There are plenty of job siting open despite the less-than-booming U.S. employment market. But there’s a mismatch between the skills that applicants have and the skills required for the careers that are in hot demand. Among employers, 25% reported that they had open positions in science and engineering that were hard to fill, and 18% said they were struggling to fill jobs in computer programming and information technology (IT), according to a 2011 report by McKinsey & Co. Looking ahead, employers could face a shortage of 85 million high- and medium-skilled workers worldwide by 2020.
By getting the education needed to begin one of these careers, you can set yourself up for success. Often these positions are in what is known as STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. The U.S. Department of Commerce predicts that STEM careers will increase by 17% from 2008 to 2018, compared with 9.8% growth in other types of jobs. And although it can take diligent preparation to qualify, workers in STEM careers earn 26% more than those in non-STEM careers.
Chances are that many of the hot careers of the 21st century are in fields you haven’t considered – or perhaps even heard of. We’ve collected data from a variety of sources to help you get a feel for these careers and what they involve – and, most importantly, if they might be a good fit. Here are five with exciting potential.
1. Systems Analyst
About this career: When a company or other organization needs to find more efficient ways to manage its computer systems and procedures, it turns to a systems analyst to find smart, cost-effective solutions. Systems analysts tackle tasks like tailoring an existing computer system to an organization’s current needs, designing new computer systems for their employer using hardware and software, installing and testing new computer systems, training co-workers on how to use a computer system and writing technology manuals. The job may also include researching the latest technologies to determine whether adding those capabilities will benefit their employer.
What it pays: Salaries for systems analysts vary by industry, with the median annual wage of computer systems analysts at $77,740 in May 2010. The median pay for systems analysts who work in systems design and related fields was $80,830 in May 2010, compared with $79,540 for those who work in information-related fields, $78,650 for those who work in management, $77,890 in insurance and finance, and $70,430 in government.
How to get started: Systems analysts usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. Many also take some business courses or earn an MBA so that they can help companies make better business decisions.
About a quarter of systems analysts currently work in computer design and related services, while 14% work in finance and insurance, 8% work in information-related fields, 7% are involved in company management and 7% work in government.
Growth in demand: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 544,400 systems analyst jobs in 2010 and projects that by 2020 there will be 120,400 more jobs – that is, 22% more than there were in 2010.
What’s next: Systems analysts who want to advance will generally become project managers, sometimes supervising other systems analysts. Those who distinguish themselves in the field may become IT directors or chief technology officers.
2. Network Systems Administrator
About this career: These are the folks who keep computer networks and systems at universities, banks, companies and other organizations up and running. They install, set up and support local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), intranets and other systems. They may help an employer figure out what type of network is needed; set up a network; maintain, upgrade and repair it; find ways to improve its performance and train co-workers to use it.
What it pays: The median annual wage of network and computer systems administrators was $69,160 in May 2010.
How to get started: Usually, network systems administrators need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information science. However, some professionals get started with an associate’s degree or post-secondary certificate in a computer-related field. Many systems administrators add to their marketability by getting a certificate from companies such as Cisco, Microsoft or Red Hat, showing they have the credentials to manage systems those companies have designed.
An estimated 14% of network systems administrators work in computer systems design and related services, with 12% working in educational services, 10% in finance and insurance, 7% in manufacturing and 6% in telecommunications, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Growth in demand: In 2010 there were 347,200 jobs in this field with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting there will be a 28% increase (96,600 more jobs) by 2020. Fueling the demand is greater use of new technologies and mobile networks in the workplace – and employers’ concerns about the security of their networks.
What’s next: Talented network systems administrators often advance to senior positions in the field, according to several job search sites. Some also become software engineers and work on designing new systems.
3. Medical and Health Services Manager
About this career: Also known as healthcare executives or healthcare administrators, these professionals help manage healthcare facilities like hospitals or nursing homes or departments within them – or they manage physicians’ medical practices. With healthcare laws in flux, they must stay abreast of changing regulations to make sure their employer stays in compliance. They also typically manage a facility’s finances, supervise assistant administrators, keep records of medical services delivered and create work schedules. The work involves frequent communication with doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and others who work in a facility or practice.
What it pays: Median pay for medical and health services managers is $84,270 per year.
How to get started: It’s possible to get started with a bachelor’s degree, but to be competitive it helps to earn a master’s degree in healthcare administration, long-term-care administration, public health, public administration or business administration. This is a field that requires broad knowledge, from budgeting to human resources administration and strategic planning, so taking courses in such areas can be good preparation.
Growth in demand: As of 2010, there were 303,000 jobs in this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020 the number of openings will be up 22%, amounting to 68,000 new positions. One reason is the aging of the baby boomer generation, which is expected to spur growth in the healthcare field in general. The new healthcare reform act is also likely to contribute to an expansion of the field, given the steep regulatory requirements involved.
What’s next: A promising junior level administrator can move up the career ladder and eventually become a facility’s top administrator. Some seasoned administrators work as consultants or pursue teaching healthcare administration at a university.
About this career: Accountants prepare financial records and taxes. They may also help a company examine its financial statements to make sure it follows regulations, inspect a company’s account records to see that it’s following accepted procedures, and suggest ways to improve a company’s profitability.
What it pays: The median pay for accountants and auditors is $61,690 annually, with some experienced professionals bringing in six-figure incomes.
How to get started: A bachelor’s degree in accounting is a minimum requirement. Those who want to be eligible to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission must become certified public accountants (CPAs) by passing a national exam and meeting state requirements.
Many accountants specialize in a particular niche. For instance, forensic accountants – who are in hot demand – help companies and other organizations determine the extent to which financial fraud has taken place so that perpetrators can be prosecuted. They may provide expert testimony in legal cases and help companies set up fraud-prevention programs. They may work for large accounting firms, private detective agencies, governmental agencies like the IRS, or state and local police departments. The American Institute of CPAs Forensic and Valuation Services (FVS) Section conducted a survey of CPA forensic and business valuation professionals in which 47% of respondents reported spending more time on forensic accounting, highlighting the increased demand.
Growth in demand: There are many opportunities to put an accounting degree to good use: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of accounting jobs in the U.S. will grow to more than 1.4 million by 2020, a 16% increase from 2010. Roughly a quarter of accountants focus on accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and the like. Others work in finance and insurance, state and local government, manufacturing and management.
What’s next: An accounting degree is highly versatile. Accountants typically advance to the position of supervisor, manager or partner, and often open their own firm. Some use their accounting background as a springboard to becoming corporate executives.
About this career: Highly sought after by tech firms from Silicon Valley to New York City, these folks write computer programs that power everything from video games to accounting software, making sure that all the pieces of the final program fit together. They may also recommend upgrades to a company’s software, maintain and test it, improve it and keep documentation records. Systems software developers help keep computers running smoothly by designing operating systems and user interfaces.
What it pays: The median pay in the industry is $90,530, with many salaries rising into six figures.
How to get started: It’s hard to get much footing in this field without a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology. But there are plenty of jobs out there for developers with the right education. Approximately 32% of software developers work in computer systems design. Others gravitate to computer and electronic product manufacturing, finance and insurance, and software publishing.
Growth in demand: In 2010 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 913,100 workers, with that number expected to grow by 270,900 by 2020, a 30% increase. Rising demand for computer software, the need for applications for use with mobile technology, and new software required to accommodate changes in healthcare are all contributing to the trend, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What’s next: Software developers can advance initially to assume titles such as lead software development engineer, and later to supervisory jobs such as project manager and senior project manager. Some developers with a talent for management will advance to the executive suite.