No student loan debt - These jobs pay great without a 4-year college degree

What constitutes a good job?

For generations of Americans, the ideal occupation was something that required a four-year college degree — at least.

But times are changing.

Many college graduates are entering the work force with a stifling amount of student loan debt, and landing jobs with salaries that haven’t kept up with the economy’s nine-year bull run.

Meanwhile, employers across North Texas and the rest of the United States have millions of good-paying jobs that are going unfilled. These jobs are in fields such as health care, manufacturing, cyber security and many other fields.

Want to make about $69,000 a year? That’s the median salary nationwide for a magnetic resonance imaging technician. Getting certified to operate an MRI machine takes two years of study at Tarrant County College, where a full-time schedule of classes costs about $1,000 a semester (less if you qualify for grants).

That person working on your car at the dealership? He or she might be pulling in $85,000 to $100,000 a year.

Toyota recently entered into a partnership with TCC that offers two levels of training. The most sophisticated training takes two years.

Advancement in these fields typically is done in what TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini calls “stack-able credentials.” For example, an MRI technologist might seek further certification in nuclear medicine or radiation therapy, which can be done with another 12-month certification.

Qualifications are stacked one on top of the other, as a worker builds up vocational credentials that can all but guarantee a lifetime of good earnings.

“Not everybody needs to accumulate credit hours to learn. It’s about competency,” Giovannini said.

The construction industry also is struggling to attract young workers for skilled jobs, even though those jobs pay competitively. The situation has contributed to the shortage of affordable housing and rising residential construction costs.

Four of every five contractors is having difficulty finding qualified craft workers, and the trend is leading to construction delays that if not addressed could seriously hurt the economy, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

“Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread,” said Ken Simonson, the group’s chief economist. “The best way to encourage continued economic growth, make it easier to rebuild aging infrastructure and place more young adults into high-paying careers is to address construction workforce shortages.”

The construction industry needs dozens of types of workers, including electricians who make a median salary of $54,110, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Another occupation in demand in the construction field: an elevator installer and repairer. The median salary for that job, is $79,480 — and training is typically done through an apprenticeship.

The US had 6.7 million job openings in June, but only 6.3 million unemployed, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s a level the nation has hardly seen since the 1960s, when hundreds of thousands of young people were being drafted into military service for the Vietnam War instead of making their way into the domestic job market.

Construction employment is expected to grow 11 percent by 2026, with a gain of 747,600 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growth comes as the nation’s need for new buildings and roads increases.

The median annual salary for all construction occupations was $44,730 in May 2017, much higher than the nation’s median annual salary of $37,690 for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

As America’s economy continues to undergo dramatic change — much of it technology-driven — parents might do well to rethink their own biases in favor of a four-year college education and instead encourage their children to look into the fields where the new jobs are emerging.

On average, college graduates from 2016 are carrying $37,172 in debt, according to Forbes. That’s about the equivalent of a solar panel installer’s annual salary — except the solar panel installer only needs a high school diploma, and a little on-the-job training.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson