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Essential Jobs That You Can Learn From Home or On Campus

By Publisher
| Last Updated April 25, 2022

Healthcare, human services, public safety, communications, information technology, skilled trades, and business and financial services are examples of critical sectors with essential jobs. Online education is available for many vital occupations that pay well. You can study when and where you want while preparing for a new career that boosts your earning potential, which may be more reliable during hard times.

smiling woman at a desk working on a computerAs the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, we need millions of workers to stay on the job—even during a major national crisis. Unlike millions of others deemed "non-essential," Americans with essential jobs perform duties that contribute to our very survival. They can often count on their work being seen as vital to the public's health, safety, and general welfare.

Of course, not everyone agrees about what is necessary.

We've learned from the coronavirus emergency that the work deemed most critical can vary from state to state and city to city. However, many occupations consistently appear on lists of high-priority workers. That means people with those careers can benefit from enhanced job security when many other workers are being laid off.

By learning skills for an essential vocation, you can become more resilient to crises that harm the economy. And you can boost your income potential if you pursue a vital career that requires some post-secondary education.

Based on the federal government's list of critical industries during the COVID-19 response, we've identified several examples of good careers worth pursuing. For many of them, online programs are available, allowing you to learn from home. For others, you may need to enroll in an on-campus program.

Median yearly wages are rounded to the nearest thousand. They are based on estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


young African American woman with natural hair in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neckMost of the health and medical industry is considered essential, no matter what is happening. But it is especially vital when a public health crisis erupts. The list of necessary workers in this sector is almost impossibly long. It includes physicians, pharmacists, dentists, physical therapists, nurses, medical lab technicians, respiratory therapists, and a huge variety of other medical practitioners, technologists, technicians, assistants, and administrative specialists. Here are a few more good examples.

Possible to learn online:

  • Health services manager ($101K): Play a leadership role by planning, directing, and coordinating the efficient operations of a medical facility (or a specific department within one).
  • Health information coder ($47K): Ensure that the correct codes are assigned for patients' diagnoses and treatments so that medical records are accurate for billing and future care assessments.

Typically learn on campus:

  • Registered nurse ($73K): Create care plans for medical patients, monitor their treatment, provide explanations and emotional support, and much more. During public health crises, nurses who specialize in critical care are especially in demand.
  • Radiologic technologist ($61K): Take x-rays or CT scans of patients to help doctors diagnose and monitor medical conditions' progress.

Human Services

young blonde woman standing with folded arms in an office spaceMental, emotional, social, and financial well-being are frequently just as important as physical health during a crisis. That's why there is hardly ever a shortage of work for people who are on the frontlines of helping others cope with difficult or desperate circumstances. Like the healthcare industry, the human services sector requires a range of specialists, including managers and administrators. These are some of the most essential roles.

Possible to learn mostly online:

  • Social worker ($49K): Help people in your community deal with problems caused by issues like domestic violence, neglect, poverty, addiction, disability, or mental or physical illness. You can specialize in the area that most interests you.
  • Mental health counselor ($46K): Provide advice, treatment, and compassionate support to people experiencing depression, anxiety, high stress, low self-esteem, and similar challenges. You can also specialize in providing substance abuse counseling to those suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Typically learn on campus:

  • Clinical psychologist ($83K): Assess and treat people with acute or chronic psychological disorders by providing talk therapy, designing programs for behavior modification, or using other strategies. Many online psychology programs are available, but the clinical path often requires courses with on-campus laboratory components.
  • Occupational therapy assistant ($62K): Help carry out treatment plans for people who are learning how to get by at home or work while coping with disability or recovering from illness or injury.

Public Safety and Emergency Services

Caucasian male police officer in uniform holding a small childEven in the best of times, our society requires workers who rescue and protect us from various dangers. It's why we have firefighters and air traffic controllers, among many other day-to-day heroes. So it's fair to say that careers in this category are almost always vital. Here are some that stand out.

Possible to learn the fundamentals online:

  • Emergency management director ($75K): Become someone who helps plan and lead effective responses to various types of major emergencies caused by natural disasters, terrorism, cyberattacks, public health crises, or other dangers.
  • Correctional officer ($45K): Provide essential duties within the criminal justice system by maintaining order and security inside prisons or jails.

Typically learn on campus:

  • Police officer ($63K): Help protect the people and property in your community by enforcing laws, responding to emergencies, and keeping an eye out for suspected criminals.
  • Emergency medical technician ($35K): Respond to 911 calls for urgent medical attention, provide first aid to the sick or injured people you find, and transport them to the hospital if necessary.

Communications and Information Technology

young African American man working on a desktop computerThe steady flow of information is something that many of us now take for granted. But without the workers who keep us digitally connected and in the know, little could be accomplished in our modern world. The transmission of facts and data is especially important during emergencies, whether short or prolonged. These are a few of the many types of professionals who help ensure that our news media and vast electronic infrastructure continue to function.

Possible to learn online:

  • Network systems administrator ($84K): Keep critical computer networks secure and functional around the clock by optimizing their performance and making repairs or upgrades when necessary.
  • News reporter ($46K): Monitor current events, gather facts, interview key people, and share what you find with the public through print, online, or broadcast media outlets.

Typically learn on campus:

  • Computer hardware engineer ($117K): Design, test, upgrade, and oversee the manufacturing of computer equipment used in critical settings like data centers, research laboratories, and defense facilities.
  • Broadcast technician ($41K): Contribute to successful studio or on-location TV or radio broadcasts by setting up and operating transmitters and other key equipment, as well as keeping it all in good working condition.

Skilled Trades

Male electrician in navy coat and yellow hardhat standing at electrical panel holding papersMany of the hands-on jobs in this category are essential to the industries and conveniences we all depend on. For instance, consider the distribution of water, electricity, and natural gas. Think about the transportation and supply chains of the food and other goods we buy. Or picture the manufacturing of critical parts for vehicles or medical equipment. Tradespeople are counted upon in those sectors and many others. Here are some examples.

Possible to learn the basic concepts online:

  • Electrician ($56K): Perform urgent repairs and maintenance on the electrical wiring and components in homes, businesses, hospitals, factories, and other critical workplaces when you aren't busy installing systems in new buildings.
  • Plumber ($55K): Install or make repairs to pipes, drains, toilets, water heaters, and other water-related systems, fixtures, and appliances.

Typically learn on campus:

  • CNC machine tool programmer ($56K): Set up computer numerically controlled equipment to help manufacture specific plastic or metal parts.
  • HVAC technician ($49K): Provide repair, installation, or maintenance services that keep the air and indoor climate of buildings healthy and comfortable.
  • Diesel engine specialist ($49K): Repair and maintain large trucks, buses, heavy mobile equipment, or other powerful vehicles that operate on diesel fuel.
  • Commercial truck driver ($45K): Transport and deliver goods across long distances by safely driving heavy and tractor-trailer trucks.

Business and Financial Services

During any kind of economic downturn, many organizations, families, and individuals can be impacted. But some careers in this category tend to be more stable than others. That's because they are often crucial to the management of money, assets, or personnel. Plus, you can get a college education for any of these careers mostly or entirely online. So if you're at home and have time to study, don't overlook that opportunity. Check out these examples.

smiling business woman with dark hair and glasses
  • Human resources manager ($117K): Oversee an organization's workforce, including the hiring, retention, training, and discipline of employees. You may help executives and employees navigate challenging staffing or compensation issues during uncertain times.
  • Personal financial advisor ($88K): Provide expert guidance to people who want to grow their wealth, save for retirement, buy a home, minimize their tax obligations, protect their assets, or achieve other financial goals. Your advice can prove especially useful when the economy hits a rough patch.
  • Accountant ($72K): Help organizations track, evaluate, and make decisions about their financial operations, so they can maximize their profits during good times and minimize their losses when things become more challenging.
  • Property manager ($59K): Ensure that clients' income-producing properties are well-maintained, so they provide a good return on investment. During an economic crisis, you may be called upon to work out special arrangements with renters who are struggling to afford their existing leases.