Skip to main content
Days of Giveaways

Opportunities outside a four-year degree are growing

Statistics show that more education means less unemployment and higher pay. Experts credit higher education as a signal to employers that a potential employee possesses desirable skills.  

However, there’s also a correlation between the necessity for higher education and the career field, meaning that higher education isn’t a definitive indication of success. 

Vocational, technical and skilled trades careers, including employment within the manufacturing, automotive, information technology, health care and construction sectors, require skills such as math, reading aptitude, dependability, work ethic, attitude and flexibility; yet many of these are acquired through minimal college and paid training. 

Michigan Career Outlook through 2030, a publication by the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, highlights a wide range of career options requiring a two-year degree, long-term training or apprenticeships. Some examples among the highest demand and highest paid include bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists, carpenters, dental hygienists, diagnostic medical sonographers, electricians, and firefighters.  

Similarly, Hot 50 Job Outlook through 2030 highlights several high-demand, high-wage careers — including industrial machine mechanics, massage therapists and physical therapist assistants — requiring less than a bachelor’s degree. 

According to evidence obtained by the American Apprenticeship Initiative, employers, except for the building trades, underutilize apprenticeship training partially because they assume colleges will bear the primary responsibility for career preparation. However, research shows that apprenticeships enhance benefits to both employer and employee. 

Steven Long, apprenticeship and training representative with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, said that apprenticeships and training programs are another vehicle to move people into lucrative careers. 

“In many of these programs, you’re basically taking courses such as humanities and social sciences out of the equation and focusing on very specific areas of study. The beauty of it all is there’s no college debt,” he said.  

Additionally, nontraditional trades are emerging. Long said that an apprenticeship training program that will allow certified nursing and medical assistants to progress to a registered nurse certification and licensing without going through a four-year college is currently in the approval process. 

“This will provide a viable pathway for nurse licensing. It’s a different avenue for people from lower-income areas and disadvantaged groups to get into an RN program and get licensed,” he said. 

Stephanie Beckhorn, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Office of Employment and Training, said a career in the professional trades offers a good- paying, in-demand job while helping build the foundation of strong communities. 

“In 2022, professional trades careers paid about 30% higher than the statewide median for all occupations, with a median salary of nearly $59,000,” she said. “There are resources available to help you tap into these rewarding careers with little or no student debt. Programs like the Going PRO Talent Fund, State Apprenticeship Expansion and Michigan Reconnect help ensure our neighbors, family and friends can get the education, skills or training they need to succeed.”