Maybe your grandfather worked in a coal mine—mine did. Maybe mom worked in a tire factory and dad in several different glass factories. And maybe, just maybe, those factories are gone!

The path to prosperity in the United States used to include well-paying jobs that did not require a college degree or a lot of technical skills. That has changed, though, over the past two generations. Today, either a college degree or advanced technical skills have become more of a requirement for high-paying jobs. The good news? There are a growing number of high-paying jobs that do not always require degrees!

STEM jobs—jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering, or math—are everywhere, and many don’t require college degrees! One problem is that when most folks think about STEM careers, they envision someone in a white lab coat or someone programming a computer. But consider this: don’t carpenters use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to weave their magic with wood? Construction trades are actually STEM careers where folks are solving problems using those four fields of study. And aren’t these well-paying careers?

Don’t just take my word for it! The Brookings Institution, a respected “think tank,” recently studied this topic and found:

Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements.”

What do these jobs look like? Take a look at Kayleen McCabe’s Rescue Renovation on DIY Network or Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel.

In the crowded jobs market, there are three areas that stand out as particularly fast-growing, high-paying STEM-related jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. The three fields detailed below have a projected growth rate of more than 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. And the wages for these jobs range from $45,000–$70,000. Interested?

Registered Nurse

There are many paths to being a nurse. You can earn a certified nurse’s assistant credential before graduating high school! To complete their education, nurses can either get a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree or a diploma from an accredited nursing program. Many of K12‘s career-focused schools offer specific pathways to careers in medicine such as nurses and medical assistants.

Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Cars and trucks are not disappearing! Some auto shops have technicians and mechanics that specialize in such fields as brake repairs and front-end mechanics. Many prospective technicians and mechanics come from postsecondary training programs that take anywhere from six months to a year to complete. These types of programs provide both classroom and on-the-job training. Some service technicians also obtain an associate’s degree, which is sometimes sponsored by car manufacturers and dealerships.

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are generally responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing pipe systems that carry liquids or gasses. They work on both residential and industrial projects, and they must often be available on both nights and weekends. Such workers usually need only a high school diploma.


Do you know someone in a STEM career? What careers of today do you think will involve more STEM in the future? Leave your feedback in the comments section.

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About The Author

Patrick Keeney

Patrick (Pat) Keeney, Director of College and Career Planning for HS Product Management, is a career educator who has spent time in the classroom, consulting, launching a company, and with K12. Pat has also been a learning coach many years, and has seen the K12 experience from that perspective. Although he is presently in Product Management, Pat served for almost 7 years as part of the K12 Product Development group where he was the lead instructional designer on many high school math and science courses, and helped in designing games like X-germz. Prior to his time with K12, Pat was a consultant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and founded an online education company. He also spent 17 years teaching in classrooms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, teaching high school mathematics and science, primarily physics. Pat’s interests range from basketball, a sport that he played and coached, to chess. He finds that games are more than time wasting activities but are one of the best ways that people learn about and simulate the world of experiences.