When the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranked professions by projected growth this decade, wind-turbine service technician landed at the very top of the list. It isn’t shocking that pros in the red-hot renewable-energy sector will be in demand, but it is notable that the career projected to have the greatest growth in the 2020s does not require a college degree. Most wind-turbine techs enter the field with a certificate from a technical-school program.
Historically known as trade, technical and/or vocational programs, today’s “career and technical education” (CTE) programs focus on making students career-ready by combining a standard academic curriculum with hands-on experiences and job-specific skills.
GET TO WORK, NOT INTO DEBT
The usual path to professional success in the US has long included a bachelor’s degree and, often, postgraduate education— but that path no longer is as secure as it once was. More than one-third of college grads end up underemployed, taking jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Plus, many college graduates begin their working life buried under tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.
CTE programs can get students into the workforce faster and at a fraction of the cost. A typical four-year private college charges about $1,160 per credit hour…the typical four-year public college, $315…while the typical area technical center charges just $2 per credit hour for skills-based classes. to earn a certificate in a CTE-related career path is significantly lower, too. And CTE programs generally take no more than one to two years. Today most CTE programs are aligned to a rigorous national curriculum and are approved at the state level.
IT ISN’T JUST AUTO REPAIR
Modern CTE programs offer instruction in 16 “career clusters” including manufacturing and construction trades…health sciences…finance…business…science, technology, engineering and mathematics… information technology…transportation, distribution and logistics…the arts…and even the law. A CTE program doesn’t make someone a lawyer, but it can train students for in-demand legal roles such as paralegal or court reporter. The emphasis is providing real-world skills that are useful to employers. See page eight for some of today’s most attractive CTE career options based on projected job growth and earnings.
Bonus: Many programs involve workbased apprenticeships that provide realworld experience as well as a foot in the door with employers.
Some CTE students go on to earn four-year degrees, but many enter the workforce armed with a certificate earned in a year or less…or a twoyear associate’s degree. These students are not necessarily finished learning. CTE programs are designed to provide “stackable skills,” meaning that students can enter the workforce quickly but have opportunities for additional training that opens additional doors. Example: A student could earn a firefighting certification…take a job as a firefighter…and later complete a program in fire science to become a fire inspector.
CTE courses are offered at multiple institutions including community colleges and area technical centers, though many students start by taking CTE classes in middle and high school. In some areas, there are high schools that focus on CTE programs—career academies, vocational high schools and trade high schools. To find CTE programs in your area, enter “CTE” or “area technical center” and the name of your state into a search engine. If you want to know which programs near you are highly regarded, ask local employers who hire people in the field you are considering for their recommendations.
GREAT TRADE AND TECH SCHOOL CAREERS
Classic CTE careers such as plumber, electrician and HVAC/refrigeration mechanic and installer remain as viable as ever, with median annual salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 because the home-building and home-repair sector is flourishing. But there are plenty of other CTE careers worth considering.
Washington state’s Career Bridge website (CareerBridge.wa.gov) is a good example of tools provided by states to investigate career options. It features details about in-demand professions and earnings potential, a quiz to help students identify careers that match their interests and more. It also has details about specific CTE programs for students who live in Washington state.
Or consider the following careers, which offer impressive earnings and/or are in great demand…and don’t require a four-year college degree but rather a relevant certificate from a CTE program or, in some cases, a two-year associate’s degree from a CTE program…
Radiation therapist. These medical professionals administer treatments to cancer patients. Demand is strong—the BLS expects a 7% increase in jobs this decade. A two-year degree typically is sufficient to qualify, though licensing requirements vary by state. Median pay: $86,850.
Radiologic or MRI technologist. Radiologic technologists take X-rays and other scans…while MRI technologists operate MRI scanners. Job growth of 7% is expected this decade, and an associate’s degree generally is sufficient. Median pay: $63,710.
Respiratory therapist. These health-care pros work with doctors to help patients who have difficulty breathing due to asthma, emphysema or cystic fibrosis. They connect patients to ventilators and perform respiratory procedures such as chest physiotherapy. Demand for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by 19% this decade. An associate’s degree generally is required. Median pay: $62,810.
Aerospace engineering and operations technologist or technician. These professionals operate the equipment used to develop and produce new air- and spacecraft. Jobs are expected to increase by 7% this decade and typically require an associate’s degree in engineering technology or certificates in relevant topics such as machining, computer programming and/or robotics. Median pay: $68,570.
Wind-turbine service technician. The BLS projects that 61% more people will be employed maintaining wind turbines in 2030 than in 2020—the highest growth rate of any profession. Comfort working at great heights is necessary. Median pay: $56,230.
Court reporter or simultaneous captioner. Court reporters type up transcripts during trials, and simultaneous captioners do the same for live events such as TV programs and press conferences. The ability to type accurately at high speed is necessary. Requires postsecondary education but less than a two-year degree. Licensing requirements vary by state. The sector is expected to grow by 9% this decade. Median pay: $61,660.
Computer-support specialist. These pros provide assistance with computer problems to individual computer owners or as in-house tech support staff for organizations. Demand is strong—8% growth is expected this decade. Additional education could lead to a variety of career paths across IT including management, computer software engineering and computer programming. An associate’s degree or tech-school certificate in a computer-related field often is sufficient. Median pay: $55,510.
Paralegal or legal assistant. It typically takes seven years of post-secondary education to become a lawyer—four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by three years of law school. But to support lawyers as a paralegal or legal assistant generally requires only a two-year associate’s degree in paralegal studies. These professions are in great demand, with 10% job growth expected this decade. Median pay: $52,920.
Licensed practical or licensed vocational nurse. Students generally can qualify for these entry-level nursing positions by completing a one-year stateapproved CTE program. The profession is expected to grow by 9% this decade, and with additional education, these entry-level nursing jobs can be a stepping stone to more lucrative health-care roles such as registered nurse or nurse practitioner. Median pay: $48,820.
Solar photovoltaic installer. Increased interest in renewable power is boosting demand for solar panel installers almost as dramatically as it is for wind-turbine techs—there are expected to be 51% more jobs in this field in 2030 than in 2020. This requires just a high school diploma and one year of on-thejob training. Median pay: $46,470.
Air traffic controller. No profession requiring only an associate’s degree pays higher median annual wages, according to the BLS. Students hoping to enter the field typically attend an “Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative” program— there are several dozen across the US (FAA.gov/jobs/students/schools). On the downside, air traffic controller is a high-stress profession that’s projected to experience only modest 1% employment growth this decade, potentially making it difficult to land jobs. Median pay (as of 2020): $130,420.