Certificates: A faster path to careers

Do you want to start a career but don’t have a lot of time or money? Maybe you can skip getting a college degree and get a certificate in a high demand field to start your career sooner.

A certificate is a non-degree award for completing an educational program after high school. Most certificates take less than a year, though some can take as long as two years.

Certificate programs are generally designed for people who have at least a high school diploma or a GED. Some of the programs even accept students who are currently working towards a GED and help them study for it while being in the certificate program.

Do I Actually Need a Certificate?

The time and expense associated with earning a certificate might not be worth it if wages in the related occupations are low, jobs are scarce, or if employers do not generally require a certificate. One source for finding out this type of information is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Talking with someone in the field or contacting professional organizations are other great resources.

On average, people who have a certificate related to their jobs are paid more than those with less training. However, earning a certificate might not be required to enter an occupation.

Certificate Occupations

Dentist CertificationA survey by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) asked workers and career experts what the required level of education was for a specific job. The table below shows that information, as well as the median pay for each occupation, the number of jobs in each field, and the job outlook data from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Here are explanations of the columns in the table below:

  • Occupations are shown in broad career areas. See more information by clicking on each career.
  • Median Pay is the wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The median annual wage for all workers was $34,750 (May, 2012).
  • Number of jobs shows how many people had this occupation in 2012.
  • Job outlook is the expected percentage of change in employment from 2012 to 2022. The average growth rate for all occupations is 11%.

 

Career
2012 Median Pay
Number of jobs, 2012
Job outlook 2012-22
% of workers who reported needing the credential
Certificate
HS/GED
Associate’s
Bachelor’s
Surgical Technologists $41,790 98,500 30% 44 10 27 0
EMT & Paramedics $31,020 239,100 23% 41 15 5 12
Pharmacy Technicians $29,320 355,300 20% 39 16 1 0
Radiology & MRI Technologists $55,910 229,300 21% 26 5 46 10
Licensed Practical (vocational) Nurses $41,540 738,400 25% 31 5 23 5
Massage Therapists $35,970 132,800 23% 88 3 0 0
Dental Assistants $34,500 303,200 25% 68 14 7 0
Medical Transcriptionists $34,020 84,100 8% 29 44 1 0
Veterinary Assistants & Lab Animal Caretakers $23,130 74,600 10% 23 44 0 0
Medical Assistants $29,370 560,800 29% 23 41 22 1
Hairdressers & Cosmetologists $22,770 663,300 13% 74 6 0 0
Manicurists & Pedicurists $19,220 86,900 16% 43 34 4 4
Childcare Workers $19,510 1,312,700 14% 30 48 4 4
Fitness Trainers & Instructors $31,720 267,000 13% 17 17 17 25
Firefighters $45,250 307,000 7% 31 26 2 0
Sheriffs & Deputy Sheriffs NA NA NA 21 55 19 1
Criminal Investigator & Special Agents NA NA NA 16 42 15 3
Correctional Officers $38,970 469,500 5% 15 57 5 0
Automotive Master Mechanics NA NA NA 72 8 4 0
Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Mechanics $43,640 267,600 21% 72 16 3 0
Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, except Engines $46,870 116,590 NA 57 15 14 0
Telecommunications Equipment Installers, except Line Installers $54,530 217,200 4% 51 15 21 0
General Maintenance & Repair Workers $35,210 1,325,100 9% 42 44 3 0
Tool & Die Makers $47,960 78,700 NA 68 11 17 0
Machinists $39,570 391,130 NA 50 34 5 0
Welders, Cutters, and Welder Fitters $36,300 357,400 6% 41 40 0 0
Computer-controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal & Plastic $35,900 139,930 NA 32 48 3 1
Electro-mechanical Equipment Assemblers $31,810 49,480 NA 24 53 0 0
Procurement Clerks $38,780 68,690 NA 27 33 16 12
Insurance Adjusters, Examiners & Investigators $59,850 311,100 3% 25 6 13 35
Industrial Production Managers $89,190 172,700 -2% 24 25 3 29
Architectural & Civil Drafters $48,800 88,860 NA 29 0 57 5
Mechanical Drafters $51,520 63,180 NA 22 1 40 23
Industrial Engineering Technicians $50,980 68,000 -3% 18 8 NA 29
Electronic Engineering Technicians $57,850 146,500 0% 15 7 66 13
Computer Support Specialists $48,900 722,400 17% 15 12 18 29
Web Developers $62,500 141,400 20% 13 10 20 43
Computer Programmers $74,280 343,700 8% 11 6 5 78
Pipe Fitters & Steam Fitters NA NA NA 69 26 0 0
Sheet Metal Workers $43,290 142,300 15% 39 52 0 0
Plumbers NA NA NA 33 52 7 0
Rough Carpenters NA NA NA 28 39 3 0
Helpers-Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Steam Fitters $27,430 47,160 NA 27 NA 0 0
Bus Drivers, Transit & Intercity $36,700 157,830 NA 18 74 0 1
Heavy & Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers $38,200 1,701,500 11% 15 53 0 0
Industrial Truck & Tractor Operators $30,730 504,560 NA 13 74 0 0

Less Attractive Certifications

For some occupations, certificates are available but not very useful. Workers in accounting, early childhood education, human resource management, marketing, or paralegal studies reported needing either a higher level degree or just needing a high school diploma.

Career
2012 Median Pay
Number of Jobs, 2012
Job Outlook, 2012-22
% of workers who reported needing the credential
Certificate
HS/GED
Associate’s
Bachelor’s
Accountant $63,550 1,275,400 13% 2 0 5 79
Bookkeeping, accounting & auditing clerks $35,170 1,799,800 11% 4 38 12 18
Kindergarten teachers $50,230 157,800 NA 6 0 4 67
Preschool teachers $27,139 438,200 17% 6 19 22 21
Human resource assistants, except payroll & timekeeping $37,680 136,960 NA 6 26 30 12
Human resources managers $99,720 102,700 13% 0 0 5 68
Market research analysts & marketing specialists $60,300 415,700 32% 0 0 0 71
Marketing managers $123,220 174,010 NA 0 4 0 84
Paralegals $46,990 277,000 17% 8 5 30 44

Choosing Certification Programs

Many public community colleges and universities, as well as private institutions offer certification programs. The average in-state tuition at a public community college is about $3,300 per year, while a 2-year private for-profit school costs around $14,000 per year. Community colleges can provide quality education at a low cost because they are funded by the government. Some for-profit schools offer courses geared more specifically towards vocations, like cosmetology, for instance. Make sure the for-profit school you are considering provides good instruction and career services and has accurate employment placement data before committing your time and money.

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Another thing to be careful about are exclusively online resources promising quick and inexpensive credentials. In some cases, not all, these courses are developed to look attractive to prospective students but don’t actually prepare them for employment. Employers have become increasingly diligent in checking the veracity of prospective employees’ educational background. The inclusion of this type of certifications on your resume may have the opposite effect of what you had intended, keeping you from getting that interview instead of opening doors for you.

If an occupation requires a license or a certificate, it is important that the school’s certificate program is approved by the relevant licensing body or certifying organization.

Any schools can get themselves accredited but only legitimate schools are accredited by valid, independent, third-party organizations. A list of nationally recognized accrediting organizations is available from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Government licensing agencies also have lists of approved programs. Also, professional or industry organizations may endorse certain programs, such as those that can help people prepare for certification.

Getting Started

If you decided to take a certificate course, visit CareerOneStop’s short-term training finder to locate a program near you. Many community colleges offer free certificate programs in high demand fields for people who can’t afford it. Check with the community colleges in your area to find out if you are eligible.

Source:http://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2012/winter/art01.pdf

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