Short-Term Certification Programs: Long-Term Career Rewards

Earn While You Continue to Learn

In most cases, those who have higher levels of education have an opportunity to make a higher salary. But there are some jobs that turn that conventional wisdom on its head, such as those well-paying jobs that can be had after completing a short-term certification program. In fact, many of these programs take six months or less to complete and can get a graduate into the workforce very quickly, where they begin earning a living wage – or even a quite comfortable salary. This guide looks at short-term programs and how they help students and explains why they just might be the best option for those who want to make good money but don’t want to sit in a classroom for years in order to do it.

What Should You Know about Short-Term Certification Programs?

Short-term certification programs sound like an ideal option for those looking to start a new career as quickly as possible. But they’re not for everyone. It’s important to understand the basics before going any further with enrollment in a short term program.

Given the practical nature of many jobs available to graduates of short-term certification programs, many of the programs have hands-on curriculum requirements. For example, many pharmacy technician programs will have an externship component in which students receive real world training. Graduates of an auto mechanics programs will typically start an apprenticeship after graduation. Other professions that usually require a blend of virtual classroom and on-site learning include construction jobs, such as electrician and plumbing.

Why are these programs valuable?

Short-term programs are…well, short. They save students from paying for schooling any longer than necessary. Completion of the program allows graduates to enter the workforce as soon as practicable, thus leading quickly to a paycheck. Short-term programs emphasize instruction on tangible, real-world skills to allow students to be ready to work as soon as they graduate, and they are often the kind of skills that cross career lines. But besides that, many of the practical skills students gain from these programs benefit them in their everyday life, such as with their business affairs, health, home, vehicle or personal technology devices.

Who could benefit from these programs?

Short-term certification programs are ideal for anyone looking to get professional training and instruction, but they are especially useful for those who do not have the time or money to disrupt their lives to sit in a classroom for months on end. This can include students who cannot afford to be in school for an extended period of time, need to start bringing in a paycheck as soon as possible, or both. Even those who have the time and financial resources to attend school for several years will still appreciate an abbreviated program, as it means they can start working in their chosen career sooner rather than later.

How do I find a program?

Start with a simple search through an online search engine, or find a program on the appropriate accredited institution’s website. For instance, the CAAHEP has a “Find a Program” tool that helps users find a CAAHEP accredited program at the diploma, certificate, associate, baccalaureate or master’s level in a variety of professions. In addition, career or occupation-oriented websites often have special search tools for students looking for a potential program to apply to. One such online search tool can be found at CareerOneStop’s Certification Finder. Finally, individuals can look for a program by finding a school first, then exploring the programs that school offers.

What does it take to qualify?

Most short-term certificate programs will require a high school diploma or a GED for admission. Additionally, the institution may expect incoming students to make financial arrangements to show they can pay for their tuition and school-related costs. In most cases, students must show proficiency in the English language.

From there, the specific program may impose additional requirements. For example, in a medical assisting or other health-related program, the student will likely need to show they are current on their immunizations and have a medical professional sign a health clearance before they can begin the clinical or hands-on portion of their curriculum.

Industries & Careers with Short-Term Certification

There are many industries and hundreds of jobs and careers that require an applicant hold only a short-term certificate. Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Industry: Allied Health

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 2.4 million new jobs are expected to be added in the healthcare industry between 2016 and 2026. Many of these positions require six months of less of formal education, including a phlebotomist, emergency medical technician and pharmacy technician. These skilled workers will be necessary to provide the increase in medical services anticipated as the need for healthcare grows.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work in doctor’s offices, hospitals and other healthcare facilities to provide basic laboratory, clinical and administrative tasks. Medical assistants who desire room for advancement can gain experience and look toward management positions or specialization within the medical office. In most states, there are no formal training or education requirements to become a medical assistant. Many programs last a few months to one year in a certificate or diploma program and prepare students for certification, which can boost their chances of getting hired.

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Industry: Healthcare

With the aging population and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the US Department of Labor estimates that the number of healthcare jobs in the United States is expected to rise 18 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is well above the national average for the economy as a whole. Some jobs that require less than one year of coursework include physical therapy aides and massage therapists.

Massage Therapist

Massage therapists are skilled in the art of manipulating muscle, skin and soft tissue to bring health and emotional benefits to clients. Therefore, they can work in a wide variety of settings, from chiropractor offices to resorts to private businesses. Each state has its own requirements for becoming licensed or certified, but most states require at least 500 hours of formal training, split among classroom learning and real world experience. Depending on an individual’s work setting, opportunities for advancement can include learning different massage techniques, implementing beauty therapies, becoming a manager or starting their own business.

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Industry: Information Technology

With the ubiquity of the internet, it’s safe to say almost everyone in developed countries is online. According to the Pew Research Center, about 52 percent of adults were online in 2000. In 2018, that percentage grew to 89 percent. Such massive growth has led to a huge demand for the creation and management of the information infrastructure. As a result, a variety of jobs that barely existed a few decades ago are now in hot demand, such as web developer, computer support specialist and social media manager.

Computer Support Specialist

Computer support specialists may go by a number of titles, especially colloquial ones, such as technical support and the “IT person.” The primary role of the computer support specialist is to assist other workers in using and troubleshooting computers and related technology. Computer support specialists can be found in almost any organization that uses computer technology. Due to the fluid nature of what they do, there usually isn’t a formal education requirement to become a computer support specialist, unless the employer establishes one. Individuals who choose to be computer support specialists have plenty of room to grow into other areas of technical support by earning certifications.

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Industry: Renewable Energy

Fossil fuels are a limited resource, so renewables are the wave of the future. The already huge demand for these types of jobs is only expected to grow. The US Energy Information Administration reports that the consumption of renewable energy reached record levels in 2017, with much of the growth in renewable energy coming from wind and solar. This means there’s a strong demand for workers with short-term certificates, such as wind turbine technicians and solar installation installers.

Solar Installation Technician

Sometimes known as solar photovoltaic installer or PV installers, these workers are primarily tasked with the installation and maintenance of solar generation facilities. Popular landing spots for recent graduates are solar installation services and power companies. The education required to become a solar installation technician will vary depending on the employer, but certificate programs lasting a single academic semester are readily available. The remaining training will usually take place on the job and under the supervision of an experienced installer. Individuals can advance their career by obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree and moving into a management level position.

Industry: Legal

The American Bar Association says there are more than 1.3 million attorneys in the United States. However, much of happens in the legal world – the small yet vital tasks that keep the court system moving right along – is not done by lawyers, but rather by their support staff, including legal assistants, law clerks and paralegals.

Paralegal

Paralegals provide support services to attorneys, such as drafting correspondence, filing documents, organizing client files and researching legal issues. Many certificate programs can be completed in 12 weeks or less. After graduating, most paralegals will work in a private law firm, where they receive additional training on the intricacies of how the particular firm or lawyer prefers to have legal work completed. After gaining enough experience, paralegals can advance their careers by going to law school and passing the bar exam. The real-world experience of working in a law firm can be immensely valuable to a new attorney.

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Industry: Construction

Construction is a key component of the United States economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports strong growth in the single-family, multi-family and industrial construction sectors. Many of the skilled trades in the construction industry, such as plumbing, masonry and electrical work, are unique in that much of the education comes from on-the-job training.

Electrician

Electricians install, repair and maintain the electrical systems in buildings. To become an electrician, most individuals will complete a vocational program and then begin on-the-job paid training, or spend several years in a formal apprenticeship program where they receive a combination of classroom and paid on-the-job training. After completion, most states will require electricians to be licensed. Most electricians will work for construction companies or for a small electrician business. Electricians have the opportunity for future growth by taking on supervisory duties or starting their own business.

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Industry: Accounting

An essential function of any successful business or organization is keeping track of financial information. So it’s no wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the growth of accountants and auditors to be around 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. But accountants can’t handle all of an organization’s financial documentation. Therefore, the need for additional accounting professionals is strong. This includes bookkeepers and auditing clerks.

Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers are often tasked with managing payroll, reconciling accounts and recording debits and credits of an organization, most often for-profit businesses. While not technically required, many bookkeepers will obtain some formal training, either completing a formal bookkeeping or accounting program or taking a few basic accounting courses, in addition to on-the-job training. Those looking to move up professionally can consider receiving certification, such as from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.

Industry: Automotive

The heyday of car manufacturing may be over in the United States, but the rate of car ownership continues to grow. For example, from 1990 to 2016, the number of registered cars in the United States grew from around 190 million to almost 270 million. That’s a lot of cars to build and repair, so automobile mechanics and assembly line assemblers are still an integral part of the economy.

Automobile Mechanic

Automobile mechanics repair and modify motor vehicles, sometimes focusing on specific systems. Though it’s possible to become a mechanic with no formal education, many employers prefer to hire those who have formal training, such as from a vocational program. These usually last less than a year, with graduates starting work at small garages, car dealerships or a chain of automobile repair shops. Specific jobs and professional growth opportunities may require additional training, such as specialized certificate programs to work on certain vehicle systems (such as air conditioning) or with certain types of vehicles.

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Industry: Transportation

The United States relies on a consumer driven economy. To make goods and services readily available to consumers, a solid transportation network is essential. To put things in perspective, more than 74 million passengers flew on commercial airlines in the United States in November 2018. And more than 70 percent of all freight in the United States gets moved by truck. This leads to a great need to hire flight attendants, commercial truck drivers and aircraft mechanics.

Truck Driver

Tractor trailer truck drivers operate large vehicles that transport goods from one place to another. In addition to driving, they maintain their vehicles and manage their cargo. Many truck drivers receive three to six months of formal training from a private trucking school or vocational program, and then test for their commercial driver’s license, or CDL. Commercial truck drivers often work for a commercial trucking company, though some are self-employed. They can improve their career prospects by earning special endorsements that allow them to operate different vehicles or carry specialized cargo, such as hazardous materials.

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Industry: Real Estate

According to the National Association of Realtors the median gross median income of a realtor was $39,800 in 2017. With having a place to live being an essential need for anyone, it’s no wonder there’s a need for real estate agents, property managers and community association managers.

Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent (also known as a realtor) is a representative for either a buyer or seller in a real estate transaction. They usually work on their own or with a real estate company. They advocate on behalf of their client to get the best price possible when buying or selling a home, and they work to find the right property if representing a buyer. They have special training and expertise in the legal requirements for completing a real estate transaction; this training is obtained by completing basic coursework in real estate. It’s common for individuals to become a licensed real estate agent with less than 100 hours of coursework and passage of a licensing exam. Agents can eventually start their own agency or move into a related occupation, such as real estate investing.

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Short-Term Certification Program FAQs

Benefits of Short-Term Certification Programs

Besides advancing education, earning a short-term certificate has a variety of benefits that can lead a promising career and professional growth.

  • Earn quickly after completion: Because graduates can earn their credentials fairly quickly, it’s only natural that they will also start earning money quickly after graduation. The whole point of a certificate program is to get individuals into the workforce as soon as possible. Even when additional hands-on training is required, recent graduates often get paid for this on-the-job training.

  • Valuable skills: A short-term academic or vocational program will be heavily geared toward practical skills and training. Unlike a four-year or even two-year college degree, short-term programs focus on teaching skills rather than theory. This makes short-term certification programs some of the most efficient methods of learning a professional skill.

  • Get into an in-demand industry: When there is a shortage of a certain type of worker, it’s common for the educators in the industry to take steps to facilitate quick student training. The shorter the program, the faster workers can fulfill an industry’s need for employees.

  • Make valuable connections: Networking is a critical component of professional development, no matter the industry or extent of formal training. Those in certificate programs can start building those connections from day one. Classmates can become future business partners. Professors can become mentors. The school’s career office can facilitate creating connections with other professionals already in the industry.

From the Expert

photo of Kari WhaleyDr. Kari Whaley, Ed.D. is a professor at Full Sail University, where she teaches in accelerated master’s degree programs in business, film, and gaming. She serves on the Institutional Advisory Board of Osceola Technical College (oTECH), a career and technical education college in Central Florida. She has also worked closely with Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, home to Accelerated Skills Training Programs in Advanced Manufacturing, Construction, and Healthcare. Kari was the President/CEO of the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce until 2019, where she facilitated connections between employers and business and human resources.


What are some of the misconceptions students have about these programs? Do they expect too much -- or too little?

Misconceptions can vary based on the industry and institution. With short-term programs and colleges, there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all. Each institution has a different niche and may approach career training in a unique way. In my experience, many students are taken off guard in the beginning of the program because of the intensive pace and workload. This type of acceleration is usually different from traditional programs similar to what someone may have experienced in high school. When students enter a short-term certification or accelerated degree program, they should be prepared to make it their priority for the duration of the program. It will consume considerate time and effort to learn the skills needed to successfully finish the program.

After completing the program, do most students go into the area they trained for? If not, what do they tend to do?

I think the most important thing to consider when looking at job placement are the connections that your institution has built, and to what extend you have used that network to find a career home after graduation.

So, when students are applying to programs, they should ask the institution about job placement and seek specifics about potential employers and the percentage of graduates who leave the program with a job offer.

The student should consider their field of study and how the market for that industry is in their region. For example, in Central Florida, there are a number of advanced manufacturing, construction, and healthcare related companies, so graduates in those areas are typically placed quickly with companies who do work on the Space Coast or with high tech companies like those housed at NeoCity or Medical City in Orlando. If there is not a large market in the area where the institution is based, ask what kind of connections the school has outside of the region.

Another important resource to connect with is a career counselor or coach. These individuals can help you get access to hiring managers, job openings that may not be publicly posted yet, and interviews. It’s important that the student initiate these conversations and connections early in the program to start building a network months before graduation.

Anything else you would like to add about short term certification programs?

I would recommend researching program extensively before choosing one. Even though it is a short-term program, it can help launch your career if the school has the right industry connections and resources available.

Additional Short-Term Certification Resources