If you're in a dead-end job or concerned about your career growth potential, now may be a good time to look into furthering your education or training. The education requirements necessary to advance in your current field or transition into a new career vary by field but often include getting a program certificate or an associate's or bachelor's degree. Most of these education requirements can be completed online, so you can keep your day job while preparing for your new one.
When switching careers, it's important to consider occupations that are likely to see employment growth. Some of the occupations with the largest projected employment growth over the next decade are in the healthcare, education, and information technology industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010–2011 edition.
Within the healthcare industry, registered nurses will be seeing some large employment growth—22 percent from 2008 to 2018—which means that more than 1 million new and replacement positions will be available, according to the BLS. This growth is expected because of the growing elderly population in the United States, the BLS reports. Also, more hospitals are cutting costs by staffing additional registered nurses who are qualified to do work that more highly paid health workers would normally do.
To become a registered nurse, there are three routes you can take: a four-year university program with a bachelor of science in nursing, a two-to-three-year plan for an associate's degree in nursing, or a three-year diploma program from a hospital. Regardless of the path you choose, you have to pass a state licensing exam for registered nurses in order to practice. There are many opportunities to advance within the nursing field, and those with at least a bachelor's degree will have more job opportunities, according to the BLS. To get a bachelor's degree, RN-to-BSN programs are offered through both traditional ground-based universities and online schools. With the online degree programs, clinical work is typically done on campus in conjunction with the online courses. Those who want to become a nurse and have earned a bachelor's degree in another field can attend an accelerated BSN program that usually takes 12 to 18 months, which is one of the fastest ways to earn a BSN. The median salary for registered nurses is $62,450, and the job comes with many employment benefits, including flexible work schedules, child care, education stipends, and bonuses.
To become an advanced practice nurse, which includes clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners, you need a master's degree and clinical practice. Accelerated master of science in nursing programs award a BSN and an MSN and take three to four years, or two years for those who already have their BSN. These four advanced practice specialties will be in high demand, especially in inner cities and rural areas, according to the BLS. Also, nurses can earn a certificate in a nursing specialty to enhance their skill sets. Some of the most popular specialty programs include critical care nursing, geriatric nursing, and oncology nursing, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the world's largest nurse credentialing body. Nurses seeking a BSN or an advanced nursing degree should consult with their hospitals, as many have tuition reimbursement programs that can cover some of the costs. Several federal and state government programs also offer scholarships or loan forgiveness programs that are tied to an employee's commitment to work in underserved areas for a certain time, according to the American Nurses Association.
Another ever growing field is education, where elementary, middle, and high school teachers are in demand. According to the BLS, the employment opportunities for primary, secondary, and special education teachers are expected to grow about 14 percent over the next decade, with 1.7 million new and replacement positions available. The median salary for primary and secondary school teachers ranges from $47,100 to $51,180. The requirements to become an elementary, middle, or high school teacher include a bachelor's degree, usually through a teacher education program at an undergraduate four-year institution, and a license to teach from the state, which is not required for teaching in private schools.