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Skills and Trades

There’s never been a better time to be alive if you’re curious. When I wanted to learn something outside of school as a kid, cracking open my World Book encyclopedia was the best I could do. Today, all you have to do is go online.

—Bill Gates

Online education has revolutionized the way we learn. On the one hand, students have nearly unprecedented access to undergraduate and graduate degrees, which provide flexible scheduling, opportunities for accelerated completion times, and affordable alternatives to traditional on-campus degrees.

At the same time, as entrepreneurs question the value of a traditional four-year college degree, online courses in specific trades and skills could represent the bigger innovation. Need to learn how to code? Some of the most popular MOOCs cover advanced and beginner programming languages: a good way to boost your resume as well as pick up a potentially lucrative and in-demand skill.

Maybe you want to pick up a new hobby — there are over 1,000 online cooking classes — or master a new discipline at your own pace. Regardless, online education empowers students, professionals, and hobbyists in every field, at every level. Pair that with the current state of MOOCs and a general trend toward flexible, affordable instruction, and Bill Gates’s enthusiastic endorsement rings true: there’s never been a better time to learn a new trade or skill online.

Job Prospects and Salaries for Business and Management Graduates

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, skilled trade careers are expected to grow around 10% over the next decade. One reason is purely demographic: baby boomers are retiring, leaving employers in manufacturing, engineering, and construction in dire need of new workers to fill the employment gap (which by some estimates could be 31 million jobs).

But the definition of skilled trade jobs has also changed over the last few years. Advances in technology have opened dozens of new fields and potential career paths, and people are increasingly turning to the gig economy for side jobs, paid hobbies, or even full-time careers. Further, a recent report by The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis argues skilled trade workers are essential to small business growth:

Demand for employees in the skilled trades corresponds with the need for entrepreneurs and small-business owners to create businesses to employ those workers. It is also a major economic opportunity for individuals who have successfully learned a skilled trade to start their own business as a career pathway.

Still, education is critical:

It’s very challenging to create a successful enterprise if the workforce is not prepared or adequate to meet the demand. Better career training not only helps businesses grow, it can also help to create more small businesses when entrepreneurship is paired with on-the-job training, apprenticeship, and increasing entrepreneurial and business skills as part of the career pathways pipeline.

The takeaway: Jobs opportunities are growing for skilled trade workers, but demand for quality training and education is also on the rise.

Common Jobs for Skilled Trade Worker

As mentioned, the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies traditional “blue collar” jobs under the skilled trade umbrella: carpenters, electricians, operating engineers, machinists, HVAC technicians, and other industrial and construction workers. But the BLS and Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget outlines over 50 trade occupations (which could expand in the future), including the fast-growing skilled service sector: roles like dental hygienists, medical technicians, administrative assistants, chefs, and even commercial pilots.

If we include a broader range of skill-oriented professions — particularly in areas which offer online training — the list gets bigger: IT workers, nurses, entry-level business analysts, accounting professionals, and more. The fact is, online education has already expanded trade workers’ career options — and experts project continued growth.

Common Courses of Study for Learning a Trade or Skill Online

We’ve touched on hobbyist cooking classes and high-paying skills your can learn online: from coding and data analysis to professional writing, design, and basic financial literacy. But what about some of the most popular courses for learning skills online?

  • Healthcare and Nursing is a common online learning track. If you’re a practicing nurse with an associate’s or diploma, the online RN to BSN is a logical choice; degree completion time is just 1-2 years, and nearly all students continue their careers alongside the program. (Still, given the variety of tracks, it could be useful to review our guide to choosing a nursing degree.)
  • Management is another in-demand skill, with numerous online certificate opportunities in project management, information technology, and more. While most certificates require advanced coursework, they’re highly practical and valuable to employers. Especially if you have previous knowledge or experience in a management area, certification can boost your resume, increase job prospects, and bump your salary.
  • Blockchain and Bitcoin courses have exploded in recent years, in part because each are conducive to online learning. In addition to lessons for developers, you’ll find intros to Bitcoin and blockchain basics tailored to students with little to no prior experience. If you’re really interested in learning a valuable skill online, this is one of the best areas to do so.

Common Degrees for Learning a Trade or Skill Online

If you’re interested in skill-oriented degrees:

  • An online Bachelor’s in Computer Science or Computer Information offer solid career prospects, including six-figure salary potential and above-average growth.
  • Online business programs are plentiful, including bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Marketing, and Accounting. These degrees also tend to offer specialization options, hands-on skill building, and generous transfer credits for students with pre-professional degrees or prior work experience in administrative or entry-level roles.
  • The Bachelor’s in Education is a popular track as well, with specialization options and licensure tracks.

Common MOOCs for Learning a Trade or Skill Online

Last but not least, more and more for-credit MOOCs are offering degrees and credentials in IT and service trade areas: financial management, analytics, cybersecurity, machine learning, sustainable energy, and more. Better yet, accredited MOOCs have the advantage of unprecedented affordability — Georgia Tech’s MS in Computer Science is a fraction of competing degrees’ costs — high-quality educators, including Ivy League universities, and partnerships with some of the most prestigious companies in the world: Google, IBM, GE, Goldman Sachs, Amazon Web Services, Amnesty International, Microsoft, and Ford, among them.

Popular Online Universities offering Skill and Trade-Related Degrees

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Peruse the most popular online business programs as well as our rankings of the best business schools above.


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