All Business
The Best Jobs to Have in 2006

Where the Jobs Are

By Shelly Schwartz
Bankrate.com

If you want job security and higher pay, health-care is exceedingly robust, geekdom is good and even accounting is sexy.

Experts say 2006 is expected to be a good year for those who have slogged their way through college -- if they have the right skill and credentials.

The 2005 Job Outlook survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found employers plan to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates in the 2005 to 2006 academic year than they hired in 2004 to 2005 -- the third consecutive year that employers have predicted increased hiring.

Heightened demand for skilled workers could also mean fatter paychecks. Three-quarters of employers who responded to the NACE survey expect to boost their starting-salary offers to attract new recruits. Grads with bachelor's degrees are seeing a 3.7 percent bump in starting pay, while those with master's degrees are seeing a 4 percent increase.

"Overall, starting-salary offers rose consistently over this past academic year, with the majority of disciplines reporting higher increases this year than they did last year," says Marilyn Mackes, executive director of NACE. "Increased competition is playing out in a number of ways, including an increase in employers participating in on-campus recruiting activities."

This year, more than half of employers (54 percent) reported plans to actively recruit new hires on college campuses in spring 2006, according to NACE.

Tops in demand: Medical
Seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in the country are related to the medical profession, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook projects employment will grow 50 percent or more between 2004 and 2014 for home health aides, medical assistants and physician assistants. Over the same period, job growth will climb in excess of 40 percent for physical therapist assistants, dental assistants and personal and home-care aides.

"As the population gets older, there is a higher demand for all types of health care services, so more workers are needed," says Debra Stock, vice president of the American Hospital Association in Chicago. "The other thing fueling demand in the industry is the fact that many current health care workers are getting older themselves and starting to retire. You put those two trends together and it means huge opportunity in terms of employment."

Demand for skilled workers in the dental industry, meanwhile, is largely a result of the growing number of hygienists and assistants performing services previously provided by dentists. Hygienists, who often work part-time for several offices, earned a median hourly wage of about $26.59 in 2002, the most recent year for which data are available from the bureau. Assistants, who perform more clerical duties, earned a median $13.10 per hour.

Job prospects for dental hygienists and assistants "are expected to remain excellent," writes the BLS in its Career Guide to Industries. "As dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures."

In the more traditional health care setting, physician assistants are among the highest paid in the industry, with first-year graduates earning roughly $68,116, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants in Alexandria, Va.

Median income for physical therapist assistants was $36,330 in 2004, reports the American Physical Therapy Association. And medical assistants, who typically hold a one- or two-year vocational degree, earned roughly $24,000 in 2002, according to the bureau.

On the lower end of the pay scale, home health aides, who provide at-home health-related services for the elderly and disabled, earned less than $9 an hour, while personal and home care aides, who provide mainly housekeeping and routine care services, earned less than $8 an hour in 2002, according to bureau statistics.

But medical practices aren't the only ones ramping up. Companies in all industries are on the prowl for those with highly prized information technology skills.

It pays to be a computer geek
Network systems and data communications analysts, the second-fastest growing occupation on the BLS list, will enjoy a 55 percent bump in employment between 2004 and 2014, while computer software engineers who specialize in applications and systems software will watch their numbers climb roughly 48 percent.

The IT sector, of course, was hit hardest during the dot-com collapse. Fueled by speculative demand, employment in the field surged to unsustainable levels during the late 1990s, adding millions to the unemployment rolls when the economic recession took hold in 2001.

Bob Cohen, senior vice president of the Information Technology Association of America, says the industry has turned the corner.

"There was a period, even after the recession, where businesses were very hesitant to invest in new systems and make capital investments based on economic uncertainty," he says. "We've certainly moved beyond that today, which translates into better employment prospects for IT workers and a more dynamic market."

Demand for IT expertise, Cohen notes, is particularly strong in the network security field as companies struggle to keep hackers and Web-based viruses at bay. Companies also are hiring systems analysts and software engineers at a frenzied pace, along with anyone with a background in database design, to help leverage the data they already collect on customers and competitors.

"There's a lot of focus on data mining right now and unlocking information that yields new intelligence about customer buying habits or trends," Cohen says.

For all its ups and downs, IT remains one of the highest paying entry-level jobs.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in Bethlehem, Pa., notes computer science grads this year received average starting salaries of $50,820 -- with many offered software design and development positions starting at $58,000. Those with information science and systems degrees received starting offers of $44,775, a figure that climbed to nearly $50,000 for those engaged in systems analysis and design.

There is "a lot of demand" for people with degrees in business, computer science and engineering, says Andrea Koncz, employment information manager for NACE.

That's apparent to Ryan LeRoy. The 22-year-old computer science major at Georgia Institute of Technology, who graduated in December, already has three employment contracts on the table.

"I think me and my friends in the computer science program have the skill set for what employers are looking for," he says. "The majority of us have received a lot of interest from companies, from traditional IT firms, to banks, to consulting firms to medical practices. All companies have an IT need of some sort."High demand in many fields

Many more hot jobs ranked further down on the bureau's list. Occupations that appear just below the top 10 include: network and computer systems administrators; database administrators; physical therapists; forensic science technicians; veterinary technologists and technicians; and diagnostic medical sonographers.

Physical therapist aides, who perform less hands-on treatment than assistants, occupational therapists and assistants, and medical scientists (except epidemiologists) rounded out the top 20 fastest-growing occupations -- all of which are projected to enjoy employment growth of 33- to 38-percent through 2014.

Momentum also is strong for environmental engineers; teachers (preschool and postsecondary); cardiovascular technologists and technicians; hydrologists; computer systems analysts; hazardous materials removal workers; biomedical engineers; employment specialists; and paralegals. The BLS projects these occupations will grow roughly 30 percent during the 10-year period.Not to be left out: finance and accounting

John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, notes the accounting industry is enjoying a period of rapid employment growth following the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which placed strict controls over corporate disclosures and accounting practices at publicly held firms.

"Demand is very strong in the areas of financial controls and corporate monitoring," Challenger says. "Companies are really out there looking for accountants with that kind of background."

Lucas Group, an Atlanta-based professional recruiting firm, also predicts healthy growth for the industry. Its 2005 survey of hiring managers found that 47 percent of companies that responded -- including banking and finance, consulting, distribution, health-care and high-tech firms -- expected to see significant employment and business growth this year, up from 36 percent last year.

"Growth in hiring is attributable to a growing economy and an increase in positions needed to meet Sarbanes-Oxley compliance," says Bill Kuchar, a CPA and managing partner of Lucas Group. "Our placements for accounting and finance professionals have substantially increased from last year, and we expect the increase to continue."

Overall, however, the bureau reports that job opportunities in the accounting and auditing fields remain spotty, with the industry as a whole projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012 -- between 10 percent and 20 percent.

Federal legislation "should lead to increased scrutiny of company finances and accounting procedures, and should create opportunities for accountants and auditors, particularly Certified Public Accountants, to more thoroughly audit financial records," the bureau writes. "Those who pursue a CPA should have excellent job prospects. However, many accounting graduates are instead pursuing other certifications, such as the Certified Management Accountant and Certified Internal Auditor, so competition could be greater in management accounting and internal auditing than in public accounting."

NACE reports 2005 accounting grads in the private sector enjoyed average starting pay of about $42,000, while those employed in public auditing received first-time offers of nearly $44,000. Business administration and management grads engaged in financial analysis took home $44,185 and those who specialized in investment banking earned closer to $49,000.

For college students deciding which professional path to pursue, or anyone considering a change of career, labor market trends provide valuable insight into earnings potential and future demand. In the coming years, job seekers in the health-care and information technology fields should be best positioned to negotiate hefty pay packages from employers.

"Looking at where job growth is happening, or most likely to occur in the future, can give you a better understanding of the kinds of skills that are most in demand," Challenger says. "They can also give you a reason to go out and acquire those skills, whether you're going back for more training, getting an education or volunteering for new assignments on the job that intersect you with the kind of skills employers need."

10 fastest-growing occupationsExpected growth rate
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Time frame of growth rate spans from 2004 to 2014.

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