What can I do to make myself employable ~5–10 years from now?
March 4, 2015 10:05 AM   Subscribe

25 year old stay-at-home dad. No college degree. No special skills. (long-ish)

I am male, 25. My wife is 24. Our kids are 3 (m) and 1 (f). Since we started having kids, my wife and I have each been working part time, and splitting the child care. In the next few weeks, she will be transitioning to full time, while I quit my job to be a stay-at-home dad.

My wife is an RN. She makes ~$25/hour. She is currently going back to school (one class at a time) to finish her Bachelor's.
I am a CNA. I have never made more than $10.50/hour. I started college at 17 but dropped out about halfway through (with bad grades) for various personal reasons (nothing major or clinical, just many small things).

I was pretty pleased with our new, upcoming arrangement. My wife makes much better money than I do, and enjoys working as a nurse. I love taking care of my children, and don't much care for my job.

But recent conversations with her and with other people in our life have convinced me that I need to have the ability to make enough money to take care of my family. Two reasons for this: first, in case anything happens to my wife which prevents her from working. Second, to give her the ability, five or ten years from now, to move down to part-time (or no-time) in order to spend more time with our kids, especially our girl.


Advantages: I have no disabilities. I have a very good support system. I think that I have decent soft skills. I have little to no anxiety when it comes to meeting new people or public speaking, that sort of stuff.

Disadvantages: I don't have any hard skills or qualifications, other those gained from working as a CNA for the past 5 years. CNA work has basically no upwards mobility and is unlikely to ever pay well. By my own estimation, I'm a slow learner when it comes to physical work, and an average learner for everything else.

Interests: One of the reasons I've gotten to 25 without any significant career progress is that I've never had any real driving passion, other than being a husband and father. The only career which has ever really appealed to me is novelist. I've never actually pursued this, mainly because I don't think it's very viable. I'm rather fond of math, especially probability/statistics, but have no special skill or education in it. Likewise computer programming. Likewise working with children.

At this point, I am not holding out for a job that I actually enjoy; only one which is viable.

Prospects: I like the idea of being an entrepreneur and being my own boss, but have no idea what I'd actually do. So that seems to leave finishing college, or some sort of technical school. If I go the college route, I'm confident that my old problems will not resurface and I will be able to finish. However, college is expensive, and the general opinion seems to be that it's less necessary than it used to be. Also, I have no idea what I'd major in or what I'd be working towards. Very few jobs actually interest me, so I'd probably just go with whatever seemed most efficient or likely to open up career possibilities. I don't know how many of my old credits would transfer at this point, or whether my old bad grades would come back to haunt me. If I go the technical school route, I guess I'd just sorta see what was available. Maybe electrician? Electricity seems pretty cool.

Note that there are a few community colleges within an hour of my house. I'm having a harder time finding trade schools, but it looks like there's at least one in the same range.

Being a stay-at-home dad, my time is obviously limited, but there is a definite window of a few years here during which I could take advantage of my evenings, my support system (friends and family), and of course the internet, to learn something or earn some sort of certification.
posted by TheBraveLittleSock to Work & Money (26 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
We have close friends who story mirrors yours. Mom was (is) a Labor and Delivery Nurse, makes a great salary. Dad was a grad student, started staying home with the kids (2 girls) when they were infants - ended up being a stay at home dad for 15 years.

Their children are now both 21+ and graduated from college. I can tell you what his advice to you would be: right now, if what you want to do is be the dad, be the dad. (Make sure your wife has enough insurance in case of catastrophe.) When you get to the point where the kids are both in school all day, then start thinking about what your next step will be. But whatever you choose now, a) the world will change, and b) you will change. Enjoy doing the (hard, time consuming) job you have now, and when its time to add something else, you'll know.
posted by anastasiav at 10:12 AM on March 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a SAHM and I probably won't be able to make my previous career work. For us, the answer is great insurance now (short- and long-term disability and life for him, life for me) and then when most/all of them are in school start looking at my options. Why waste time and money now on a certification you may not even use? Put the money toward insurance and the time toward your kids.
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:20 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

My girlfriend has found volunteering to be an enormous boon. It gives her real work experience and references, and gives her the opportunity to help out in work that she is interested in learning more about. Additionally, volunteer opportunities can sometimes lead to employment.
posted by maxsparber at 10:25 AM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

The only career which has ever really appealed to me is novelist. I've never actually pursued this, mainly because I don't think it's very viable.

It's definitely not viable if you don't pursue it (and may not be viable even if you do). MeFi has a few working writers whose incomes range from "barely above poverty level" to "very nicely, thank you very much", but they all write.

It's perfectly possible to learn computer programming/web development on your own. If you want to get a corporate job then not having a degree will hurt at first (harder to get your foot in the door), but it probably doesn't matter as much if you want to do contracting work. That said, people (like me) did go to school for four years to learn computer programming, and while you can pick up a lot fairly quickly if you have the aptitude, getting good at it is going to take time and work and lots of it. Just like anything else. Passion is nice, but if you can motivate yourself without the passion then that works well. I love computer programming, but I love being able to pay the mortgage more. It's the latter that gets me into work in the morning. Give me a couple of million and I'll stay home and read books and play video games all day long.

From what I've heard, being an electrician means apprenticing with someone for quite a while and getting wages that can charitably be described as "insulting" until you can branch out on your own.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:25 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The social skills that make an effective salesperson seem to often be easy to transfer between different jobs and industries and also scale well income-wise when you can find the right niche, if you're the sort of person who can do that.
posted by XMLicious at 10:27 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You sound like you'd be a good teacher, have you considered that?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:55 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

You should be able to do remote classes from a community college, hopefully one of the ones near you. An AA in computer IT skills or something will qualify you for an okay job, will not cost much, and, given 5 years to complete, leave you plenty of time to be dad. It also gets all your starter classes out of the way if you wanted a Bachelors later.

I think trades require more hours than you have.
posted by flimflam at 10:57 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honestly if you have good social skills and can manage even half way decent computer programming web development you can get a job. The demand in smaller businesses for tech people that can deal with the none tech people in a company & explain things to them & translate what they want into software or a website is not to be underestimated. They are skills you can teach yourself & still have a good paying job & if you find you end up going a different way they are skills that can useful in pretty much any career path or as a contractor to make extra money if needed.
posted by wwax at 11:16 AM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

heating and air is also viable. an acquaintance of mine went through some coursework and then apprenticed for awhile. it only took him 2-3 years to go from zero to getting hired on after the apprenticeship.
posted by lescour at 11:24 AM on March 4, 2015

I agree with flimflam; if having an AA or Bachelor's degree is a goal of yours you should start with remote classes one or two at a time and see how you like it. Eventually if it's something you want you can find time to finish up the degree while the kids are in school in a few years. Taking classes might also be a way to find something you are good at and interested in.

I think you are smart to start thinking about it now and making plans. Though of course I also encourage you to enjoy your time with your kids; it's a great privilege to get to spend so much time with them (and very hard work! but you really develop such a great bond).
posted by JenMarie at 12:00 PM on March 4, 2015

Accountant. Some community colleges have excellent accounting programs, others. . .not so much, so you'll have to figure out if yours are any good. From my (very, very limited, seriously, ask a professional) understanding it's not too hard to find work once you're certified, and getting the certification is something you can study for at home with kids running around.

The drawback? Some people find accounting to be really, really boring. YMMV.
posted by Ndwright at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a former SAHM, I think it is always wise to pursue education. I think if nothing else it is a good model for kids to see a parent regularly studying and bettering themselves. Would you consider becoming a nurse as well? When my kids were middle school and teenage years I knew a family where both parents were nurses and the schedule worked very well. One worked day shift and the other over night. As your kids get older and are in school all day having a parent available for activities (helping coach, being a scout leader, etc) is wonderful.

I took the classes necessary to sit for the CPA exam in my state, which at least here does not require an accounting degree. I also became a paralegal and have a career where those two jobs meet (litigation almost always = $). There's many classes you can take through the local junior college. If not nursing, there's also a great market for all kinds of medical technicians.

Mostly I would say the future is unknown, so I think working towards being able to be the sole support of that family is wise. I'm very glad I did.
posted by readery at 12:20 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Medical informatics? Maybe a cert in Epic or Cerner? Anything having to do with making electronic health records work is a good bet for the foreseeable future. You have domain knowledge; combine it with some technical chops and you would be very employable.
posted by sapere aude at 12:40 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

While you're figuring out what's best for you to do, you can look for volunteer opportunities that you can do remotely during down times at home. As a volunteer, you won't be expected to be an expert and will be able to learn as you go and you'll be able to use the experience on your resume when you're ready to reenter the workforce. Many nonprofits need someone to do social media, website updates, etc.
posted by betsybetsy at 12:52 PM on March 4, 2015

You could also consider working in things that are child-related, since you have first-hand experience; car seat installation expert, or child-proofing expert and installer; baby-wearing consultant (yes, this is a real thing!). A few of my SAHM friends are doing things like these to bring in extra income, and will likely transition to fulltime consultants once their kids are in school.
posted by vignettist at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2015

It seems like your options are all over the map, and you don't have a good idea of what you like or what you are good at. Maybe some of the online tests would help you figure out, like What Color is Your Parachute or the Briggs/Meyers personality type tests
posted by CathyG at 1:08 PM on March 4, 2015

Have you ruled out nursing for yourself? It's such a flexible, varied career path. You mention you're not quick to pick up physical tasks - what about psych nursing? Working in a doctor's office? You can make a stable income without ever having to do physical tasks like starting an IV, drawing blood, etc.
posted by pecanpies at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2015

For maximum employability you need two things: a range of skills and many contacts.

If you take community college courses in something like HVAC you run a little risk that when the time comes to look for work the field will be in a depression. If you have a wide range of skills in different areas, both sedentary and active your chances of finding work is much higher because you can be flexible.

In your situation I would set myself a program of learning a new trade every year - bookkeeping, website design, rough carpentry, driving and so on, whatever appeals and is available for you to learn and get some practice. I'd also try to get involved in several different groups, both on line and in person so that I could use my skills and get to know plenty of people who might know of a bookkeeping job just when you need one, or someone who would take you on landscaping since you know how to drive and can do some manual labour, or stuff like that.

It is well worth looking a home daycare on a small scale while you are looking after the kids. Having one or two other kids on a occasional basis helps your kids to get some peer group socialization and can bring in a bit more cash.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are there nursing homes near you that offer tuition benefits? I'm a CNA now (ugh, I hear you on the low pay/no mobility); a lot of my classmates in the program where I got certified were planning to get a CNA job at a place with tuition benefits, and use those benefits to go to school part time. Most of them planned to go for their RN, but you could take any classes, really.

Also, do you have a formal CNA certification? If you have that and five years experience you may be able to get a hospital job. It's still CNA work in all its relentless grind, but the pay should be better, and there may be tuition benefits. (If you don't have the certification, it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and do that either.)

I know the problems of being a CNA quite well, but it's not a bad base from which to pursue other options. You sound overwhelmed at the sheer number of possible jobs in the world. Taking college classes (preferably free or subsidized) and/or working with a career counselor while using the skills you already have may feel less overwhelming.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2015

I'm seconding everyone who suggested distance learning through colleges. You might also take a trip to your local library - through mine I can take tons of education-based classes, TESOL training, advanced mathematics stuff and way more that I'm yet to look into. I've worked through two TESOL courses these year and they are 100% free because I have a library card. There's no penalty for dropping them if you don't like them, but many present you with an official certification at the end. (Note: not all do, but if you check carefully up front you can get some really good qualifications this way.)

Other random ideas: start learning a language online and attend a learner's group for speaking, try something like Code Academy or Ruby on Rails and start up a website to experiment with, see if you can tutor school kids in a subject you are particularly good at, brush up on life skills like doing taxes, DIY stuff, car and bike repair.
posted by averysmallcat at 2:18 PM on March 4, 2015

You like tech?

Pick a NARROW technical niche. "Programming" is not narrow enough, "JavaScript" is better, "the D3.js library for JavaScript" is better yet. Or "VMWare system administration," or "iOS developer focusing on medical apps." Call your specialty X.

Read everything you can about X online, in books, take a Coursera course, whatever for a month or two.

Print up your own business cards. Set up a really nice LinkedIn, an about.me page, a twitter feed. Try to get to 500 LinkedIn connections which gives you some special "status" for LinkedIn people.

Start going to local meetups and conferences. They're free. Introduce yourself as an expert in X. If anyone asks who you work for, say you're "between contracts. " Go to a couple a month. You'll start seeing familiar faces. After about a year of lurking -- again, just a couple hours a month -- many people will know your name.

Do a couple of side projects -- nothing huge, I mean the kind of thing that takes a couple days. Put them on GitHub.

Then volunteer to present at meetups and conferences occasionally. Come up with a couple awesome canned presentations. "Graphing dinosaur bone discoveries using D3.js." Everyone loves dinosaurs. Make it funny and compelling.

Seriously, in 2 or 3 years everyone in your niche in your local area will know your name. You'll have a good idea who's good to work for, who's hiring at any time. You'll have recruiters calling you a couple times a week. You'll be able to get a job within 3 months of when you need one.

List your college experience on your resume. Don't say you got a degree, but don't say you didn't get a degree. If anyone asks... life took you in a different direction when you had kids. You can put a positive spin on anything.
posted by miyabo at 2:56 PM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

If I understand you correctly, you're not hoping to come out totally prepared for a new career after your SAH time, but rather do some exploration, maybe get some new skills, etc?

Why not take some free online classes via MOOCs or Khan Academy, just for fun, in things that you find interesting? My guess is that if you do 4-5 you'll start to see a pattern emerge. If something does catch your interest, you could pursue a degree or certification at that point.

If you enjoy writing, you could also do some short pieces for parenting sites about being a stay-at-home-dad, which is an unusual (but more common) parenting situation.

I do want to make sure you're giving yourself credit for already having a full-time job, which is stay-at-home dad. It is a big switch from "part time work" to "no work outside the home." It can be very draining to be with tiny kids all the time and not have any time during the day that is fully self-directed. My spouse is SAHD-ing at the moment while he waits for some state credentialing, and he is TIRED at the end of the day, because parenting small children is HARD. So if you find that you don't have the energy to do a bunch of courses, don't beat yourself up. On the other hand, you may find that you welcome the chance to do something more intellectually stimulating.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Learning to code is a no brainer. Learn Ruby, Javascript, Python, PHP, SQL plus HTML and CSS. You can start with online tools and once you get a little better, consider investing in paid classes in person later. There is almost nothing else you can study that will guarantee you the same job security (companies are desperate for software engineers and web developers) and salary level (starting around $120k here in the Bay Area for entry-level developers).
posted by amaire at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, and apply for jobs even if you don't intend to take them! There is no better way to find out what the job market is like. I like my job and still try to do a couple interviews a year, just to test the waters. You can figure out valuable stuff like "my interviews to offer rate is X%" or "when my resume is in Times, they don't call me back."
posted by miyabo at 4:01 PM on March 4, 2015


posted by cotton dress sock at 4:04 PM on March 4, 2015

On the coding front, mathowie the founder of Metafilter just mentioned in his departure post that he started the site sixteen years ago after buying some programming books and taking a three-day seminar on web app development.
posted by XMLicious at 6:54 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

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