The best 10 highest paying jobs in Australia without a degree

If you believe certain news outlets these days, when it comes to changing careers, you’ve got two choices. Spend yonks at uni for a degree that’ll leave you in debt but ready for a five-figure salary, or head straight in to an entry level role, but struggle to make more than a basic income. The truth (in Australia at least) is a bit more complicated. It’s true that a lot of traditionally high-paying jobs (surgeon, barrister etc.) take years of tough university study. But if you look at the stats, there are tons of well-paid jobs that don’t require a degree at all.

In this article, we’ll look at why you can get a high paying job without a degree. Hint: it’s got nothing to do with economic boom and bust, and it’ll give you something to take in to your next argument with your well-meaning mum/dad/partner/best friend who thinks a degree is your only shot. Then we’ll look at the government and industry statistics that show the highest paying jobs – plus tips on how to get in to each area.

Why you can get a high paying job without a degree

There’s a good reason why the idea that a degree equals a high paying job is so ingrained, especially in some cultures. For a very long time (think centuries!), there were only a few ways to become wealthy. Either you were born in a rich family, you had a stroke of luck and became a successful businessperson, or you went to university to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. What that meant was that the only way for a person to have some certainty about moving up in life was for them to get an education and choose from a limited number of jobs.

That’s changed a lot in the last couple of generations, especially in the past 30 years or so. Firstly, technology has changed the way we do basically everything. There are new jobs that never existed in your parents’ or grandparents’ day, but they’re here to stay. The global economy has opened up, and labour markets have become a lot more connected. This means there’s more demand and competition for some skills, and less for others. This whole process started after WW2, but really kicked off in the ‘70s and ‘80s when big countries (including Australia) got rid of some of the laws insulating their national economies.

Long story short: the range of secure and well-paying job opportunities is much bigger these days.

No such thing as ‘unskilled’ jobs…

Ever hear jobs described as ‘unskilled’ versus ‘skilled’? That division – ‘simple labour’ versus ‘brains’ – is a traditional way of dividing jobs in to categories, and justifying a difference in pay. But lots of (very smart) people believe there’s no such thing as a truly unskilled job. Even jobs that don’t require vast libraries of technical knowledge can take a lot of skill, safety risk, intelligence, precision etc. Think of it this way: you couldn’t take the CEO of a big company, who’s on say 20 times the salary of her lowest paid employee, put her in a front line role like a factory floor or customer service, and expect her to perform 20 times as well as other employees in that job.

To put it simply, it’s not just a straight line from unskilled to highly skilled jobs, no qualifications to high qualifications, low paid to high paid jobs. It’s more complicated than that.

Skills more important than time spent in a classroom

There are very, very few jobs where you legally have to have a degree to do the job. What that means is that it’s up to employers what they require in order to hire someone. While some use a degree as a simple way of ruling out some candidates, many take the time to assess applicants’ actual skills and relevant experience, including their proven results and demonstrated ability to do the job. Some also use complex surveys and tests to test people’s potential for the job, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Practice time is also important. Degrees generally take three or four years, depending on the program. Work experience, internships, certificates, diplomas and other entry pathways take a lot less time. The difference in time can be spent practicing and honing your skills over and over in the workplace, giving you a competitive advantage.

7 best paying jobs without a degree: 2020

There are a few different sources of official info on the best paying jobs. We’ll start with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. According to the most recent numbers, these are the highest paying jobs that don’t require a degree.

ICT managers: $170,955

‘ICT’ stands for ‘information and communications technology’. ICT managers plan, organise and manage computer and telecommunications systems within organisations. There are a range of different IT management roles at this level. Job titles in the ‘ICT managers’ category include Chief Information Officer, ICT Project Manager, ICT Development Manager, Network Manager, and more.

Many successful ICT managers do have university degrees, but it’s not a requirement of the job. You can work your way up to a management role in this field starting with a lower (or no) qualification. This is particularly true because IT changes so quickly, it’s hard to have a uni course that’s actually up to date with the latest technology. That’s why many employers value practical experience and the right attitude to problem-solving.

Chemical, gas, petroleum and power generation plant operators: $168,376

This group of jobs includes a variety of people working on oil rigs, at power plants and chemical factories, from distillers to plant operators. Typical tasks include controlling equipment and machinery, checking and maintaining equipment, managing production processes, doing mechanical and chemical tests, and more. This can mean a lot of tough and technically dangerous work, but the good news is, you don’t need a degree to get in to the field. In Australia, the average is a Certificate III or three plus years of experience, plus two years of on-the-job training to get to this level.

ICT sales professionals: $157,123

‘ICT sales professionals’ includes specialist roles like Account Manager, Business Development Manager, and Sales Representative. These people handle complex sales transactions, including big IT projects, ongoing services needs, and more. Whilst some have relevant degrees in IT or engineering, many get to this level through experience alone. At least five years of relevant experience is usually needed to get to manager level. You can also stand out in this field by taking on short courses such as sales and management training, or vendor (software/hardware supplier) certification.

Chief executives and managing directors: $155,428

Chief executives and managing directors are the highest-level managers of an organisation. They may be appointed by and serve under a board of directors, but day to day, they’re the boss.
Some executives have university degrees, either in business or in the field the company operates in. But many don’t have any university qualifications at all. In fact, some of the world’s most interesting and well-known CEOs and MDs are uni dropouts.

The most important thing for this job is experience and skill. At least five years of experience is required, as well as advanced management skills. You may be able to fast-track the management skills side of things with a short qualification in leadership and management.

Human resource managers: $147,217

Human resource (HR) managers are also known as personnel/employee relations managers. They plan, organise and coordinate the HR and workplace relations within an organisation, from recruitment to regulatory compliance, dispute management, professional development, and more. Specialisations include OHS manager, training and development manager, and workplace relations manager.

It is possible to go to uni for HR, but many successful HR managers work their way up from payroll, HR assistant, or middle management roles. At least five years’ experience is usually required to get to the management level, but you don’t technically need a degree. Shorter qualifications like a Diploma of Human Resources can give you the practical skills you need to shift in to an HR role.

ICT business and systems analysts: $120,780

This job category includes a lot of different tiles and specialisations, including IT business consultant and business systems analyst. These professionals work with clients to work out their business IT requirements, from hardware to software and services. They design, set up and maintain systems, monitor and manage efficiency, oversee developers on projects, and more.
Like ICT managers, practical experience and short certifications can be much more important to employers than university degrees. Depending on the path you want to take to this position (starting as a software developer, web designer, systems administrator, etc.), you may be best off starting with a basic certificate or diploma qualification to get you started, while you explore portfolio, work experience, and paid job experience opportunities.

Specialist accommodation and hospitality managers: $104,088

The hospitality and accommodation industry is known for being low to average paying, because of the low entry points and high supply of workers. But what you might not know is that thousands in this industry, in particular specialties, can regularly earn six figures and enjoy great job security too.

This group of specialist managers includes bed and breakfast operators, retirement village managers, backpacker/hostel managers, casino duty managers, and reception centre managers. The usual qualification for this group is a Diploma, and some get in to management with three years’ senior work experience on top of their general hospo experience. If you’re currently in an entry-level accommodation or hospitality role, you can get a head start on a management career with a VET-level small business management course that could take you just months, with the option to fit in study around your current work commitments.

Highest paid jobs: 2021 and beyond

Many official sources and private sector think tanks alike have made predictions and projections about the fast growing, high paid jobs of the future – 2021 and beyond. Here are our picks of the ones that don’t require you to go to and get a degree to get your foot in the door.

Information security analysts: $100,464+

Also known as information technology security managers, these IT professionals help protect organisations against digital attacks. They’re also responsible for planning security backups and recovery processes in case of disaster. IT security professionals need to work with clients/in their workplaces to determine security needs, plan systems and processes, liaise with suppliers, and monitor service providers.

Projections from the government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment say that the number of positions available in this job area will rise by over 18% in the five years up to 2024. Outside of IT jobs, very few jobs will experience this level of growth. To put it in context, total growth for all occupations is projected to be just over 8%.

Information security specialists are highly skilled, but because security evolves so quickly, they usually don’t have formal qualifications. Some may have certifications for certain products, but there is no degree requirement. A practical qualification such as a Certificate IV or Diploma may help an applicant stand out, or may be the key to help them to gain initial entry level work experience. Some graduates also say that doing a qualification helped with their problem-solving skills, or helped them realise weak spots and areas they needed more practice in. For higher paid jobs, the main test is more likely to be a practical challenge completed under supervision of an interview panel than a quiz about formal qualifications.

Software developers: $104,156+

In official stats, developers are called ‘software and applications programmers’. Specialisations include analyst programmers, developer programmers, software engineers, and software testers. They may develop a variety of software, from smart phone apps to business software, web apps, and even games.

According to government projections, the number of positions for programmers is set to grow by 23.4% by 2024. There will be a variety of different jobs available, from software development companies to in-house developer roles for organisations that maintain their own software. This includes a wide variety of different industries, from banks to online retailers.

Most developers do not have university qualifications in software development. However, many successful developers do have a practical VET level qualification or a certification in one or more programming languages. Some have both; the Certificate or Diploma provides general skills including concept development, development team work, and methods for finding solutions to client needs, whilst the certifications provide proof of a specialisation.

Marketing managers: $133,640+

‘Marketing managers’ includes a variety of job titles such as advertising manager, PR manager, market research manager, communications manager, and more. It encompasses digital media marketing. This makes it a particularly interesting opportunity for entry-level candidates with specific platform and product expertise.

Like some of the IT-related jobs above, digital marketing specialist managers’ jobs change so often that a three-year degree can’t really keep up with the pace. However, some organisation, project and other technical skills are required, which is why the benchmark for many employers is now a Certificate IV or Diploma level marketing qualification. On top of this, the best paid digital marketing managers also have certifications (such as with Google or various social media platforms) as well as proven practical experience in running successful digital campaigns. The top paid managers need to prove to employers and clients that they can meet marketing goals and get a good ROI (return on investment) for their digital marketing budget. But they don’t need a degree to get their foot in the door to get that experience.

Projections show that employment for this job group will rise by 14.3% to 2024. What’s interesting is that in the step down from management, ‘advertising and marketing professionals’, the number of jobs will rise by 21.7%. That’s even more opportunities to get your foot in the door and climb the ladder.

Getting a job without a degree

How to get your first well-paid no-degree job

Start with basic study

If you’ve been doing a lot of reading and research and still can’t choose between different specialist career paths, then a short vocational level course might be right for you. A vocational course can give you essential skills and the information you need to choose the right career path for you. At the same time, you won’t be overinvesting (time or money). You may even be able to secure your first entry-level job in the industry before you finish studying, and fit your studies around your work experience priorities.
Many Certificate and Diploma courses allow you to build on your basic qualification with a specialisation. You may not have to choose your specialisation until you’ve done a few units, giving you a chance to see what you’re most interested in.

Follow up with self-education

For all of the jobs mentioned above, there are lots of short self-guided learning options available for specific aspects of professional knowledge. For example, say you’re studying social media marketing management and you want to focus on a particular social platform. Chances are the platform offers its own professional development courses to help you get better at using its advertising and sponsorship options. Some also offer certification, which you may have to pay for, and may require a supervised test. However, like IT certifications, marketing platform certifications can help you stand out to employers.

Build your experience

It’s a classic catch 22 situation – you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. This can feel frustrating if you’re trying to break in to a new field. But the secret here is to think outside the box in terms of what counts as experience.

In many fields, it’s standard practice to offer unpaid work experience opportunities, programs or internships to learners, new graduates or others wanting to gain their first professional experience. There are strict laws around this in Australia; for example, the employer can’t replace a paid position with an unpaid intern. Interns can observe or help, but they can’t do the work on their own. In some industries, unpaid work experience is only allowed when it’s a compulsory part of a course. It’s best to research the rules for the specific industry you’re looking to get in to, or to check personally with employers who have existing work experience programs.

Some employers will offer casual paid work experience to promising new candidates when approached directly. This might be for a few hours per week, or for a limited busy period. Approaching an employer directly might sound a bit old-school, but it’s not as uncommon as you may think. In fact, a recent government survey of employers found that in the past year, 12% of new hires came from direct approaches by job seekers, as opposed to recruitment websites and other methods.

For some job types, it’s possible to build a professional portfolio to show off your experience without having formal employment. You may be able to produce work samples, project examples and more. You can do this with:

  • volunteering on local community projects and initiatives
  • using friends’ and family members’ businesses as scenarios to build example work from
  • using your own (real or imaginary) business to build example work from
  • doing your own creative projects
  • imagining you’re working for a business you admire and producing a small piece of work that fits their needs

Tap in to your networks

At Monarch Institute, you’ll be taught by experienced and successful industry professionals, so you’ll have access to insight and personal advice from experts. You’ll be able to contact them by email or via Facebook with specific questions about career paths and particular job opportunities. We’re also directly connected with a number of employers and industry associations, so you have extra resources and leads at your fingertips. To top it off, you’ll be studying (virtually) alongside a great group of like-minded students with whom you’ll be able to share tips, ideas and support.

If you’re keen to chat about your career options, give us a call on 1300 738 955 or book a meeting here and we’ll call you.

  1.  ABS 3606.0 – Employee Earnings and Hours
  2.  LMIP Occupation Projections
  3. LMIP Employers’ Recruitment Insights