Looming worker shortage. That’s not a phrase one expects to hear at a time of high unemployment. But when experts look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the fastest-growing occupations, that’s what they see: more than a million new jobs on the horizon by 2018, and a worker pool that may not be trained to fill them.
Such a list was first compiled in 1946, just after the end of World War II, to help veterans on the G.I. Bill make smart educational choices. One need only pay attention to news reports to guess where the current shortages may be: eight of the fields in the top 10 categories are health care or wellness related; one is in financial services; and the other is in the information technology field.
But, points out Michael Wolf, an economist with the bureau, “The mere fact that a category is fast growing does not mean you can get a job in it.” For most of these occupations, training (sometimes years of it) is necessary.
1. BIOMEDICAL ENGINEER
Job Growth: 72 percent, or 12,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $82,550 mean; $103,000 for scientific and technical consultants
The Field: This relatively new specialty bridges the medical and engineering disciplines, with emphasis on engineering. Biomedical engineers design and build innovative devices (artificial limbs and organs, new-generation imaging machines) and improve processes (for genomic testing, or making and administering drugs).
Why It’s Growing: Thank the quick clip of technological advances. Pharmaceutical and genomic industries, in particular, are “exploding,” says Helmut H. Strey, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Stony Brook University, which has about 100 students in its master’s degree and Ph.D. programs.
Training: If you’re attracted to this field, you aren’t afraid of math, chemistry, physics and engineering, and already have the coursework. Engineers and biology majors are likely candidates for career transitions, though Dr. Strey believes that engineers will find it easier to complete required biology coursework than biologists will getting through the engineering. Either way, a master’s is a must.
2. NETWORK SYSTEMS AND DATA COMMUNICATIONS ANALYST
Job Growth: 53 percent, or 156,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $76,560 mean; $99,000 in top industries (rail transportation, natural gas); $105,000 in tech corridors like San Jose and Santa Clara, Calif.
The Field: Analysts handle the virtual nuts and bolts of an I.T. department — designing, building, testing and maintaining information systems, internal or Internet-wide. They also know network and data communications hardware and software.
Why It’s Growing: The mobile data trend (smartphones, tablets) and “cloud computing” (subscription-based or pay-per-use services like apps and data storage) mean companies that scaled back I.T. departments in the 2008 economic downturn are hiring again. As Jonathan Hill, assistant dean of Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science, says, just about every organization needs someone with these skill sets. “If you have the degree, you can work at Sloan-Kettering, the F.B.I., PNC Bank or the New York City Ballet,” he says. “If you are good, you will be employed.”
Training: A background in computer science is not necessary — “These are very teachable skills,” Mr. Hill says — though students going back to school may need to complete prerequisites. At Pace, students come from across the spectrum, from philosophy majors to working adults “pulled to the tech end” of their company’s operations. Certificates are useful for career changers, and many colleges will apply those credits toward a master’s. Curriculums typically cover networking, database and Web design, mobile technology and Internet architecture.
3. HOME HEALTH AIDE
Job Growth: 50 percent, or 461,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $21,620 mean; up to $40,000 in affluent metropolitan areas
The Field: Home health aides assist the infirm in their homes or at an assisted-living or nursing home facility, preparing meals, doing light housekeeping and bathing patients. These licensed workers also take vital signs, administer drugs and operate medical equipment.
Why It’s Growing: With our aging population, this field’s high rank should be no surprise. Demand already outstrips supply, says William Dombi, vice president at the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, and that seems unlikely to change. “Low pay and tough work,” he says, mean burnout, turnover and continual recruitment. But the job has its rewards for those with the desire to help people and the physical and emotional constitution to do it. It is also a way to test the waters for nursing school.
Training: Community colleges, hospitals and home health care agencies provide programs for licensure — usually 75 hours of training (some states require up to 120 hours). At Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J., a new 76-hour course teaches the basics. Watch that programs actually fill licensing requirements.
4. PERSONAL AND HOME CARE AIDE
Job Growth:46 percent, or 376,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $20,280 mean; psychiatric sector and government agencies pay the most.
The Field: Same duties as home health aides, minus the medically oriented tasks. No license required.
Why It’s Growing:See No. 3.
Training: On the job, though certificates from vocational schools may enhance employment opportunities.
5. FINANCIAL EXAMINER
Job Growth:41 percent, or 11,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $71,000 mean; the federal executive branch pays the most.
The Field: Call it “C.S.I.: Accounting.” Examiners, a k a internal auditors or compliance officials, dig into an organization’s books, investigating transactions and minute detail to ensure compliance with the law. Accounting, finance or business backgrounds a must.
Why It’s Growing: Implosions and scandals in the last few years involving the banking and insurance industries mean more companies are being scrutinized, internally and externally, and taking proactive steps to stay out of trouble.
Training: Becoming a financial examiner is less a career change than a career tweak. Many examiners have been singled out by their company and trained on the job, and licensing is not necessary. But others find status, job opportunities and a higher salary with credentials, or they may want to hang out their own shingle. The Society of Financial Examiners and the Institute of Internal Auditors offer self-directed courses and exams toward certification. The required accounting coursework can be acquired in continuing-education classes or master’s study.
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6. MEDICAL SCIENTIST
Job Growth:40 percent, or 44,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $84,760 mean; most jobs are in Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania, which have supportive academic and research institutions.
The Field: Medical scientists study human disease and conditions, working in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, university research centers or for the federal government.
Why It’s Growing: Overpopulation and increased international travel have quickened the spread of known diseases and given rise to new ones — think SARS, AIDS and avian flu — requiring new medicines and cures. The field’s big trend is the so-called bench to bedside movement or, more formally, translational science — the search for practical applications for research that can move quickly to the marketplace.
Training: The heavy lifting is done by Ph.D.’s, or those with a joint Ph.D. and M.D., who design clinical trials and work closely with patients to monitor the application of their research. A general master’s, perhaps in biology, can lead to work in a research lab; others specialize with a master’s in bio-imaging or clinical investigation. Undergraduate underpinnings: biological science, complemented by math, physics and computer science.
7. PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT
Job Growth:39 percent, or 29,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $85,000 mean; Connecticut, Nevada and Washington are top-paying states at $96,000-plus.
The Field: Not quite a doctor, but not a nurse, P.A.’s are critical members of medical teams who diagnose conditions, and examine and treat patients with routine problems. Many choose the profession for lifestyle reasons: they want the medical and patient connection without the years of school and grueling demands placed on physicians.
Why It’s Growing: High health care costs and a shortage of doctors make P.A.’s cost effective. They free up physicians and can spend more time with patients. In some rural and inner-city areas they are the only provider. They are “absolutely one of the solutions to access to health care in this country,” says Justine Strand de Oliveira, who heads Duke University’s P.A. program, the oldest in the country.
Training: Rigorous. While any undergraduate degree is acceptable, prospective students will need prerequisites in biology, chemistry and statistics, and programs like to see a commitment to patient care as admissions criteria. Graduates get a master’s in health sciences, then sit for boards that license them as P.A.’s. Many come from work as military medics, emergency medical technicians or community volunteers. Average age of students: 27. Entry into the two-year programs can be competitive. At Duke, more than 1,000 applied last year for 75 spots.
8. SKIN CARE SPECIALIST
Job Growth: 38 percent, or 15,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $13 median hourly wage; $60,000 or more in affluent areas, especially selling products
The Field: Skin care specialists treat the face and body, but mainly the face, and mainly the faces of women. Ninety-eight percent of practitioners are women (average age: 41), administering chemicals, Botox, lasers, microdermabrasion and skin peels in day spas and doctor’s offices.
Why It’s Growing: Boomers have dug in their heels on aging. Look at sales of anti-aging skin products, which rose 13 percent from 2006 to 2008, to $1.6 billion, and are expected to jump an additional 20 percent by 2013. Improvements in products and the technology for their application also account for growth, along with a diversifying client base — a third of spa-goers are now men, and younger people are beginning to “buy into” skin care regimens, says Katie Armitage, president of Associated Skin Care Professionals, a trade group.
Training: All states but Connecticut require licensing. Training is at least 600 hours of clinical and classroom education covering anatomy, physiology and procedures. Cosmetology schools offer certificate programs (make sure they lead to a license), as do continuing education departments at community colleges like Houston Community College and Nassau Community College. Some community colleges offer associate’s degrees in science or cosmetology that include skin care training and added coursework in business and health.
9. BIOCHEMIST AND BIOPHYSICIST
Job Growth:37 percent, or 9,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $88,550 mean; New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., pay the best.
The Field:Closely related to medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists study living organisms at the molecular level — one focusing on their chemical composition, especially DNA and how it can be manipulated to treat disease and genetic disorders; the other using math and physics to understand how mechanical and electrical energy affect an organism. The three fields are so interrelated that labels are becoming artificial, says Beverly Wendland, chairwoman of the biology department at Johns Hopkins. At Hopkins, a cooperative graduate program — Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology and Biophysics — is typical of the wave of interdisciplinary study in the field.
Why It’s Growing: See No. 6.
Training: See No. 6.
10. ATHLETIC TRAINER
Job Growth:37 percent, or 6,000 new jobs by 2018
Salary: $41,340 mean
The Field: Not to be confused with personal trainers, athletic trainers work under a doctor’s supervision and are schooled in sports medicine to prevent and treat muscular/skeletal injuries. These are the folks on the sidelines treating injured athletes. But they also work behind the scenes, designing training and strengthening exercises that prevent injury. “We look at movement patterns or activities that create overuse or injury in many professions, and get workers back to their jobs quickly and safely,” says Marjorie J. Albohm, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
Why It’s Growing:With the rising cost of health care, trainers are becoming an integral player in industry (Boeing and Disney use them), government (the military, F.B.I., Homeland Security and Department of Defense) and the performing arts (Cirque du Soleil and the Rockettes, in their traveling troupes).
Training: To practice, 47 states require licensing, and a bachelor’s in athletic training is the minimum requirement. But some 70 percent of practitioners hold a master’s in athletic training. Many come to the field through “entry level” master’s — five-year B.S./M.A. programs. For admission to a two-year master’s program, prerequisite coursework includes biology, chemistry, physics and anatomy, along with electives like nutrition, biochemistry or exercise physiology that suggest knowledge and interest in the field. Certificates are mainly for an established athletic trainer to specialize.