How to earn big without going to university

This article is authored by Linda Moon and is originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Growing up on a farm in Kingaroy, Queensland, Samantha Watt, now 31, wasn’t handed life on a silver platter.

After school, she chose to go straight into the workforce. Gaining an entry-level admin role, Watt temped in those roles for four years before enrolling in a psychology degree.

‘‘It was boring. Value for money was not there. You may learn specialised skills but you don’t learn anything about the real world,’’ she says.

After a year, she dropped out to focus on the work she was doing at the time. Often left to clean up after problems as a contractor, Watt discovered her talent for increasing efficiencies. From cost control in the oil and gas industry, she moved into IT project co-ordination, then project management. Now on close to $200,000 per year, more than many uni graduates, Watt has managed to combine her love of horse riding and IT project management by releasing an equestrian app, Australian Equestrian Competitions.

She attributes her success to mentors, her ability to deliver, problem-solve and learn from mistakes. ‘‘My career path was the right attitude, about doing and being more. The standards I impose on myself are constant improvement,’’ she says.

Brisbane-based Mitch Hills chose to be an entrepreneur rather than attend university.

‘‘I never particularly liked school either,’’ he admitted. ‘‘I like to do things differently, create and do my own thing. I probably would be a terrible employee.’’

Hills, 23, taught himself how to DJ, and started his first business (an entertainment company) in high school, at age 17. At 19, he was earning $90K a year. By age 20, he’d saved $100,000. His second business – a tech start-up – failed. Hills lost everything.

‘‘I just sort of have a crack,’’ he says. ‘‘Even if it doesn’t work you learn what not to do. A lot of people are scared of failure, but when you change failure into learning you don’t really lose. You only lose when you quit.’’

In 2016, he founded digital marketing company, Mastered Marketing, and earns more than $150,000 per year. Spending about $10,000 on short courses helped him gain relevant skills.

‘‘You can pick specific ones you want to learn about,’’ he says. ‘‘If I do a marketing degree I’ve got to learn all this stuff that I might not end up using.’’

He suggests others interested in entrepreneurial careers, dive in.

‘‘The market will force you to learn what you need,’’ he says.

‘‘Find a problem in the marketplace, figure out how to solve it for someone, and then charge for the solution. ‘‘The customers don’t care about your background. They care about you solving the problem they have.’’

According to Sandy Hutchison, CEO of Career Money Life, other high-paying roles without a degree exist in trades, government, tram driving, web development, mining, air traffic control, the police and fire services, health and wellbeing, and as funeral directors, dental hygienists and executive assistants.

Training for such jobs involves internal, community-based, private or TAFE courses, at a much lower cost than university.

Other options are the gig economy, direct selling and backend web coding roles, Hutchison says.

‘‘You can work in that space through self-initiated learning. There’s less concern with a degree but what you can do, with clients commenting via reviews.

‘‘Think about getting a start with a good variety of skills and ongoing learning and development.’’

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