If you’ve been at your job more than four years, statistically speaking, you are about to make a change. Is a major change like this on your mind? The better question might be “are you ready for such a change?”

Gone are the days when a high school diploma or even a college degree was all you needed to land the next job. Today, continuing to engage in formal learning is a necessity for anyone seeking gainful employment. Americans have to learn fast and often in order to keep up with the times.

Mounting demand

While a bachelor’s degree is still the gold standard for educational attainment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 33 percent of Americans have one. To remain globally competitive, the Lumina Foundation reports that our country will need 60 percent of its population to have a college credential by 2025. How do we get there?

The answer is alternative credentials. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University reports that certificates are now the second most commonly awarded higher education credential, only behind the bachelor’s degree. That’s because alternative credentials such as certificates are highly flexible and more accessible than many traditional degrees. As demand for more informed workers increases, these credentials continue to grow in prominence and importance.

Rainbow of options

Certificates can serve as stepping stones toward degrees, as degree add-ons to hone skills for specific jobs or as standalone credentials for various industries. At the University of Wisconsin-Extension, for instance, certificates in project management are earned online and can be used toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Drexel University offers certificates that can be applied toward master’s degrees.

Your current job will not be your last. It’s important to start preparing now for your next big move by reviewing your education options and going with what works for you.