Via a New York Times article titled "A 4-Year Degree Isn’t Quite the Job Requirement It Used to Be", this anecdote:
As a middle school student in New York, Shekinah Griffith saw a television news report of President Barack Obama visiting an innovative school in Brooklyn. Its program included high school, an associate degree in a technical subject, an internship and the promise of a good job.
“I thought, ‘This is somewhere I need to be,’” Ms. Griffith recalled. “There are not many opportunities like that for people like me.”
She applied, was accepted and thrived in the courses. After school, an internship and an 18-month apprenticeship, she became a full-time employee at IBM at the end of 2020. Today Ms. Griffith, 21, is a cybersecurity technical specialist and earns more than $100,000 a year.
In the last few years, major American companies in every industry have pledged to change their hiring habits by opening the door to higher-wage jobs with career paths to people without four-year college degrees, like Ms. Griffith.
I would love to know if chemistry will demonstrate any flexibility like this - it's hard to know how many of these programs there are, and how long-lived they will be. If you see research associate-type positions start being open to accepting associate-level degrees with an internal training program, that would be quite the paradigm shift (...and unlikely to happen.)