Plan b: 11 ‘fallback’ careers

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

Millions of Americans are jobless, and millions more fear they may soon join the ranks of the unemployed as well.

The situation — some 331,000 jobs were lost each month from May through July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — is such that just about everyone is looking for a job, a second job, ways to supplement their incomes or entirely new careers.

At the same time, there are a number of occupations crying out for workers. In most cases, they require some formal training but offer what could be considered recession-proof jobs.

Even workers who already have jobs may consider getting evening or weekend training and certification to prepare themselves for these “fallback careers” or “survival jobs.”

These certificate programs at trade schools and community colleges may not always lead to the most lucrative careers, but they do offer alternatives and job options for those who have little time for retraining.

Here are 11 in-demand jobs that require no more than a year of training.

11 ‘fallback’ jobs
  1. Emergency medical technician
  2. Police officer
  3. Phlebotomist
  4. HVAC technician
  5. Drafter/CADD operator
  6. Medical assistant
  7. Truck driver
  8. Dental assistant
  9. Massage therapist
  10. Medical records and health information technician
  11. Nuclear medicine technologist

1. Emergency medical technician

Job description: Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, and paramedics respond to everything from heart attacks to auto accidents and violent crime scenes to care for patients and transport them to hospitals. The work can be stressful and difficult, but EMTs have the opportunity to save lives every day.

Training required: There are three basic levels of training, EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and EMT-Paramedic. EMT-Basic courses are generally 100 to 120 hours in length and feature classroom and hands-on training. Graduates of approved programs must pass a written and practical examination administered by the state certifying agency or the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

Cost of training: Costs can vary significantly — generally from $800 to $1,200 or more — depending on the college and training facility.

Expected salary: As of May 2006, the median annual earnings of EMTs and paramedics were $27,070. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,290 and $35,210.

Job availability and outlook: From now until 2016, employment in the field is expected to grow by 19 percent, which is higher than average.

2. Police officer

Job description: Police officers help protect lives and property and apprehend individuals who break the law. Television sometimes portrays police officers as having action-packed jobs, but most of their time is spent writing reports and maintaining records of incidents they encounter. Nevertheless, the job has its dangers and can be stressful.

Training required: In general, departments call for a minimum age of 20 years and require a certain level of physical fitness, a high school education and sometimes one or two years of college level coursework. Police academies are typically 12 to 14 weeks long and include classroom instruction and training in patrol, traffic control, the use of firearms, self-defense, first aid and emergency response.

Cost of training: Candidates must selected to attend a police academy, and then their training is either free, funded or subsidized by municipalities. Many agencies also pay part or all of college tuition toward degrees in criminal justice or police science.

Expected salary: As of May 2006, the median annual earnings of sheriff’s patrol officers nationwide were $47,460 and the middle 50 percent earned between $35,600 and $59,880.

Job outlook: The need for police officers is expected to grow 11 percent from now until 2016.

3. Phlebotomist

Job description: Phlebotomists work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics and blood banks to draw blood from patients. They collect blood by performing venipuncture or finger sticks.

Training required: A formal training program typically entails 200 hours of training over the course of four to eight months. Not all states require phlebotomists to be certified, but there are entry-level certifications (Certified Phlebotomy Technician) awarded by the American Society of Clinical Pathology, American Medical Technologies and the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians.

Cost of training: The full cost of tuition to attain the certification of Certified Phlebotomy Technician typically runs between $2,000 and $2,500.

Expected salary: According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology, median hourly wage of phlebotomists in 2005 was $12.15 in private clinics.

Job availability and outlook: Employment of clinical lab workers — including phlebotomists — is expected to grow by 14 percent from now through 2016 due to new tests and an aging population.

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.

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

8. Dental assistant

Job description:
Dental assistants work under the direct supervision of dentists and perform a variety of tasks such as sterilizing instruments, making patients comfortable, taking X-rays and even performing office clerical duties.

Training required: Dental assistant certificate programs at community colleges and trade schools take less than a year to complete and offer a certificate. Many states regulate the duties that assistants can perform. Certification is available through the Dental Assisting National Board and is recognized or required in more than 30 states.

Cost of training: Some community college programs offer evening and weekend training programs that can graduate students in only two months. Costs vary by college but typically run $2,500.

Expected salary: The median hourly earnings of dental assistants in 2006 were $14.53, which equates to approximately $30,000 a year for a full-time employee.

Job availability and outlook: Employment in this job is expected to grow 29 percent from now until 2016, which is far higher than the average job growth rate.

9. Massage therapist

Job description: Massage therapists can specialize in more than 80 different types of massage. A massage can be as short as five or 10 minutes or as long as two hours depending on the client’s needs or physical condition. Therapists work with all age and physical groups from the elderly and handicapped to athletes. Many massage therapists are self-employed and rely on repeat clients.

Training required: In 2007, 38 states had laws regulating the practice of massage therapy. There are more than 1,500 massage therapy schools and programs in the country that cover anatomy, physiology, organs, tissues and motion and body mechanics. Many states require that therapists pass the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Some massage schools offer training in as little as six months, depending on the certification requirements of the state.

Cost of training: Massage therapy schools vary in quality, but tuition at some of the larger schools typically runs between $4,000 and $7,000.

Expected salary: As of May 2006, the median hourly earnings of massage therapists were $16.06.

Job availability and outlook: As the population ages and more people discover the benefits of massage therapy, the field is expected to increase 20 percent between now and 2016.

10. Medical records and health information technician

Job description: Health care records technicians maintain records of observations, medical or surgical interventions and treatment outcomes. Records include information about symptoms, medical history, X-ray and lab test results, diagnoses and treatment plans. Technicians assemble the information, input it in the computer systems and communicate with other health care professionals to clarify or obtain new information. Duties often vary with the size of the facility where the employee works.

Training required: Many employers prefer an associate’s degree and certification as a Registered Health Information Technician. Curriculums for entry-level medical records certificates vary depending upon the state.

Cost of training: Tuition depends upon the level of training involved at local community colleges and can range from $800 to $3,000.

Expected salary: Median annual earnings of medical records and health information technicians were $28,030 in May 2006.

Job availability and outlook: Job prospects are very good and people with a background in medical coding will be in high demand. Employment is the occupation is expected to grow by 18 percent through 2016.

11. Nuclear medicine technologist

Job description: Nuclear medicine technologists operate cameras that detect and map the radioactive drug in a patient’s body to create diagnostic images. Technologists prepare dosages of radiopharmaceuticals and administer it by mouth or injection, then position and start a gamma scintillation camera that creates images of the distribution of the radiopharmaceutical as it emits signals from the patient’s body. Images are then produced for interpretation by a doctor.

Training required: A certificate in nuclear medicine technology is offered at many community colleges and can be obtained in a year or less. Those interested should check the requirements of the state in which they plan to work because some states require additional certification or licensure.

Cost of training: One-year certificate programs generally require the student to take 10 to 15 classes, all of which are billed by the tuition rates of the particular college. On average, that can run from $3,000 to $4,000.

Expected salary: Median annual earnings of nuclear medicine technologists were $62,300 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $53,530 and $72,410.

Job availability and outlook: Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to increase by 15 percent from now through 2016, faster than the average for all occupations.

Note: Training requirements and median incomes provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.