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3 Career Change Ideas for Restaurant and Retail Workers

The first job many of us ever held was in a restaurant or retail store. And to be honest, it’s not a bad gig to start out with. The hours are flexible, the people are usually alright, and the pay is certainly better than nothing.

It also teaches you how to work well with others—including unruly customers. Can you hear it now? “I’d like to speak to your manager.”

But after years of hopping between these tolerable jobs, most of us tend to get a little jaded. We begin to find that the only way to get a raise is to find a new job. And even then, it’s usually not a big step up.

Still, those years of experience in customer service haven’t been for nothing. While you’re not likely to see a pay bump at that job anytime soon, you can transfer those valuable communication skills to a more fulfilling career—one with greater earning potential.

Let’s compare those restaurant and retail jobs with some careers that require only a relatively quick college program. And by quick, we’re talking less than one year.

Retail Earning Potential

When you think of retail, you’re probably picturing clothing, electronics, and other household items. For these common retail jobs, you can expect to earn about $11.67 per hour, without much opportunity for upward mobility.

On the other hand, the top 10 percent of retail workers may earn a wage of $26.97 or higher. That’s pretty good, but most of these high-end retail workers hold a bachelor’s degree. The lowest paid retail workers earned less than $9.09 in 2019.

Budget Boosting Tip
The holiday season is usually the busiest time of the year for retail. This presents the opportunity for additional working hours to make a little more money. There may even be bonuses. Still, the lack of flexibility can put a major strain on your personal life. Many retail employers will even limit your vacation time between November and January.

Restaurant Earning Potential

Food service workers tend to earn a little less than retail, with a median wage of $10.45 per hour. The lowest 10 percent will earn less than $8.34 per hour. Whether you’re a host, a server or a cafeteria worker, those wages unfortunately tend to remain stagnant for years.

Higher earning food and beverage service workers earn around $14.26, which is still lower than the average for all occupations: $18.58.

Budget Boosting Tip
Unsurprisingly, this tip is about tips. Many restaurant workers rely on tips from customers as a part of their total earnings. In this industry, employers are actually allowed to pay employees as little as $2.13 per hour, so long as your tips bring you up to minimum wage. You should know that if they don’t, your employer is legally obligated to pay you the difference.

Medical Assistant Earning Potential

The median hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is close to $17 per hour. Medical Assistants will tell you that the longer you stay with a clinic, hospital or facility, the more likely your wage will increase. Higher earning Medical Assistants enjoy a wage close to $24 per hour, and most of them work full time.

Budget Boosting Tip
Medical Assistants commonly use the career as a springboard into other exciting medical careers. The experience gained while working as a Medical Assistant can make your resume stand out after completing nursing school, for example. Registered nurses make an average of $35.24 per hour, with the highest paid earning over $53.47 per hour.

Learn more about becoming a Medical Assistant >

Dental Assistant Earning Potential

Dental Assistants enjoy a median hourly wage of $19.27—not bad for a career you can train for in as little as 10 months. The highest earning Dental Assistants made over $26.92 per hour in 2019. Most will work full time, and there are often opportunities to work evenings and weekends—sometimes with increased pay.

Budget Boosting Tip
Dental Assistants also enjoy a career springboard opportunity, with many actively working in a dental office while training to become a dental hygienist. Often, dentists will promote Dental Assistants to hygienists from within the practice after they’ve completed their training. A hygienist enjoys a median annual salary of $76,220.

Learn more about becoming a Dental Assistant >

Cosmetologist or Barber Earning Potential

Cosmetologists and barbers earn a median wage of $12.63 per hour, but don’t let that number discourage you. High-earning cosmetologists and barbers make over $27 per hour. To put that in perspective, that’s more than a new college graduate with a bachelor’s degree is likely to make. And while it might take time to work your way up the ladder, talented beauty professionals can make serious cash—while doing something they actually enjoy.

Budget Boosting Tip
If you work in a restaurant, you know the power of tips as added income. In the U.S., standard tipping practice is 15-20% of the cost of service. Some hair services like dying can be priced at upwards of $300. That means you can expect to go home with a decent amount of cash in addition to your regular wages.

Learn more about becoming a Cosmetologist or Barber >

Keep Working While You Earn Your Degree or Diploma
Restaurant and retail jobs do have one big perk: they’re great for students that need a low-stress, flexible job during school. Whether you work in the morning or evening, IBMC College likely has a flexible career training schedule that will work for you.

Visit your nearest IBMC College campus to see why so many high school grads in Northern Colorado have made the choice to ditch that job—and train for a career with earning potential.

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