American workers are in a tough spot: Two-thirds lack a college degree at a time when wages for high school graduates are falling.
But that doesn't mean good jobs can't be found for those without a degree, according to research from career site SimplyHired. The company created its list of 10 top jobs that don't require a college degree by analyzing data that includes average salary, number of jobs available and potential career growth.
The debate about whether it's worthwhile to earn a college degree has been growing. Investment bank Goldman Sachs earlier this year noted that the average return on a college degree has been falling, given the rising cost of higher education. Still, while it might take longer for that investment to pay off, economic research has found that earnings for college grads are pulling farther ahead of those without bachelor's degrees.
"Jobs with college degrees pay more, but you have to look at the cost of the degree and income, and make a decision on whether that degree is as valuable as you think," said Susan Martindill, director of demand generation for SimplyHired.
On an inflation-adjusted basis, the high point for annual earnings for recent college grads was in 2002, when median income was about $45,000; it now hovers at about $43,000. Wages for recent high-school graduates have drifted down from a peak of about $29,500 in 2001 to about $25,000 a year currently, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Many jobs on SimplyHired's list pay far more than that and are likely to provide a solid middle-class life. Still, many of the occupations will require an investment in training and time to receive certification.
"A lot of jobs don't require any type of training," Martindill said. "My advice would be to start in a retail job, start in a food service job, and prove yourself there. Work up to be the manager, and save some money. One of the skills that benefits anyone in these roles is learning how to work with a budget."
Read on for the 10 top jobs for high school graduates.
10. Emergency dispatchers: $26,959
This job can provide a steady income for people with only high school degrees, but there's a downside: high stress and emotional strain from dealing with emergencies. The upside is the satisfaction one can receive from helping others.
Getting a job as an emergency dispatcher typically requires a 32-hour training program, while some states will require certification, according to SimplyHired.
9. Phlebotomists: $28,623
The need for this role is growing, given the aging American population and increased health care demands. Phlebotomists, who draw blood from patients, typically enroll in an accredited training program with a clinical component. Some states require certification, and some employers also prefer those with certification.
8. Automotive mechanics: $30,646
While no formal requirements are needed, car mechanics often start out by taking classes in automotive repair. Many employers look for mechanics and technicians who have a finished an educational program in the subject, while certification is also typically required after getting hired, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7. Massage therapists: $36,557
While you might not need a college degree for this profession, you'll need a lot of training. Would-be massage therapists need to complete training programs that require more than 500 hours of study and experience. Most states also require certification or licensing.
6. Legal secretaries: $44,441
Legal secretaries help attorneys by providing organizational support. You can find educational programs that help legal secretaries step up into paralegal roles, and many law firms will provide some training for those with only high school degrees.
5. Truck drivers: $47,399
Demand for truck drivers is growing steadily, providing opportunities for high school graduates. Getting a job in this field will require a one-year certification and a commercial driver's license.
4. Plumbers: $49,574
This skill requires vocational training, an apprenticeship program and getting licensed. Plumbers earn pay that's above the national average and often enjoy setting up their own businesses. Those may be the reasons billionaire Michael Bloomberg advised high school seniors to get a job as a plumber instead of going to college.
3. Construction and building inspectors: $49,365
These workers enjoy pay that's above the national average, while needing few requirements beyond having a high school diploma, according to SimplyHired. Some states require certification, however, and the Bureau of Labor Statistic notes that inspectors need extensive knowledge of the construction trades.
2. Electricians: $44,891
While electricians may not earn as much as building inspectors, more jobs are available, which puts this occupation near the top of the list. Most electricians learn the trade through an apprenticeship and then earn their state license.
1. Licensed practical nurse: $38,776
SimplyHired notes that this fast-growing occupation expanded by almost 18 percent last year. Becoming an LPN typically requires completing a state-approved educational program, which can take a year to finish. Then you must get licensed. The occupation is expected to grow by 16 percent through 2024, which is much faster than average, partly due to the health care needs of the aging Baby Boom generation.