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How to Pivot to a Fatter Paycheck

Build in-demand skills and more marketability with free online courses that raise your professional profile.

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If it feels like you’ve been grinding gears at work while younger colleagues are riding your bumper on the salary front, take a look at new skills. The world has definitely sped faster down Technical Turnpike in the years since you joined the workforce. But that doesn’t mean you have to stall out. Employees with in-demand expertise are often rewarded handsomely.

“We encourage employees to take a developmental course,” says Simone Logan, a Washington, D.C.-based human resources professional who recommends LinkedIn Learning (formerly“They have so many you can take to enhance the skills you already have.” These new abilities will serve as keywords that can help your résumé or LinkedIn profile get noticed.

We checked out online learning opportunities in five white-hot fields and mapped options with high potential to pad your paycheck. Whether you leverage the skill set in your current role or are inspired to pivot to a new one is up to you.

Learn to code. You can learn coding at any stage of your career, and you can do it quickly. Coding Dojo’s in-depth, online boot camp teaches the fundamentals of web and software development. At a cost of $8,000, the 16-week course doesn’t come cheap. But a survey of graduates revealed that, upon completion, more than 50 percent have doubled their salaries. If that’s not in your budget right now, FreeCodeCamp and Skillcrush both offer free online coding classes.

Become a project manager. A person in this position assumes responsibility for planning, executing and closing all aspects of a project, including picking the team, organizing the tasks and managing the budget. It’s a lot like corralling a large group of unsupervised toddlers at a petting zoo, so you’ll need top-notch organizational skills. The job also requires an official project management certificate, and the test to get it can be tough. Find out if this is for you by trying Coursera’s free two-month online introductory class or Oxford Home Study College’s online course, which is also free. To prepare for the rigorous exam, take Professional Management Institute’s PMP (project management professional) online boot camp — usually a few consecutive weekends for $400 — or check out Master of Project Academy course, which starts at $67 a month. The Ladders career site says project managers can command up to 20 percent more than employees who don’t have this skill set.

Master another language. Studies show learning another language can keep mental decline at bay. The boost in earnings can vary from 2 percent for fluency in Spanish to a 4-percent bump for German, but you’ll need to know which language is in demand in your field and location. For instance, the need for German and Mandarin is greater in business, while Japanese is a hot commodity for folks in technology and science. Arabic may be a better fit for careers in the military or foreign service. You might not be able to retire on the increase you’ll garner for your language skills, but even a small boost in pay is still a boost. Learn for free online or via app with Duolingo or online through the BBC.

Be a conciliator. Workplace conflict — including unhealthy competition, bullying and personality clashes — has become a pressing issue. In fact, in 2008, companies spent $359 billion in paid hours to ease office tensions. Conflict management is considered a soft skill, but it’s the one that’s most in demand, with a predicted growth rate of 10 percent between now and 2026. Have a law degree but you’re looking for a change? Because of their training, folks with a legal background have the best job prospects in this field. The median annual salary is $62,000, with a high of $124,000. Udemy offers online conflict resolution courses (38 self-paced lectures) for free. Alison also offers a free introduction to conflict management and negotiation.

Make sense of data. We generate vast amounts of data every day, but without a viable way to extract patterns, and then to analyze and organize them, we’re more likely to get lost than to make sound business decisions. A data scientist’s job is to make sense of the noise. And if you have skills in science or math that you can cultivate for a position in this growing field, the average salary is $117,000. But just about any job these days requires us to look at metrics of some kind. Take a free introductory course at Alison or Cognitive Class to see if it’s right for you.