As a mother, I have chosen to work at home for a Clinical Research company, doing the paperwork for population new drug testing and submitting them into the FDA for approval, as well as pursuing a law school education to become an advocate for victims of medical malpractice. After tracking the numbers reports on Wall Street Journal, Investors' Business Daily, and PBS' Nightly Business News, there is a definite, clear indication that we are in a current economic crisis in the U.S., which is slowly spreading globally since December. The current safest job-security is in the medical/healthcare field (based on stock market analysis and corporate balance sheet numbers from the pharmaceutical industry in comparison to other business/market sectors, such as IT, sales, banking, financial investment, retails, business management, and so on). Even the bulk of the help-wanted ads are healthcare-related. Given such a hectic work schedule of being a mother, here are my recommendations for the shortest, most cost-efficient route:
1. Pharmacy Technician (highest demand at least through the next 10-15 years).
This is a rapidly expanding field because most retail pharmacies are cutting costs from hiring so many pharmacists, and shifting the actual drug-dispensing duties over to the techs. Retail pharmacies pay between $16-$20/hr for certified technicians; and hospitals (definitely require certification) pay between $20-$28/hr. Some other places, such as Walgreens, King Soopers, Kroger, or Safeway, don't require certification, but the entry-level wage is rather low ($8.50/hr for Walgreens; and $10.50/hr. for Safeway and King Soopers grocery stores). However, Walgreens has the highest tuition reimbursement (in terms of $-amount, approximately $4,000/yr) for Pharmacy School program. Once you get into these companies, they will give you official training/education and even pay for your certification exam. You don't need to spend so much $ on actual classes either. If you choose to get certified before applying for the job, it's much cheaper to buy books and study on your own, and then register with PTCB for the exam.
Check out this site for more info on exams:
2. X-Ray Technician (high demand through 2014).
Basic certification is only 1 year of educational training. Lowest salary range is $30,000/yr. According to ASRT (American Society of Radiology Technicians), for less than 2 years of job experience, the average salary is $36,918/yr. For techs with an official high school diploma, the average salary is $56,378/yr. Highest, top 5?probably senior positions), is $58,000/yr. And the current median salary for a 4-year Bachelor's degree is about $63,000. This one there's no way to get certified without the official training, because it's you need to hands-on experience with the different equipments.
3. Medical Coding Specialist/Health Information Coder/Medical Record Coders.
Medical Records and Health Information Management (HIM) is one of fastest growing field as well, because insurance companies aim to cut costs (find ways to not pay) and docs need expertise on coding diagnosis a certain way in order to get reimbursement. The requirement is certification. Again, the cheapest way to achieve this is by buying the books online and studying independently, since the cost of education is $3,000+ for the program. Just search online for textbooks, especially the essential ICD-9 coding reference book. Then register for the certification exam.
4. Dental Hygienist (above-average demand).
Programs vary from basic certificate, 2-year, 4-year, or even Master's degree. Average salary (50?f positions) ranges from $22-$33/hr, though the top 10?an make over $40/hr. This one I doubt there's a way to just get certified without going for the official educational program, because you would need the hands-on laboratory and clinical skills training.
Hope this helps you make an objective decision. Best wishes on your career endeavors, especially in setting an example of stability for your kids.