career

Plan b: 11 'fallback' careers

4. HVAC technician

Job description: HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning, technicians are trained in the installation, maintenance or repair of central air conditioning and heating work. They run ductwork in attics and crawl spaces, install units and troubleshoot systems.

Training required: HVAC certificate programs at community colleges and trade schools typically involve 300 hours of classroom and hands-on training. Schedules vary and can take from two months to a year. The accrediting bodies include HVAC Excellence, the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Accreditation.

Cost of training: Tuitions vary by college, but it typically costs about $3,000 to complete an HVAC certificate program.

Expected salary: The median hourly wage in 2006 was $18.11. As with many skilled trades, apprentices start at lower rates and earn more as their skills advance.

Job availability and outlook: Employment of HVAC technicians, mechanics and installers is expected to increase by 9 percent between now and 2016.

5. Drafter/CADD operator

Job description: Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans which are used to build everything from manufactured products to aircraft and structures. While drafters used to utilize pencils and compasses, they now use Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, or CADD, systems to prepare drawings.

Training required: The best employment opportunities are generally reserved for those with the highest education and experience. Some community colleges and technical institutes offer certificate programs in as little as one or two semesters. Students are taught the basics of design and how to run intermediate applications in such design software packages.

Cost of training: Tuitions vary by college, but can range from $1,500 to $3,000 depending on the school and the length of the curriculum.

Expected salary: Drafters' earnings vary by specialty, location and level of responsibility. Median annual earnings in 2006 were $41,960 (architectural and civil drafters), $43,700 (mechanical drafters) and $46,830 (electrical and electronic drafters).

Job availability and outlook: While the growth of drafting jobs is expected to be only 6 percent, less than the average growth of jobs between now and 2016, new opportunities could be available with the growth of the green economy.

6. Medical assistant

Job description: Medical assistants perform administrative duties for physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors and other health practitioners. The duties can include updating medical records, completing insurance forms, answering telephones, greeting patients and handling bookkeeping. Duties can vary depending on what is allowed by state law.

Training required: Many medical assistants are trained on the job but others complete programs at community colleges. Some programs offer certificates in as little as eight months and teach students to assist physicians in routine duties as well as basic office tasks.

Cost of training: Tuition and expenses vary widely, from as little as $500 with online courses to more than $7,000 at big community colleges.

Expected salary: Wages can vary depending on qualifications and the practice, but in 2006, the median annual earnings were $26,290.

Job availability and outlook: Employment in the field is expected to grow a whopping 35 percent, much faster than average, making medical assistants one of the fastest growing occupations between now and 2016.

7. Truck driver

Job description: The stereotype of a truck driver seems to be one of a rough, rugged man, but today's truckers run the gamut from single moms to retired seniors. Truck drivers deliver everything from automobiles to canned food and appliances and are usually responsible for loading and unloading their own cargo.

Training required: Truck drivers generally need a commercial driver's license, or CDL, in addition to a regular driver's license. Training for the CDL is offered by many private and public vocational schools. Those driving small trucks may only require brief on-the-job training, but those looking to drive bigger trucks will need a training program certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute. Some of these courses can teach students how to confidently handle a big rig in as little as a month.

Cost of training: Because trucking companies generally look to hire drivers who already have training and experience, they usually don't cover the cost of initial training, but some do offer tuition reimbursement. Tuition for big rig schools typically costs $4,000.

Expected salary: In 2006, the median hourly rate for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers was $16.85.

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Job availability and outlook: From now through 2016, job growth in the industry is expected to be a moderate 8 percent.

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