Nearly all of the job postings for registered nurses require an associate’s degree at minimum. Additionally, this occupation is certification-heavy. Candidates are often requested to possess a variety of credentials (in addition to “RN”) such as Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certification (ACLS), and Certification in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Registered nurses will typically possess the same job title as the occupation and top certification—registered nurse, or it’s abbreviation, RN.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment: 2,985,062
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 1.4%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads: 33.3%
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 66,123
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $46,301

 

Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists

For workers who want to avoid the traditional college route but aren’t too keen on a career in sales, working as bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists may be a viable option. Around 90% of the job postings for this occupation do not require more than a high school diploma. The most important requirement for these mechanics and diesel engine specialists is that they possess strength in a variety of hands-on mechanical skills such as diesel engines, tractor-trailer trucks, brake installation/maintenance/repair, welding, and power tools. That being said, having the proper credentials is also very important—with many job postings requiring certifications in Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists will often work as diesel mechanics or diesel technicians.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment: 284,542
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 0.9%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads: 99.2%
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 21,585
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $44,904

 

Insurance Sales Agents

In addition to sales representatives in general service-related industries, becoming a sales agent specifically in the insurance space can be attractive to sales-oriented workers who do not want to go the traditional college route. Of the job postings for insurance sales agents requiring less than a 4-year degree, only 5% require an associate’s degree. Unlike the more general sales representatives, insurance sales agents are more often required to hold certifications such as Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU). Beyond this, insurance sales agents generally share skills with sales representatives in all other services, such as being skilled in sales and Microsoft Office.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment: 482,345
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 1.1%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads: 86.7%
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $41,780
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 37,749

 

Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers

While having an associate’s degree might offer a competitive edge, heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers generally need only a high school diploma. Only about 15% of the job postings (among those requiring less than a 4-year degree) request that candidates have an associate’s degree. There are, however, some important credentials for workers in this field—the EPA Section 608 Certification and, to a lesser extent, EPA Universal Certification and Light Commercial Refrigeration Certification (NATE Certified). The single most important skill for workers in the space is, not surprisingly, HVAC systems—though they also may be required to possess skills in Microsoft Office, plumbing, boilers, and using ladders. And finally, heating and air conditioning mechanics and installers may hold a variety of job titles such as HVAC technicians, HVAC service technicians, controls technicians, HVAC mechanics, and HVAC installers.

Totals for All Jobs

  • Current US Employment: 342,239
  • 10-Year Forecast Average Annual Growth Rate: 1.4%

Jobs Requiring Less Than a 4-Year Degree

  • Percentage of All Job Ads: 94.7%
  • Number of Online Job Ads: 14,767
  • Median Wage of Online Job Ads: $40,010

 

 

[1] CollegeBoard. Trends in Higher Education. “Lifetime Earnings by Education Level.” https://trends.collegeboard.org/education-pays/figures-tables/lifetime-earnings-education-level

[2] Chmura’s RTI (Real-Time Intelligence) is a dataset within JobsEQ comprising online job postings data in the United States, updated daily, to provide insight on potential hiring demand. A “job posting” in this dataset is a unique (deduped) job posted from one of more than 20,000 sources which has been analyzed to be classified by standard occupation classification (SOC) code and location, along with other information.

[3] Job postings in this article refer to all US online job postings active at any point within the 180 days preceding 9/23/18, filtered for those that list either an associate’s degree or high school diploma (or equivalent) as a requirement.

[4] We included only the occupations for which at least 10,000 ads were found and for which at least 1,000 of these job postings had wage information available—and only considered the occupations whose median wage exceeded $40,000 annually. We excluded all occupations whose forecast average annual growth rates and current employment levels fall below the average for all occupations. Finally, to capture a more “entry-level” set of career opportunities, occupations including “manager” or “supervisor” in the name were excluded.

[5] Current total US occupation employment (2018Q2) and 10-year forecast average annual growth rate, for all occupations discussed in this article, are derived from JobsEQ and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[6] Percentage of job postings requiring either an associate’s degree or high school diploma/equivalent out of all job postings that include education requirements.

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