Looking for a new job or your very first one? Here's where the hiring is the hottest
The job market hasn't been this rosy since the pre-recession hiring boom of the late '90s. You can thank a bear market, corporate scandals, and 9/11 for making companies skittish about taking on new workers. But things are changing, with employers adding a large number of jobs this year. No matter how buoyant the job market is, though, there are still some professions and industries that offer more or better or higher-paying opportunities. So, if you are starting out on the long career road, or itchy to switch jobs, or just plain curious, here is a sampling of some of the better job fields for today and the foreseeable future.
Paraprofessional : Education
How hot: Paraprofessionals provide a variety of services, from tutoring and assistant teaching to basic clerical work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that paraprofessionals and teacher's aides will be the fastest-growing jobs in education, increasing between 21 and 35 percent through 2012. "It's a very attractive way to get into the classroom and both provide a valuable support service to schools and get on-the-job teaching experience," says Mildred Hudson, CEO of Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit teacher-recruiting clearinghouse.
How to land the job: Current requirements range from a high school diploma to some college training, but new provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act that come into force on Jan. 1, 2006, will require a two-year college degree and state certification.
How much: Average salaries for paraprofessionals are around $20,000 per year. About 40 percent work part time, and among full-timers, nearly 40 percent work less than an eight-hour day. Many go on to become teachers. -Alex Kingsbury
Forensic scientist : Government
How hot: Law enforcement agencies rely increasingly on detailed forensic evidence to solve crimes. Continued expansion of crime labs at all levels means the job market should remain strong for the next few years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Television shows like CSI have also prompted more interest in forensic science degrees, which is tightening competition for new jobs, says Roger Kahn, immediate past president of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.
How to land the job: Most crime labs require at least a bachelor's degree, though a master's degree is a great asset in career advancement. Graduates of forensic science programs are strong candidates, as are nonmajors with coursework in chemistry, biology, and the physical sciences. Kahn says good public-speaking skill--needed for presenting evidence in court--is often a key factor in hiring.
How much: Starting salaries vary widely depending on geography and qualifications. The average starting annual salary for a forensic scientist is $30,000, while more-experienced analysts make about $70,000. -Alex Kingsbury
Train conductor : Transportation
How hot: Thanks to retirements and the sinking dollar's boost to exports, there's a lot more work on the railroads these days. The Association of American Railroads predicts the industry will hire more than 80,000 new employees in the next six years.
How to land the job: Norfolk Southern says it weeds through about 10 applicants before finding one person with a background in and enthusiasm for hard physical work and night and weekend shifts. (Newbies get the worst shifts and often have to spend a couple of days away from home each week.) College isn't necessary. Military experience is a plus. Workers must be able to make it to the terminal within 90 minutes of a call, so they usually have to live within 45 miles of the workplace.
How much: After about six months of (paid) training, rookie freight train conductors on the Norfolk Southern line can make about $40,000. After two years, conductors can train to be engineers (those who operate the locomotive) and bump up to about $60,000. -Kim Clark
Casino "cage" worker : Entertainment
Casino "cage" worker
How hot: Americans are gambling more than ever, and casino construction is booming both in Las Vegas and at American Indian casinos. A handful of casinos under construction in Mississippi have posted hundreds of help-wanted ads on Casinocareers.com . But Michael Borden, marketing manager of the website, says there are plenty of applicants for glamorous jobs like poker dealer and big-tip jobs like waitress. Better odds can be had in the "cage," where cashiers turn gamblers' bills into chips and supervisors keep watch on the cash.
How to land the job: Cashiers need little more than a high school degree, a clean record (to pass a background check), and an ability to make change accurately and quickly. Anyone with college training in accounting and finance can try to work up to a supervisor's job. Cage managers usually need a college degree in business, finance, or accounting and at least five years' cage experience.
How much: Cashiers start out at $7 to $9 an hour. But managers can pull down $75,000 a year. -Kim Clark
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning mechanic : Construction
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning mechanic
How hot: All construction fields are booming. The Department of Labor predicts employment will grow from 6.7 million to 7.7 million workers between 2002 and 2012. Mike Mayberry, president and founder of hvacagent.com, says his job board currently has more than 2,000 openings posted for installers, repairers, and salespeople. The industry is growing at about 7 percent a year, he says.
How to land the job: Full-time study of as little as nine months at a community college or a private training institute can get you certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to replace refrigerants and thus qualify for entry-level jobs.
How much: Contractors start out as trainees for as little as $10 an hour. But hard workers with a couple of years' experience and additional certifications can quickly bring that up to $40,000 to $50,000 a year. -Kim Clark
Wireless network administrator : Technology
Wireless network administrator
How hot: The great technology job bust appears to be over. Demand for techies has finally started to rebound. Dice.com says its tech job postings have risen 71 percent in the past year and now average over 64,000 on any given day. A survey of chief information officers by placement company Robert Half Technology found robust demand for anyone who can help with the latest corporate must-have: a wireless network.
How to land the job: Applicants and employers are in a little bit of a bind since wireless networks are so new that very few people have hands-on experience building and maintaining them. But those who do are being snapped up. Techies already qualified as network administrators can take private or community college courses that lead to certification.
How much: Wireless network administrators make anywhere from $48,000 to $70,000 a year. -Kim Clark
Dental hygienist : Healthcare
How hot: To keep the 77 million aging baby boomers smiling, the number of dental care professionals is projected to soar. What's more, older dentists who traditionally don't employ hygienists are retiring and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or two hygienists. There were 148,000 hygienists in 2002, and the Department of Labor predicts that job opportunities will increase by more than 36 percent through 2012.
How to land the job: Most dental hygienist programs grant an associate's degree; others offer a bachelor's or master's degree. Hygienists must have an accredited degree and be state licensed, which requires both a written and a clinical exam.
How much: Average salary is about $35,000 per year, though earnings vary widely depending on geography and years of experience. -Alex Kingsbury
Biomedical engineers : Manufacturing
How hot: An aging population with an insatiable demand for better medical products and services ensures that biomedical engineers will be in high demand for the foreseeable future. The Department of Labor predicts a 21 to 35 percent job increase through 2012.
How to land the job: The huge demand for training in biomedical engineering has increased the number of undergraduate departments from a few in 1990 to 32 accredited programs today, with many more in development, says Patricia Horner, executive director of the national Biomedical Engineering Society. She says graduates can find employment in many industrial, academic, and governmental fields, including nanotechnology, human-genome mapping, and building bionic body parts.
How much: Average starting salaries for engineers with a bachelor's degree are about $50,000. Having a master's degree bumps the average to $80,000. -Alex Kingsbury
This story appears in the March 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.