Want a High-Paying Job Without College? Improve Your Technical Skills

CareersPersonal Finance
Posted By Terri Williams on July 25, 2017 at 9:30 am
Want a High-Paying Job Without College? Improve Your Technical Skills

To our readers: Most students now set their sights on a four-year college degree, but some experts say the U.S. is too focused on them. Today, GoodCall® examines jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. Earlier today, we focused on the court reporter position. Now we look at needed technical skills across many industries.


84 Lumber, a building supply chain with 250 stores, is searching for new manager trainees – and these individuals don’t need a college degree. The company has a “ladder of opportunity” that shows workers positions they can be promoted to – once they have the right skills. For example, an employee in manufacturing would go from a production manager trainee to a production manager to a general manager.

According to Bloomberg Business, a manager trainee at 84 Lumber earns roughly $40,000 a year, but managers at the top stores earn $200,000, and a handful of managers even cross the $1 million mark.

An employee on the store management track would start out as a co-manager, advance to store manager, and then area manager, and finally, regional vice president. There are also career paths for other areas of the company, such as sales management, team headquarters, and installed sales.

Nearly 100% of the company’s managers are promoted from within. Promotions at 84 Lumber are based on performance and include the following three steps:

  • Receive merit certificate
  • Pass final exam
  • Complete self-studies

Technical skills in demand across the U.S.

84 Lumber is a just one of many companies that has a labor shortage – and doesn’t require a four-year college degree for advancement.

Many of these organizations have turned to apprenticeships and other short-term training programs as a way to equip workers with the desired technical skills. For example,  Moran Family of Brands offers an internship program on auto repair careers.

Judy Marks, U.S. CEO of global energy and automation powerhouse Siemens, tells GoodCall® that her company is working with community college partners to offer apprenticeships in an effort to provide on-the-job training.

The demand for workers with technical skills is outpacing supply, and although most colleges offer computer science programs, Apprenti offers tech apprenticeships to those with only a high school diploma. The apprentices in the state of Washington earn $42,000, with a 10% increase within 6 months, while learning the types of skills they can apply while working as software developers or network security analysts.

According to a Case Western Reserve study for the U.S. Department of Commerce, a few of the other companies offering apprenticeships include:

  • CVS Health
  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina
  • Ford Motor Co.
  • MTU America
  • Daetwyler Industries
  • Schneider Automotive Systems
  • Hypertherm
  • Oberg Industries

These apprenticeships cover a variety of industries. For example, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, apprentices can become pharmacy technicians, medical coders, medical assistants, or phlebotomists.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, apprentices learn technical skills that can lead to such jobs as database programmers, computer programmers, information security administrators, information security risk analysts, or network technicians.

Apprentices at Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems have the potential to be employed as injection mold setters, mechatronics technicians, or tool maintenance technicians.

In addition, Associated General Contractors has an apprenticeship program that trains participants to be carpenters, cement masons, drywall finishers, drywall lathers, painters, laborers, or heavy equipment operators.

How apprenticeships boost technical skills

John Malloy of the AutoKineto Group sees apprenticeships and other types of on-the-job training as good for companies and workers, especially in light of a recent report revealing that the skills gap is costing U.S. companies almost $1 million annually. “The current job market demands people with skills that can be applied immediately,” Malloy tells GoodCall®. “Companies are not as prepared to train employees.”

Malloy explains that the level of loyalty to employees is declining, so companies are less likely to make long-term investments in them. It’s not clear if this is the cause or the effect of employees being more likely to job-hop – in fact, one quarter of the workforce plans to change jobs within the next few months.

“The answer to a good job is an education in the right field of endeavor,” Malloy says. “Two year degrees in the right field are worth far more than a bachelor’s degree in an obscure field.”

Malloy warns that students pursuing a college degree with vague skills aren’t likely to be successful with hiring managers. However, he concludes, “There are plenty of jobs for people with the right skills.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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