Many Paths to a STEM Career

Three kids learning about helicopters, image courtesy of Pathways to Aviation

Photo courtesy of Pathways to Aviation

When you talk about careers involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), a four-year degree would seem necessary. However, while a traditional degree is required for many STEM jobs, it’s certainly not required for all. And many of these non-degree jobs provide a very nice salary and an interesting life.

Pete Parker serves as the Executive Director for Pathways to Aviation, which has a mission to “inform, inspire and engage aviation’s next generation.” He says there are many jobs in aviation (pilots, avionics, mechanics, sales, design) that do not require a four-year degree, and many offer on-the-job training.

“This is a huge industry with a lot of demand,” Parker notes. “A lot of our local kids can come out of a high school like AACT or one of our signature academies and go straight to work for employers who will orient, train and coach. And, depending on the individual, oftentimes the employer will pay for community college or other classes, so the employee can further their knowledge and/or earn their certifications.”

Parker shares the story of a recent high school graduate: “He’s pumping gas and moving airplanes around and making $16 an hour straight out of school. He’s driven and ambitious, and his employer will almost certainly pay for him to get the certification he needs to continue to advance his career.”

To give you an idea of some of the other options out there, we conducted an informal survey on Facebook. Here’s what we found out:

  • Shaun: “I would say the best STEM job that does not require a four-year degree is that of an instrumentation and controls technician. This job is typically learned through a trade school or in the military. These jobs are exploding and typically are vacant for months before even a single applicant appears. Pay is also very high ($40 to $60 per hour). Unlike other trades, the labor involved is typically much easier and lighter in duty. Also, demand is going to increase as industrial processes become more and more automated.”
  • Dave: “My godson is an HVAC sheet metal tech and makes a fortune. His training was provided entirely by the union apprenticeship program.”
  • Bob: “My brother is a key grip in the movie industry. He makes awesome money, meets interesting people and travels the world to interesting places. He loves his job.”
  • Dotti: “CAD operators are in big demand, and training can be completed at community colleges. Web developers, UX designers and digital marketers can all get training without a four-year degree.”
  • Craig: “It’s the same for animators and video master control jobs. Experience and portfolio count much more than a degree.” shares more options for high-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, along with estimated annual salaries. They include: electrical technician ($47,700); dental hygienist ($66,700); graphic designer ($57,000); registered nurse ($67,700); air traffic controller ($114,600); radiologic technologist ($54,800); computer support specialist ($45,000); and nuclear technician ($68,000). While these jobs don’t require four-year degrees, many require a two –year degree or certification.

Forbes shares a list of tech jobs you can get without a degree, which includes: Computer user support specialist ($48,620); junior data analyst ($52,188); computer network support specialist ($62,250); digital marketer ($63,239); cyber security analyst ($63,911); multimedia artist ($63,970); web developer ($64,970); web designer/front end developer ($66,000); aerospace engineering and operations technicians ($66,180); mobile app developer ($76,061); software engineer ($79,357); DevOps engineer ($100,000); and information technology manager ($80,811).

Of course, many of these jobs pay even higher with a degree. Check with a professional in the industry and do your research before deciding on your career track, as it’s always a good idea to talk to people who actually work in the fields you’re interested in. Ask for recommendations on Facebook — there are some very smart (and connected) people out there! 

For more information on STEM careers, educational requirements and salary ranges, please visit: