Five Hands-On STEM Careers—without a Four-Year Degree

In schools and popular culture, the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are frequently associated with higher education, particularly advanced university degrees. After all, the common image of a STEM professional is often a university professor, PhD research scientist, or engineer. However, a wide range of STEM-based careers is opening for those without a traditional four-year education, many of which are seeing massive job growth. With new technologies revolutionizing manufacturing, medicine, energy, and more, companies need skilled technical workers to build, maintain, and operate cutting-edge machinery. If you are looking to explore a technical field that doesn’t require a four-year degree, these job options offer countless opportunities to apply your skills in STEM.

  • Wind Turbine Technician

The U.S. may currently be the largest oil producer in the world, but the landscape of energy production is rapidly changing.1 A large portion of renewable energy production lies in wind turbines. In fact, wind turbine technician is the fastest growing occupation in the entire United States, with a projected 61 percent increase between 2019 and 2029.2 These skilled technicians are responsible for the installation, maintenance, and repair of wind turbines. Using their technological and scientific knowledge, wind turbine technicians inspect the integrity of turbine towers, test and repair the complex systems that drive turbine functions, and collect data for analysis.

Most wind turbine technicians, also known as windtechs, attend community college or technical school to get certified in wind technology, but an associate’s degree is also an option.2 Windtechs develop a background in safety and first aid training, electrical and hydraulic maintenance, mechanical systems, and computer technology. Workers also generally go through on-job-training or internships with wind turbine servicing contractors.

For those with a keen interest in STEM and renewable energy, a position as a wind turbine technician provides a job in an explosively growing field. If you have both strong communication skills and mechanical knowledge, this job offers the chance to apply advanced STEM concepts in a physically engaging environment.

  • Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Wind isn’t the only sector revolutionizing energy, and the importance of solar is reflected in the field’s job numbers. Like wind turbine technicians, solar photovoltaic (PV) installers are seeing huge job growth, with an estimated 51 percent increase between 2019 and 2029.3 PV installers use their background in STEM to assemble and maintain rooftop solar panels. Duties typically include planning photovoltaic system configurations, measuring and assembling panel support structure, testing assembled solar panel systems, and performing maintenance.

Generally, PV installers only need a high school diploma, but some may also complete courses at community colleges or technical schools concerning safety, photovoltaic technology, and system design.3 Jobseekers who already have construction experience can even enter the field through online training. PV installers then go through training on the job to gain hands-on experience. U.S. military veterans can join the field through the Department of Energy’s Solar Ready Vets program, which offers veterans training relevant to the solar photovoltaic industry.3

  • Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights

Another sector seeing significant job growth is industrial machinery, specifically mechanics, maintenance workers, and millwrights. Over the next decade, these positions are expected to grow about 10 percent faster than average and add a whopping 70,100 new jobs.4

Industrial machinery mechanics, sometimes called maintenance machinists, ensure that all machinery is functioning properly by identifying and fixing problems. This job requires advanced computer technology skills, as industrial machinery is increasingly operated by computer systems. These machinists may also identify problems through computerized diagnostics and analysis. They must then disassemble and repair machinery before testing it. This hands-on job requires physical skills, such as welding, alongside computer know-how. On the other hand, machinery maintenance workers focus on more basic maintenance, such as cleaning and lubricating equipment and checking performance, as well as performing minor repairs. Finally, millwrights are responsible for installing, maintaining, and disassembling industrial machines, which can take up to several weeks. They may also replace defective or damaged equipment parts. Like industrial machinery mechanics, millwrights may require welding skills, and rely on operating large machinery such as cranes for large projects.

These careers require a high school diploma alongside technical training after high school. Most millwrights must also complete an apprenticeship.4

  • Electrician

Another field reporting surprising job growth is electricians, with a projected eight percent growth rate from 2019 to 2029, or over 62,000 new jobs.5 This technical position involves installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical power systems. Electricians need a strong knowledge base to read blueprints and diagrams, identify the source of electrical problems, and adhere to regulations established by the National Electrical Code.5

Becoming an electrician only requires a high school diploma followed by an apprenticeship, but some may choose to attend technical school or community college to acquire a background in circuitry, safety, and electrical information.5 Although the internship requirement for electricians usually lasts four or five years, the majority will be spent completing paid on-the-job training. Moreover, workers with electrical backgrounds with military or construction experience may only need to complete a shortened internship.

  • Medical Equipment Repairer

A more niche field that may interest STEM workers without a four-year degree is medical equipment repair. This field is projected to grow five percent in the next decade, faster than average, adding about 3000 new jobs.6 Also known as biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs), these repair workers install, repair, and test a wide variety of medical equipment. Such machinery includes defibrillators, ventilators, anesthesia machines, and medical imaging equipment like x ray and CAT scanners.

Like most other technicians, medical equipment repairers rely on tools like screwdrivers, soldering irons, and wrenches, as well as electronic tools like multimeters and computers. This career requires computer skills to use test-equipment software that calibrates machinery.6

Most medical equipment repairers have an associate’s degree in biomedical equipment technology or engineering; however, those specializing in simpler equipment such as hospital beds or wheelchairs may only require on-the-job training which usually involves workers observing and assisting experienced BMETs.6

Hands-On STEM Jobs and Your Career

With new technologies reshaping medicine, manufacturing, and energy, companies are looking to hire greater numbers of skilled technical workers. If you are a STEM worker without a four-year degree looking to apply your skills to cutting-edge fields, there are countless opportunities in these sectors.

Are you an employer seeking employees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), or a jobseeker in STEM looking for your next job? AllSTEM Connections can help. Visit our website at  https://www.allstemconnections.com/.

  1. https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/top-oil-producing-countries/
  2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/wind-turbine-technicians.htm
  3. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/solar-photovoltaic-installers.htm
  4. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/industrial-machinery-mechanics-and-maintenance-workers-and-millwrights.htm
  5. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm
  6. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/medical-equipment-repairers.htm

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