Good-paying jobs — no bachelor’s degree required

The positioning of two articles on the same page in Sunday’s Denver Post was no accident, I’m sure.

One article heralded the fact that Colorado companies were bringing manufacturing jobs back from China because American workers were so much more productive than Chinese workers, labor rates are increasing in China and transportation costs are up. The net result is that American workers are competitive again – finally.

The other article lamented that American factory work is no longer an entry to middle class status. Wages are so much lower than they once were and benefits are scarce. They cited examples of workers at Caterpillar and Ford. New tiered wage scales which limit the amount newer workers will ever make and the widespread use of temporary agencies instead of direct hiring result in younger workers needing parental help or government programs to live.

The trouble with American job creation used to be blamed upon “low wage service jobs.” Now we can add “low wage manufacturing jobs” to the list, even if re-shoring is now in vogue. The assumption is that workers need a college degree to get out of the low wage ghetto, but that’s not necessarily true.

A high school diploma is all that’s required for many mid-income jobs and an associate’s degree can get you very close to six figures. Of course, the other key element is whether anyone wants to hire for those positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected the 40 top-earning jobs you can get without a bachelor’s degree. I’ve selected those that also have significant projected job openings below:



Job Title

Projected Job Openings through 2020

Median Annual Wage


Degree Required

Registered Nurses



Associate’s Degree

General and Operations Managers



Associate’s Degree

Business Operations Specialists



High School Diploma

First Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers



High School Diploma

Farmers, Ranchers and Other Agricultural Managers



High School Diploma

First Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers and Repairers



High School Diploma

First Line Supervisors of Non-Retail Sales Workers



High School Diploma

Construction Managers



Associate’s Degree

Loan Officers



High School Diploma

Dental Hygienists



Associate’s Degree

Administrative Services Managers



High School Diploma

Purchasing Agents, Except Wholesale, Retail and Farm Products



High School Diploma

Claims Adjusters, Examiners and Investigators



High School Diploma

In comparison, the Bureau projects 3 million manufacturing job openings through 2020, less than the number of job openings listed above. Granted many of the higher paying non-factory jobs require 1-5 years of experience to attain supervisor or manager status, but many do not require prior experience to be hired. All of them pay over twice the federal poverty level for a family of four.

So, while the loss of manufacturing jobs has been harsh, these projections show that our economy has adjusted to provide more and better employment opportunities. According to 2011 numbers from the US Census Bureau, 85.9% of the US population has at least attained a high school diploma. These projections also show how critical that high school diploma, at a minimum, is for success.