Laid off and looking to flee the floundering industry that sent you packing?
Not to worry: Minimum wage work is not your only option.
Whether you're in dire need of a new career, trying to earn more at your current gig or you're returning to work after a prolonged hiatus at home with the kids, a certificate program from a community college or vocational school is the swiftest way to pump up your earning potential.
"Many people refer to community college as the new master's degree," says Dr. Laurence Shatkin, author of more than a dozen books for job hunters, including 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. "It's a way to repurpose yourself."
As an added bonus, countless certificate programs train you for cubicle-free jobs – good news for weary office workers who'd like a change of scenery.
Certificate programs vary in length, averaging six months to a year, with evening, weekend, and online classes frequently available. Costs range from several hundred to several thousand dollars (happily, financial aid is sometimes offered for those who qualify).
Review the list below and make note of which certificate programs appeal to you or build on what you already know.
1. Court reporter certificate program.
Can you type like the wind? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, court reporters remain in high demand — by both the justice system and the television industry, which hires these workers to create closed captioning text. Average salary: $39,781 a year.
2. Auto insurance appraiser certificate program.
Appraisers have the best of both worlds: Many split their time between the office and the field, traveling to homes and auto shops to write up repair estimates for crumpled cars. While most work for insurance companies, some are self-employed. Average salary: $50,165 a year.
3. Auto or motorcycle mechanic certificate program.
Are you happiest when wielding a wrench? "Mechanic jobs are particularly good in a recession because people are trading in their cars less," Shatkin says. In other words, there's no shortage of clunkers in need of repair. Average salary: $41,233 a year.
4. Massage therapist certificate program.
If you think the economy is keeping people from getting a massage, you're wrong. The American Massage Therapy Association found that 36 percent of Americans got a massage to relieve stress in 2008, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects these jobs to increase by 20 percent before 2016. Average salary: $35,349 a year.
5. Security and fire alarm system installer certificate program.
Do you live to tinker with electronic devices? Then installing, maintaining, and repairing residential and commercial alarm systems might be the ideal career for you. Most installation work requires driving to various job sites each day. Average salary: $42,763 a year.
6. Emergency medical technician certificate program.
Why sit at a desk all day when you could be out there saving lives? Despite the recession, people will continue to "crash their cars and have heart attacks in the middle of the night," reminds Shatkin. EMT certification requirements vary by state. Average salary: $30,530 a year.
7. Aerobics or fitness instructor certificate program.
If you're already a workout fiend, why not get paid for pumpin' it up? Job openings for exercise instructors are expected to increase by 25 percent over the next decade, Shatkin says, with most located at health clubs and fitness centers. Average salary: $37,113 a year.
8. Medical transcriptionist certificate program.
With healthcare the fastest-growing job sector, there's plenty of work for those who can decipher and type up the audio recordings doctors make about their patients. While a majority of transcriptionists work in a hospital or doctor's office, many telecommute from home. Average salary: $31,286 a year.
9. Cosmetologist certificate program.
Are you the person everyone calls for beauty advice? Then why not go pro? Cosmetologists are trained to cut, style, and chemically treat hair, as well as to treat skin and nails. Bonus: Schedules are flexible and self-employment is common. Average salary: $27,112 a year.
10. Language interpreter certificate program.
Maybe you grew up speaking two languages or picked one up while traveling abroad. If so, hospitals, courtrooms, and social service agencies need your help. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five interpreters works for themselves, and many work part time. Plus, oftentimes, only a one-day exam is needed to be certified. Average salary: $44,175 a year.
11. Sign language interpreter certificate program.
If you enjoy working with others in multiple settings — from live performances and business conferences to schools and social service agencies — translating the spoken word for the deaf could be the job for you. Average salary: $36,278 a year.
12. Embalmer certificate program.
Preparing the dead for their final resting place isn't for everyone. But for those with a strong constitution, there's job security in the funeral business — people won't stop dying simply because the economy's taken a turn for the worse. Average salary: $38,482 a year.
Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.
Michelle Goodman is author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube and My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire.