This is 100% personal opinion but I think there are two factors at play here.
During the dot-com and explosion of small and mid-sized business computing systems there was a significant shortage of qualified sysadmins, DBA's, network admins, etc. and at the same time (and probably related) manufacturers developed interfaces for their software, computer and network systems that simplified their management and those two things allowed many companies to drop degree requirements, especially as they started to rely more and more on contractors who were making so much money many weren't interested in becoming employees. And I'd agree that some of those jobs no longer required an engineering degree. The interfaces alone moved the bar that used to be between "operator" and "administrator" quite a few rungs up. During the dot-bomb job requirements often didn't change, but I noticed that degrees were often taken into account when trying to sort out a sea of employees who seemed to be otherwise similar.
The other factor is that it depends on what sort of computer work is being done. No insult intended, but many of today's IT admin jobs are often more technician jobs and technician jobs have typically been where certificates and associate degrees were appropriate. Point being there is a big difference between being an admin and setting up systems and configuring them versus designing the hardware and/or writing the code and huge gray area between. The former is where certs and experience without degrees tend to be significant and sometimes even preferable. People on the later side of the range tend to consider certs and sysadmin manuals "how to" guides for things someone else designed for them. And the reverse is often true, I've seen more than a few NCG's with BS's, MS's and Ph.d's who don't have enough working knowledge to perform day-to-day IT jobs, they tend to have the background and prerequisite skills to learn them quickly though. In either case, experience (and by that I mean actually learning how to do a job on one's own, not merely turning over the hour meter) is a huge factor. Certificates and/or degrees mean the person should have the prerequisite knowledge to do a job. Experience is where that person actually learned to apply that knowledge and technical accomplishments are what proves that the person was able to apply the knowledge.
In the IT industry I've seen people who are very well paid that don't have technical degrees. However, keep in mind that that means that person was able to learn quite a bit on their own so it wasn't really a short cut and in some companies, especially engineering companies, the lack of the appropriate
degree can sometimes be a ceiling to further advancement (titles are inconsistent across businesses, but a typical title where I see that kind of thing is "director" and certainly VP). There are always exceptions but aiming for the exception often means making a goal more difficult to obtain. On the other hand having the appropriate degree is no guarantee.
I've noticed that IT departments may hire non-degreed "project managers", etc. as well. I have some personal opinions about why that is, but one opinion I'll voice publicly is that it's a figment of the dot-com as well. At one point there simply weren't enough CS degrees being cranked out and that meant there wasn't a sufficient number of people able to and willing to
move into management positions to fill the need so businesses started filling those positions with other people. I have also noticed that when a big RIF hits, those jobs classifications have often been hit hard whereas others areas aren't hit nearly as hard (or were supposed to be hit "later").
As far as changing careers late in life... 38 does not seem too late to do that to me. In today's world I think people have to be mentally prepared to be forced to change careers at some time in their life. It doesn't take much for a particular class of jobs in any industry to evaporate with little warning. The real hit is having to start from the beginning again because of the potential pay cut. Plus with a couple certificates and little experience getting started can be an issue or at least mean one should expect some time building experience and making connections. If someone knows someone that can help them get a start and is willing to do so, that is as good as gold. In fact some people would say it's better to try to find a job first and get some experience if you have none, rather than get an MCSE first, but it's a real chicken-and-egg situation. As far as on-going training goes, that's just a consequence of being in a technical industry. Such industries are always changing so training and education never really stop. At best the training can become informal to some degree.
Keep in mind with all this that the Computer Science major wasn't really common until the late 70's or early 80's and the idea of certificates as a stand-alone requirement weren't common until the late 90's. There were certificates in the 80's but they weren't typically something someone went out and got to start with unless they were already in a technical field. It wasn't until the MCSE certificate that I noticed a significant number of people with an MCSE, no technical degree and little or no experience on the job market. Point being that the computer and network job market is a fairly fluid situation, what worked for one person ten years ago might not work now.
As far as starting one's own business IMHO the person running the business should have a good understanding about the service or product that business is selling to increase the likelihood of success. A business owner could hire someone to do the actual work, but that business model is kind of painful on a small scale because the overhead the business owner represents with a small workforce might be enough to make it non-competitive. You have a good point, I'd be curious what those franchises offer besides what you mentioned that is truly of value. Typically name recognition is one of the big things, but I've never heard of those. Best Buy's "Geek Squad" is the one name that comes to mind (or "Nerd Herd" but that doesn't count