9 Great Second Careers That Don't Require 4-Year Degrees

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By Susan Ricker


You want to make a career change, but you don't have a bachelor's degree and don't have the funds or the interest in getting a four-year degree. Here are nine good jobs that don't require a bachelor's. Some of them offer on-the job training, too.
1. Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerk*
Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks produce financial records for organizations. They record financial transactions, update statements and check financial records for accuracy. Most bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks need a high-school diploma, and they usually learn some of their skills on the job. They must have basic math and computer skills, including knowledge of spreadsheets and bookkeeping software.
  • Median annual pay: $34,030


2. Electrician
Electricians install and maintain electrical systems in homes, businesses and factories. Although most electricians learn through a formal apprenticeship, some start out by attending a technical school. Most states require licensing.

  • Median annual pay: $48,250


3. Insurance sales agent
Insurance sales agents help insurance companies generate business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. An agent explains insurance policies and helps clients choose plans that suit them. Although many employers require agents to have a high-school diploma, more than one-third of insurance sales agents have a bachelor's degree. Agents must be licensed in the states in which they work.

  • Median annual pay: $46,770


4. Legal secretary
These secretaries and administrative assistants perform routine clerical and organizational tasks. They organize files, draft messages, schedule appointments and support other staff. High-school graduates with basic office and computer skills usually qualify for entry-level secretarial and administrative assistant positions.

  • Median annual pay: $34,660


5. Loan officer
Loan officers evaluate, authorize or recommend approval of loan applications for people and businesses. Most loan officers need a high-school diploma and receive on-the-job training. Commercial loan officers, however, need a bachelor's degree in finance, business, economics or a related field. Mortgage loan officers must be licensed.

  • Median annual pay: $56,490


6. Payroll and timekeeping clerk
Financial clerks do administrative work for banking, insurance and other companies. They keep records, help customers and perform financial transactions. A high-school diploma is enough for most financial clerk positions. These workers usually learn their duties through on-the-job training.

  • Median annual pay: $33,710


7. Pharmacy technician
Pharmacy technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medication. Becoming a pharmacy technician usually requires earning a high-school diploma. Some states also require completing a formal training program and passing an exam.

  • Median annual pay: $28,400


8. Police, fire and ambulance dispatcher
Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers, also called 911 operators or public safety telecommunicators, answer emergency and non-emergency calls. They take information from the caller and send the appropriate type and number of units. Most police, fire and ambulance dispatchers have a high-school diploma or GED. Additional requirements vary. Many states require dispatchers to become certified.

  • Median annual pay: $35,370


9. Real estate sales agent
Real estate brokers and sales agents help clients buy, sell and rent properties. Brokers and agents do the same type of work, but brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate business. Sales agents must work with a broker. In every state and the District of Columbia, real estate brokers and sales agents must be licensed. Candidates must be high-school graduates, be at least 18 years old and complete a particular number of hours of real estate courses.

  • Median annual pay: $40,030


*All median annual pay figures, job descriptions and education levels are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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9 Great Second Careers That Don't Require 4-Year Degrees

If you like bending steel, aluminum and copper into useful shapes, then a career as as a sheet metal worker could be for you. The profession involves projects such as heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings and private homes, as well as architectural components  such as siding, gutters and roofs. Some math aptitude is required, as are mechanical drawing skills. Generally, a high school diploma is all that's needed to begin an apprenticeship, though more specialized tasks may require additional education at a community college or vocational school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes employment in the field is expected to increase by 6 percent between 2008 and 2018, slower than the average.

* Median pay: $63,000

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $122,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a sheet metal worker? Click here to get started

Intensive care nurses are responsible for providing care to seriously injured patients in settings such as emergency rooms and other critical-care venues. Other responsibilities include monitoring of patients, providing assistance to doctors or other medical staff, and acting as a liaison between patients and family members. Nurses commonly enter the profession through one of three educational paths: a bachelor's degree; an associate degree; or a diploma from a nursing program, according to BLS. The agency forecasts the need for registered nurses overall to grow by 22 percent, or nearly 600,000 jobs, through 2018.

* Median pay: $63,100

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $107,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a registered nurse? Click here to get started

Unlike other well-defined careers, the duties of a handyman can be as wide and complex as a worker's aptitudes and interests. Experts in this field generally work on home-improvement and maintenance projects. Those can include simple  or intermediate level projects involving electrical work, plumbing, painting or carpentry. Some states and localities require those who perform such work to be licensed and insured, though those who limit their work to general projects may not require a license. BLS, which refers to this large group of workers as "building cleaning workers," forecasts "good" job-growth prospects, with projected employment of about 4.3 million by 2018.

* Median pay: $53,300

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $104,000

* Typical education: high school diploma or GED

Interested in becoming a handyman? Click here to get started.

The recent revival of manufacturing in the Midwest has created shortages of welders within that sector, which employs about 65 percent of welders nationwide. That's a boon for those looking a job in the field, which employs nearly 500,000 people in the U.S., according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to automobile and other types of manufacturers -- including shipbuilders and aerospace -- welders are also employed in bridge construction and other infrastructure projects. Despite the current difficulty that some companies are having in finding qualified welders, the BLS forecasts little change in employment in the field. It also notes that some employers are willing to hire inexperienced entry-level workers and train them on the job, but some positions, including inspectors, require certification, typically achieved through courses taken at trade or technical schools or union-sponsored apprenticeships.

* Median pay: $66,000

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $107,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a welding inspector? Click here to get started

Aging baby boomers have created a surge in demand for all kinds of health-care services. Not the least of those is cancer detection and treatment, leading to an increase in the need for radiation therapists to treat the disease, using X-ray and CT scan machines. Radiation therapists also keep track of the amount of radiation given to each patient during each visit and throughout the course of treatment. One bonus of the profession is that most radiation therapists work a typical 40-hour workweek, unlike many other medical careers. Training for the job requires either a bachelor's degree, an associate degree or certification in radiation therapy, and 33 states also require radiation therapists to be licensed. The BLS forecasts the need for radiation therapists to grow by 27 by 2018. The field currently employs about 15,200 people, according to 2008 data, the most recent available. The bulk of radiation therapists work in hospitals.

* Median pay: $77,100

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $104,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a radiation therapist? Click here to get started

As with the other health-related positions on this list, the need for nuclear medicine technologists is being driven by Americans' increased demand for health-care services. Rather than treating injuries or disease, however, the role of nuclear medicine technologists is to detect ailments using cameras that map radioactive drugs -- known as radiopharmaceuticals -- in patients' bodies, to create diagnostic images. One-to-four years of training are required, which can be achieved through certificate programs, an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. "Lead" technologists are considered supervisory positions, overseeing others' work and require additional education or experience. Two-thirds of all nuclear medicine technologist jobs are in hospitals. Though BLS forecasts faster-than-average job growth, keen competition is expected for most positions.

* Median pay: $73,300

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $103,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a nuclear medicine technologist? Click here to get started

Anyone who has ever had a sink unclogged, a running toilet quieted or a leaky pipe fixed knows how essential plumbers are to keeping households, apartments and commercial businesses running smoothly. Plumber is a general category that includes pipelayers, pipe fitters and steamfitters, as well as sprinkler fitters, who specialize in installing automatic fire sprinkler systems in buildings. As with many other skilled trades, plumbers get their training through apprenticeships or in technical schools and community colleges, according to the BLS, though pipelayers typically receive their training on the job. Apprenticeships, whether in a union or nonunion post, consist of up to five years of paid on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of annual classroom instruction. BLS forecasts that demand for plumbers will grow faster than normal through 2018, with the expectation of "very good" job opportunities. More than 555,000 Americans made their living as plumbers in 2008. About 12 percent of them were self employed.

* Median pay: $60,000.

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $102,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming a master plumber? Click here to get started

If dessert is your favorite part of a meal, a career as a pastry chef might just be a sweet fit. These professionals focus on creating those wonderfully tasty and artful confections that delight the senses and tantalize the palate. Many learn their craft through post-secondary education, either at a community college, university or dedicated culinary school, lasting two to four years. Some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training and job-placement programs for chefs and head cooks, BLS says. In addition to having a strong desire to cook and a creative bent, chefs need strong leadership and communication skills and the ability to motivate others. BLS forecasts demand for chefs to be "good" through 2018 despite slower than average employment growth, due largely to heavy turnover within the field. Master pastry chefs are typically part of management, which include additional duties related to staffing, supervision and more.

* Median pay: $45,100

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $102,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming an executive pastry chef? Click here to get started

If cooking and baking aren't quite your thing, but you enjoy restaurant work, becoming a food and beverage director might just be right up your alley. Also known as food-service managers, the position usually involves overseeing the operations of a restaurant, banquet facility or the meal-and-beverage operations at a hotel, among other venues. Food-service managers ensure proper staffing and inventory levels as well as a positive dining experience for customers and the overall upkeep of facilities. Some managers may help with cooking, clearing tables or other tasks during peak periods. Many in this field begin as cooks, waitstaff or bartenders before moving into supervisory positions. Some receive their training through post-secondary education programs in restaurant management. BLS forecasts growth in the field to be slower than average through 2018, but job opportunities should be plentiful in large part because of high turnover. Food-service managers typically work 50 or more hours a week, and sometimes seven days a week.

* Median pay: $61,000

* The highest 10 percent earn at least: $101,000

* Typical education: associate degree

Interested in becoming an food and beverage director? Click here to get started

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