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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| December 5, 2018
The U.S. job market is looking good. Unemployment is near a 50-year low, and wages are even starting to rise after remaining stubbornly stagnant for years. But some career tracks lead to a more prosperous future than others.
To help identify which path is best for you—and your net worth—we made it our job to crunch the numbers. Starting with a list of 773 popular occupations, we narrowed the choices to 30 of the most promising professions by focusing on fields that are collecting generous paychecks now and are projected to expand greatly over the next decade. Also, though we favored jobs that don't necessarily call for a huge investment in education to get started, certain career paths prove lucrative enough to be worth the extra time and money.
Just remember to be honest with yourself before you commit to a career path, regardless of its promise. Don’t pursue a tech job if you hate math or a health-care position if you’re squeamish about blood and germs. Luckily, this list offers ideas in a variety of fields with a range of educational and training requirements. Take a look at 30 of the best jobs for the future to see which might suit you best.
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Emsi, a labor-market research firm owned by Strada Education. Emsi collects data from dozens of federal, state and private sources, including reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2017. Projected 10-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2017 and 2027. 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: 878,990
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 30.4% (All jobs: 9.7%)
Median annual salary: $100,857 (All jobs: $43,992)
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 409,800 jobs currently, the workforce is projected to grow 13.3% by 2027. Systems software developers earn a median income of $106,653 a year.
A college degree in computer science, software engineering 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 $58,409 a year. Also, the number of such jobs is expected to grow 17.2% to nearly 193,627 positions by 2027. Beyond formal education, expect to keep learning throughout your career in any tech job; you need to stay on top of new tools, computer languages and other advances.
Total number of jobs: 172,102
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 35.2%
Median annual salary: $103,947
Typical education: Master's degree
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. NPs 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.
NPs need to become registered nurses (another of our best job picks at #14) before pursuing their master's degrees, which could take up to three years to complete. In addition to an RN license, NPs may also need a second license and certification. Each state sets its own specific requirements; check with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information.
Total number of jobs: 371,020
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 21.0%
Median annual salary: $96,517
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: 610,056
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 19.1%
Median annual salary: $122,733
Typical education: Bachelor’s degree
Managing a company’s cash flow is a good way to direct income into your own coffers. Financial managers get paid handsomely to build long-term financial plans that help organizations achieve their goals by controlling risk, maximizing returns on investment and deploying cash wisely. Many of these workers are employed by finance and insurance firms, but a broad mix of organizations—including those in professional, scientific and technical services, government and manufacturing—benefit from their expertise.
While a bachelor’s in finance, economics or other related field is typically the minimum education level expected for this job, many employers are looking for people with a master’s in business administration or similar. You also need to invest five or more years of work experience in another financial or business occupation before you get to control the purse strings. Some starting positions that can lead you toward this career path include being an accountant, securities sales agent or financial analyst.
Total number of jobs: 634,330
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 24.4%
Median annual salary: $62,828
Like statisticians (#20 on this list), these workers are big beneficiaries of the big-data boom. 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.
While a bachelor's degree can get you in, a master's degree can help you secure a top spot. Prospective market research analysts should study marketing research or a related field, such as statistics or math. Work experience or a strong background in statistical and data analysis will give you an added advantage.
Total number of jobs: 384,340
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 14.4%
Median annual salary: $138,142
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 managers plan, coordinate and direct all the IT activities of an organization, helping to ensure its technological needs are being met and implemented effectively.
You need at least five years of related work experience, as say an analyst in the same field, in order move up to manager. To get started, a bachelor's degree in information technology or another computer-related field is typical. But you can also qualify with a liberal arts degree and techie talents you developed outside of a standard four-year program. On the other hand, a graduate degree can give you an edge in a highly competitive field.
Total number of jobs: 110,914
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 27.2%
Median annual salary: $95,506
Increasing digital dangers are pushing companies of all stripes to beef up their information security and hire more white hats. Banks and financial institutions, as well as tech firms, are particularly big employers of information security analysts. You can also find opportunities in hospitals and doctors' offices, where the move to keep more digital records pushes the need to protect patients' privacy.
To get started developing and implementing measures to safeguard an organization's computer network, you likely need a bachelor's degree in computer science, programming or another tech-related field. You may also need up to five years of work experience, perhaps as a network or systems administrator, to secure a management role. A master's of business administration in information systems can help you stand out in the applicant pool. Becoming a certified information systems security professional or gaining some other similar certification can also give you a boost.
Total number of jobs: 112,463
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 35.3%
Median annual salary: $104,986
Typical education: Master’s degree
Want to avoid the time and cost of medical school, but still be a vital part of medical teams, working alongside physicians, surgeons and other health workers? Physician assistants (PAs) are trained to diagnose and treat patients and are able to write prescriptions and order tests. In some areas, they may serve as primary care providers in clinics where physicians visit just sporadically, perhaps one or two times a week. But a PA’s specific duties and how strictly they must be supervised by a physician or surgeon vary by state.
To get started, you need at least two years of postgraduate study to earn a master's in this field. Accredited programs are competitive, so you ought to have patient-care experience—such as working as an EMT or paramedic, nursing assistant or other similar care provider—to round out your application. Volunteering at hospitals or clinics or with special-needs or at-risk groups, such as orphans or homeless people, can also bolster your experience. You need a license to practice, too.
Total number of jobs: 393,399
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 13.7%
Median annual salary: $200,774
Typical education: Doctoral degree
Health care coverage may be a hotly debated issue in the U.S., but the need for quality health care is universally acknowledged. And physicians are still considered the top dogs for diagnosing and treating patients, especially when it comes to more specific health issues. Some specialties included in this group of doctors are allergists, cardiologists, dermatologists and radiologists.
Whatever your area of focus, expect to spend many years—and tuition dollars—on studying it. From the start of college, more than a decade will have passed before you finally become a board-certified practicing physician. And in that time, plenty of people pile on the student loans. In 2016, medical-school graduates carried a median $190,000 in debt, according to the American Medical Association.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to physicians whose specialties are not included in detail by the Department of Labor. It does not include anesthesiologists, family and general practitioners, internists, obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians or psychiatrists.
Total number of jobs: 237,539
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 27.1%
Median annual salary: $85,694
The need for physical therapy is expected to grow with the aging population, especially as people wish to remain active later in their longer lives. 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. To provide them as a physical therapist, you'll need a license to go along with your doctorate.
For similar reasons, the number of occupational therapists is expected to grow from 132,451 workers now at a rate of 23.7% 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 $81,928 a year.
Total number of jobs: 215,720
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 20.9%
Median annual salary: $74,432
Typical education: Associate's degree
Dentists (#28 on this list) aren’t the only professionals in the oral health field who have a great deal to smile about. Career prospects for dental hygienists—who typically clean teeth, take x-rays and educate patients on proper care—are also getting a boost from the aging population as well as a greater understanding of how good oral health is important to maintaining good overall health.
And these workers can get grinning long before—and with far lower costs—than dentists considering the shorter time required for schooling. To get started, 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: 2.3 million
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 12.0%
Median annual salary: $99,754
Being a boss is, of course, a prosperous path for your future, vague as the title might be. General managers oversee operations that are too varied and difficult to fit into more squarely defined management positions. Their work might include strategic planning, developing work policies, making staff schedules and a multitude of other responsibilities necessary to make things happen on a daily basis.
Education and experience requirements vary widely by industry, company and even department. Typically, you need at least a bachelor’s degree and many years of work experience in order to take charge. But in some instances, workers without a college degree can make their way up the ladder into management. On the other hand, some employers may prefer applicants with a master’s in business administration.
Total number of jobs: 112,187
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 26.8%
Median annual salary: $81,441
Businesses are under constant pressure to do things better, faster and cheaper. Enter the operations research analyst. These workers help firms increase efficiency, lower costs and boost profits, using mathematical and analytical methods. And with advancing technology allowing companies to collect more data about their businesses and customers, the need is greater for people who can make sense (and dollars) of it all.
You can land an entry-level operations research analyst position with a bachelor's degree in a technical or quantitative field, such as engineering, analytics or math. Some employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree.
Total number of jobs: 3.0 million
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 16.3%
Median annual salary: $69,789
The outlook for RNs is healthy. This already robust workforce—the fifth-largest of all occupations—is expected to add nearly a half-million new positions by 2027. 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.
Becoming a registered nurse requires either a bachelor's of science in nursing, an associate's degree in nursing or a diploma from an accredited nursing program (which usually takes two to three years). You'll need a license to practice, as well, not to mention reserves of compassion, patience and emotional stability.
Total number of jobs: 150,730
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 19.9%
Median annual salary: $75,747
Another health-care-services position poised to benefit from the aging population, speech therapists are increasingly 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, 43% 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.
Total number of jobs: 70,351
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 23.2%
Median annual salary: $71,598
Typical education: Associate’s degree
Who wouldn’t prefer to avoid the scalpel? Noninvasive procedures to check out your insides are not only more popular with patients, the lower costs and relative simplicity also make them better options for insurers. And with advancing technology, they can be applied in more cases and used in more places, such as doctors' offices and medical labs outside of hospitals.
Sonographers operate special imaging equipment to peer inside patients and assist physicians in assessing medical conditions. You can get an associate's or bachelor's degree in sonography to get into this field. If you're already working in a related job, such as a radiation therapist, you may be able to transition into this role through a college's or hospital's one-year certificate program. Other specialized certifications, such as in fetal echocardiography or musculoskeletal sonography, can make you a more attractive job candidate. Learn more from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
Total number of jobs: 91,319
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 31.3%
Median annual salary: $57,429
Aging baby boomers are a boon for those working in physical therapy. As more people suffer and survive heart attacks, strokes and other traumas, the need for rehabilitative services is expected to increase. To meet growing demands, physical therapists may look to work with additional assistants, who can help them care for more patients in the same amount of time at minimal cost.
In order to follow this path, you must obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited program, which typically takes about two years. You also need to be licensed or certified, which requires you to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, on top of completing the degree program. Other requirements vary by state; check with the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to locate your state’s licensing authority.
Total number of jobs: 129,745
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 22.4%
Median annual salary: $59,717
These workers can breathe easy. The aging population helps secure the need for respiratory therapy, as middle-aged and older people are expected to experience an increase in respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Effects of smoking and air pollution also inflate the demand for these therapists.
You typically need an associate’s degree to fill this role, but some employers may favor candidates with a bachelor’s degree. You also need a license to practice in all states except Alaska, where certification is recommended but not required. For specific state requirements, you can find your state licensure agency via the National Board for Respiratory Care.
Total number of jobs: 1.1 million
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 12.5%
Median annual salary: $51,437
Typical education: High school diploma
Everybody’s selling something—and businesses in a range of industries continue to need closers. Indeed, employers seeking sales representatives of services that do not fit neatly into Labor Department definitions include such varied names as Fiserv, Lowe’s, IBM and JPMorgan Chase. And though online sales may dampen demand for these workers, they remain necessary in building and maintaining a solid customer base.
Though you typically need just a high school diploma to get started, you can expect to learn plenty on the job. A familiarity with the company and its services and products is sure to help you land the job, too.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to sales representative in services other than retail, advertising, insurance, financial services and travel.
Total number of jobs: 39,787
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 30.1%
Median annual salary: $84,410
Big data means big opportunities for statisticians. With advancing technology allowing more information to be collected on people, their activities, their environments and pretty much everything, the need is greater for people who can make sense of it all. Statisticians work with data from start to finish, designing surveys, questionnaires and polls to collect the desired information and then analyzing the results to tease out useful and interesting trends. They work in an array of industries, including education, marketing, psychology and sports. The federal government, research and development firms and insurance carriers are among their largest employers.
To become a statistician, you typically need a master’s degree, but some employers may take applicants with bachelor’s degrees for certain entry-level roles. Either way, plan to tally up plenty of math-related credits. Also get comfortable with computers; you can expect to often use data analysis software in your work as a statistician.
Total number of jobs: 1.5 million
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 14.0%
Median annual salary: $69,750
Typical education: Doctoral
Evidenced by this list, many of the top jobs of the future require higher levels of education—and plenty of postsecondary teachers are needed to provide them. However, your area of academic focus will be a big determinant of your future prospects. For example, teachers in nursing and health specialties are expected to post the highest rates of growth over the next decade, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also note that that total employee count includes both full-time and part-time workers, and colleges and universities tend to prefer the latter. You can expect competition for full-time positions, tenured or not, to be fierce.
You’ll have to spend plenty of time getting educated yourself before paying it forward. Typically, to become a postsecondary teacher, you need to get a bachelor’s degree and then a Ph.D., which can take five years or more to complete, though some institutions may accept candidates with a master’s degree. Some employers may also prefer candidates with work experience in a related field. And if the occupation you’re helping students prepare for requires a certain license or certification, you may also need to have the same credentials. For example, if you’re teaching nursing, you might need the appropriate license.
Total number of jobs: 176,205
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 10.2%
Median annual salary: $106,809
The low national unemployment rate indicates heightened competition among employers to attract and retain top employees—an area human resource experts can help businesses with. They can work to ensure they are offering comparable wages, benefits packages and work policies. Human resources managers, specifically, can also help improve workforce efficiency within an organization, assisting top executives to identify and fill staffing needs.
Before you can reach the ranks of manager, you need to clock in five years or more of related work experience. Human resources specialists, which offer entry-level opportunities in the field, have promising futures, too. Over the next decade, their numbers are projected to grow at a rate of 9.4%, and their median pay is $60,757 a year. You typically need a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business or a related field to get started as a specialist. Employers may also prefer or even require you to become a certified HR professional through the Society for Human Resource Management, the HR Certification Institute or other similar programs. A master’s degree can also help give you a leg up on the competition.
Total number of jobs: 164,391
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 20.7%
Median annual salary: $62,638
Though this job is not technically in the health-care field, it still benefits from treating the aging population. As boomers increasingly lean on social services, such as adult day care and meal-delivery programs, managers of such businesses will be in greater demand. Also, the growing need for treatment services of substance abuse, and specifically opioid addiction, is driving up demand for managers of these centers.
You require at least a bachelor's degree in social work, urban studies, public administration or a related field to get started. But reaching managerial heights typically also calls for up to five years of relevant work experience. And some employers prefer applicants with master's degrees.
Total number of jobs: 141,107
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 16.0%
Median annual salary: $189,738
The health-care field has long been lauded as a solid source of many prosperous careers. After all, no matter what happens in politics, the economy or the overall job market, people always need medical attention at various points throughout their lives. As generalists, family practitioners are able to perform regular checkups and care for an array of everyday afflictions such as sinus and respiratory infections in patients of all ages. That can translate into a practice with a steady stream of patients.
You need to endure many years of schooling before you can get started on this path. After first getting your bachelor’s degree, typically in the sciences, you have to get into medical school, which typically requires four years to complete. Then, you spend another three years training in an approved residency program. Finally, after you become board-certified, you can officially become a practicing family doctor.
Total number of jobs: 249,909
Median annual salary: $86,711
We swear this is a totally unbiased ranking, but we obviously believe in the value of expert financial guidance. This is especially true as pensions become a thing of the past and Americans are compelled to take responsibility for building their own wealth. Baby boomers, in particular, are ripe to seek out more professional help as they plan for and enter retirement in droves.
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: 117,960
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 16.7%
Median annual salary: $69,040
The American population is growing, and cities are expanding. That means new housing developments and office parks, which require new power grids, which require more people to install and maintain them. But be warned: Working with electrical currents at great heights means this job is as risky as you'd expect it to be.
Many electrical power-line installers and repairers get started with an apprenticeship after high school, which typically lasts up to three years. It combines on-the-job training with technical instruction. You may also be able to get a one-year certificate from a community college or a two-year associate's degree to get a deeper understanding of the technology used in electrical utilities.
Total number of jobs: 143,243
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 13.9%
Median annual salary: $154,901
The link between oral health and overall health has been proven strong, pushing more Americans to regularly seek dental care and giving dentists ample opportunity to work. Their career prospects also benefit from the aging population, with people increasingly keeping their real teeth longer (rather than opting for dentures) and needing plenty of help combating their deterioration.
On top of being comfortable spending your days poking around other people’s mouths, you have to endure many years of schooling to become a dentist. You typically need a bachelor’s degree to apply to dental school, which generally takes four years to complete. If you want to be a specialized dentist—such as an endodontist, who performs root canals, or an oral pathologist, who focuses on cancer and other oral diseases—you also need to complete a two- to four-year residency program.
Total number of jobs: 268,709
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 11.2%
Median annual salary: $85,863
The push for increased automation has contributed to putting many professions on our list of Worst Jobs for the Future. But industrial engineers actually stand to benefit from it. These workers figure out how businesses can work more efficiently and devise the systems necessary to do it, integrating people, machines, materials, information and energy. And because maximizing efficiency—and reducing costs—is universally desirable, the need for these workers spans many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare and business administration. Manufacturing engineers specifically focus on the automated systems used in manufacturing, optimizing the use of computer networks, robots and materials.
To become one, you need a bachelor’s degree—usually in industrial engineering, of course, but other engineering fields, including mechanical, electrical or general, may be acceptable, too. Whatever degree you get, you ought to be comfortable with math and science. Also, cooperative education engineering programs—offered by many colleges and universities to give students practical as well as classroom experience—can help you stand out to prospective employers.
Total number of jobs: 80,712
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 18.5%
Median annual salary: $87,199
Americans are increasingly becoming pet owners and spending more on their furry (and scaly, slimy and feathery) family members. In fact, 68% of U.S. households, or 84.6 million homes, own a pet, according to a 2017-18 survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s up from 56% of U.S. households in 1988, the first year of the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. And spending on pets is expected to rise to $72.1 billion in 2018 from $69.5 billion in 2017 and $43.2 billion just ten years ago.
The veterinary services industry is an obvious beneficiary. And on top of providing classic care to more pets, vets are offering many new services as medical advances are expanding to treat species beyond humans. That includes cancer treatments, kidney transplants and other complicated procedures.
To become a veterinarian, you must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which typically takes four years after getting a bachelor’s degree. Expect to take many science classes, including biology, zoology and animal science, as well math, humanities and social science courses. You must also be licensed to practice in the U.S.; requirements vary by state.
Total number of jobs: 288,653
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 11.6%
Median annual salary: $93,750
These workers basically do everything that makes an organization run. That might include tasks such as maintaining facilities, recordkeeping, planning and supervising activities and much, much more. Especially as companies focus on efficiency—in terms of production, costs and energy usage—it’s no wonder why attentive administrative services managers are in high demand.
You typically need a bachelor’s degree to land this gig, but educational requirements vary by employer. You usually also need up to five years of related work experience. Official certification may also help your resume stand out, especially for specialized positions. For example, prospective records and information managers could benefit from getting an official Certified Records Managers designation through the Institute for Certified Records Managers. It requires certain educational and work experience standards, passing a six-part exam and annual membership fees of $200.