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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| Updated August 2017
The U.S. job market is looking good. The unemployment rate is hovering below the 5% mark, as it has been for more than a year. But not every profession is booming. "In general, it’s a very robust labor market with a lot of widespread growth," says Josh Wright of labor market research firm Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). "A few key sectors are trending up, but some are trending down."
To help you identify which is which, we made it our job to crunch the numbers. Starting with a list of 785 popular occupations, we narrowed the choices to 10 of the most promising by focusing on fields that are projected to expand greatly over the next decade and currently offer generous paychecks. In fact, all of the jobs on our list have annual salaries that are well above—and in many cases more than double—the median for all jobs. We also favored jobs that don't necessarily call for a huge investment in education to get started. While four of our top jobs do require advanced degrees, you can break into the other professions with an associate's or bachelor's degree. Take a look at 10 of the best jobs for the future.
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Economic Modeling Specialists International, a labor market research firm owned by CareerBuilder. EMSI collects data from more than 90 federal, state and private sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2016. Projected ten-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2016 and 2026. Annual earnings were calculated by multiplying median hourly earnings by 2,080, the standard number of hours worked in a year by a full-time employee.
Total number of jobs: 798,233
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 21.6% (All jobs: 8.6%)
Median annual salary: $97,483 (All jobs: $43,233)
Typical education: Bachelor's degree
Why become an app developer? Check the palm of your hand (or maybe in the couch cushions) for the answer. The proliferation of mobile technology is driving demand for development of new applications of all kinds, from news and games to music and social sharing. Systems software developers, who create the operating systems for computers and mobile devices, are also poised for prosperity. From about 414,000 jobs currently, the workforce is projected to grow 16.0% by 2026. Systems software developers earn a median income of $104,767 a year.
A college degree in computer science, software engineering (both among our best college majors for a lucrative career) or a related field is a standard requirement to land most software-development jobs, but a master's degree can give you a leg up on the competition. Without a bachelor's degree, you can break into the tech field as a web developer, a role that typically requires just an associate's degree to get started and pays a median salary of about $60,385 a year. Also, the number of such jobs is expected to grow 26.5% to nearly 214,850 positions by 2026. Beyond formal education, expect to keep learning throughout your career in any tech job; you need to stay on top of any new tools, computer languages and other advances.
Total number of jobs: 597,812
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 22.0%
Median annual salary: $85,080
This is a nerd's world, and we're all benefiting from it. With the computerization of everything from phones and coffeemakers to cars and airplanes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn't rely on computers in one way or another. That puts the folks who run the computers in very high demand. Computer systems analysts ensure that organizations' technological needs are met and are constantly improving with the advancements and demands of the increasingly connected world. Information security analysts—the white hats charged with protecting us from the increasing digital dangers—are also in high demand with their current count of 92,902 people expected to grow 19.6% by 2026.
A bachelor's degree in information technology or another computer-related field is typical for these workers. But you can also qualify with a liberal arts degree and techie talents you developed outside of a standard four-year program (perhaps even using free online classes).
Further up the career ladder, once you've picked up five or more years of experience in this field, you might shoot to become a Computer and Information Systems Manager. The median pay for this position is about $130,400 a year, and demand for it is projected to grow by 17.9% percent over the next decade.
Total number of jobs: 145,331
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 32.3%
Median annual salary: $98,288
Typical education: Master's degree
Health care coverage in our country may be up for debate, but the increasing need for quality medical care is irrefutable. Advancing technology, greater focus on preventive care and an aging population will mean a growing number of patients requiring care in hospitals, doctors' offices, long-term-care facilities and even private homes. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are highly sought after to meet that need. They’re able to provide much of the same care as full-fledged doctors, including performing routine checkups and writing prescriptions, and they can work independently. Exact guidelines vary by state.
Registered nurses (RNs) are also in high demand. The already robust workforce of 2.9 million is expected to grow 17.2% by 2026. And they enjoy a healthy pay rate, too: The median salary for RNs is $67,418 a year.
Becoming a nurse requires either a bachelor's of science in nursing (another one of our best college majors), an associate's degree in nursing or a diploma from an accredited nursing program (which usually takes two to three years). NPs must also get a master’s or doctoral degree. Both RNs and NPs need a license to practice, not to mention reserves of compassion, patience and emotional stability.
Total number of jobs: 226,661
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 30.4%
Median annual salary: $83,501
Typical education: Doctoral degree
Aging baby boomers are a boon for those working in physical therapy. Many more workers will be needed in this field to care for victims of heart attacks and strokes and to lead them through rehabilitation. And with ongoing advances in medicine, more people will survive such traumas and need rehabilitative services. You'll need a license to go along with your doctorate.
For similar reasons, demand for occupational therapists is expected to grow at a 25.6% clip over the next decade. While physical therapists focus on rehabilitation of major motor functions, occupational therapists help ill or disabled patients develop or recover the ability to independently perform daily tasks, such as dressing or feeding themselves. Occupational therapists typically need a master's degree to get started and earn a median income of $79,619 a year.
Total number of jobs: 337,863
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 17.4%
Median annual salary: $93,294
The increasing demand for medical services calls for more people to manage them. Health services managers may oversee the functions of an entire medical practice or facility—as a nursing home administrator, for example—or a specific department, as a clinical manager for, say, surgery or physical therapy. Health information managers work specifically on maintaining patient records and keeping them secure, an especially important task as everyone is shifting to digital.
A bachelor's in health administration is the ticket to this profession, but a master's in health services, long-term-care administration or public health is also common among these workers. You may need to be licensed to run certain types of facilities, such as a nursing home, for which all states require licensure, or an assisted-living facility. Check with your state's department of health for details.
Total number of jobs: 103,422
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 28.8%
Median annual salary: $98,869
Typical education: Master’s degree
Physician assistants (PAs) are similar to nurse practitioners in knowledge and abilities. PAs are trained to diagnose and treat patients and are able to write prescriptions and order tests. But unlike NPs, they work under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. (Again, specific duties and supervision requirements vary by state.)
To get started, you need at least two years of postgraduate study to earn a master's in this field, and you need a license to practice. While the extra schooling is costly, it’s less taxing than a full M.D. According to the American Medical Association, the average medical student graduates with more than $180,000 in debt.
Total number of jobs: 207,223
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 19.0%
Median annual salary: $73,141
Typical education: Associate's degree
People in the oral health field have a great deal to smile about. In addition to growing demand for dental hygienists, the numbers of dentists and dental assistants are also expected to increase—by 12.4% and 19.6%, respectively, over the next 10 years.
The median salary for a dental hygienist, who typically cleans teeth, takes x-rays and educates patients on proper care, is about double that of a dental assistant. (A dental assistant’s duties may include prepping patients for treatment and sterilizing equipment.) And the path to get started as a hygienist is much less costly than that of a dentist. You usually need an associate's degree in dental hygiene, which typically takes three years to complete. You also have to get a license to practice. Requirements vary by state. Learn more from the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
Total number of jobs: 557,031
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 20.9%
Median annual salary: $61,816
With advancing technology allowing companies to collect more data about their operations and customers, the need is greater for people who can make sense (and dollars) of it all. Enter the consultants. Market research analysts help companies navigate an increasingly competitive business landscape by crunching numbers and studying market conditions and consumer behavior. With their analyses, they can develop effective marketing strategies, which may include setting appropriate prices and choosing advantageous store locations. Similarly, operations research analysts help firms increase efficiency, lower costs and boost profits, using mathematical and analytical methods. They are expected to grow their own numbers 28.4% to 134,180 by 2026, and their median salary is $78,666 a year.
While a bachelor's degree can get you into either position, a master's degree can help you secure a top spot. Prospective market research analysts should study marketing research (obviously) or a related field, such as statistics or math. Future operations research analysts might study a technical or quantitative field, such as engineering, analytics or (again) math. Work experience or a strong background in statistical and data analysis will give you an added advantage.
Total number of jobs: 251,715
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 23.8%
Median annual salary: $86,780
As Americans age and pensions become a thing of the past, the value of good investment advice will only grow. Baby boomers, especially, could need more professional help as they plan for and enter retirement.
You usually have to be a college grad to get on this career path. A bachelor's degree in finance, economics, accounting or a similar field would best prepare you for dealing with money matters, but most employers don't specify a required major. Certification from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards—which requires you to earn a bachelor's degree, have at least three years of relevant work experience and pass a rigorous exam on a wide range of financial issues—adds to your credibility. Licensing is required to sell certain types of insurance and investment products.
Total number of jobs: 142,715
Projected job growth, 2016-2026: 21.0%
Median annual salary: $73,334
The health care industry, in general, continues to be an attractive field, driven in large part by the aging population. Speech therapists, specifically, are needed to treat the growing number of patients whose language has been affected by health conditions associated with aging, such as hearing loss or stroke. Greater attention to treating children with language disorders, such as stuttering, also drives demand for these professionals, about half of whom are employed by schools, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In addition to having a master's degree, a speech language pathologist usually needs to be licensed by his or her state. Check with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for more information.
App DeveloperNurse PractitionerInformation Security AnalystComputer Systems AnalystPhysical TherapistMarket Research AnalystMedical SonographerDental HygienistOperations Research AnalystHealth Services Manager
Kiplinger updates many of its rankings annually. Above is last year's list of 10 of the best jobs for the future. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on data available at the time of publishing, differences in how the data was gathered, changes in data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow the pool of candidates.
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