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What are the best jobs of 2008?

The "professional" and "service" categories — already the two largest in the economy — will boast the most job openings in 2008.
Image: Veterinarian
Veterinarians make a median income of nearly $72,000 — and the profession is among the top 20 fastest-growing jobs.Getty Images stock
/ Source: Fast Company

If you're job hunting in the professional or service-oriented fields, we have good news. Of the ten categories into which the Bureau of Labor Statistics divides jobs, the "professional" and "service" categories — already the two largest in the economy — will boast the most job openings in 2008. In the next decade, 17 percent more employees will be employed in these two categories than are today, nearly double the expansion of other categories.

With an increase in demand, professional and service jobs, which include professions like educator, scientist, health care worker and artist in the "professional" category, and police officer, child caretaker and cosmetologist in the "service" category, will also add roughly a million new jobs to the economy. By comparison, other categories such as construction, sales and administration, are predicted to grow by only 10 percent; all eight other occupational groups combined will add only about half a million jobs to the economy in 2008.

But wait a second: Aren't we heading for recession? Where are all these open jobs coming from? While new jobs are being created, they don't represent the majority of the open positions workers will see this year. Career switching and baby-boomer retirement will create a higher turnover than ever, which will continue to increase the supply of jobs available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that while a slightly expanding economy is spurring job growth in a majority of fields, "the need to replace workers who leave a field permanently is expected to create more openings than growth will."

According to Chris Higgins, Senior Associate Director of Career Management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, the retirement boom has increased students' interest in general management rotation programs, introduced by many companies to stave off losses of a record number of retirees. He notes that companies are using these rotation programs as a way of "fast-tracking" replacements in management, and students are using them as a way of getting a taste for different departments and niches within a company. "The idea is to prepare them to move up quickly," he notes, but to do so while developing each potential manager's individual interests. "It turns out to benefit the employers as well as the employees," observes Higgins.

If you're job searching in certain occupational groups — namely farming, production, or transportation — you're looking at slow or negative growth and poor job availability. Peer occupational groups, however, are hiring at a brisker pace: construction, administration, and maintenance and repair are all groups that are experiencing healthy growth or job availability. On the other hand, if you're looking in the white-collar realm, you're better set for 2008; both growth and availability are predicted to be healthy for the foreseeable future.

The Thoroughbreds: Fastest-growing sectors
Within the "professional" rubric, three particular sectors are displaying the most aggressive growth rates: computer/mathematical, community/social service, and health practices jobs are each projected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next decade, with education/library jobs following at 14 percent. Put those percentages to work on the total number of jobs in each of those fields, and you see healthcare and education adding the bulk of the professional jobs to the economy: around a quarter of a million jobs in 2008 alone. That means that if you're an aspiring teacher or health worker, you won't be looking for jobs — the jobs will be looking for you.

While computer and mathematical science jobs are projected to grow at nearly double the rate of other types of jobs, growth in this demographic has actually slowed in the last decade "as the software industry matures and as routine work is increasingly outsourced abroad," says the BLS. There's still healthy hiring here, however, and some experts are saying computer science jobs will be in increasing demand. Chris Higgins has recently seen the precursors to an upswing in tech recruitment for Wharton students, at least among the biggest Silicon Valley heavyweights. "Tech firms are picking up hiring again," he notes, "in a way they haven't in nearly a decade." Companies like Google are hiring online sales, operations, and Internet services employees in droves, which he says has some insiders murmuring about an industry-wide boom waiting in the wings.

In short, computer and mathematical experts continue to be a sought-after demographic. They may not see the same demand that educators and health professionals are enjoying anytime soon, but it may not be long before the tech industry reaches 90s-level hiring and growth once again.

The Jackpots: Top 20 jobs
Of the 20 fastest growing jobs in America, seven have growth rates of more than 40 percent. If you're looking for a new job, this is the place to start — but keep in mind, only a few of these positions have standout salaries.

  • Computer software engineers (the #4 fastest growing job) had the highest median income in 2006, coming in at more than $79,000.
  • Veterinarians (the #9 fastest growing job) are close behind with a median income of nearly $72,000.
  • Financial analysts and advisors place next in terms of salary (#12 and #6) at $66,000 median income for each.
  • Dental hygienists (#18) are also well compensated at a median of nearly $63,000.

The best-of-both-worlds jobs are in network systems/data communications analysis, which has a whopping growth rate of a 53 percent coupled with a comfortable median salary of $65,000.

The Up and Comers: Jobs best poised for future growth
While so-called "green" jobs haven't made the BLS report to date, some career experts believe that they will proliferate in 2008, shaking up the list of the "fastest growing" jobs. "More and more companies are adding dedicated staff to focus their environmental efforts," says Alison Doyle,'s Guide to Job Searching. Citing the increase in the number of green-centric job listings websites, Doyle advocates her belief that green jobs are arriving in two breeds: some green jobs, she predicts, will be positions at specialized firms whose business is reducing human environmental impact; others will simply be "jobs at environmentally friendly companies" looking to improve their eco-friendliness or image.

Chris Higgins' observations of Wharton graduate students seem to substantiate Doyle's prediction. "There's a big buzz on campus about renewable energy, specifically on companies in the investment phase" of the nascent industry, he says, noting that "biofuels seem to be the biggest area of investment."

The "green" buzz is also growing among undergraduate students. Nicole Schwab, a career counselor at the University of Virginia, reports that "jobs in corporate social responsibility are also on students' radars," in addition to the usual interest in PR, advertising, finance and marketing.

Another hot topic: jobs abroad. "Students in a variety of fields like business, communications and technology, are inquiring about opportunities to work overseas," Schwab says. However, it's not a supply-side phenomenon. Entry-level jobs abroad, she notes, are actually rarely available to U.S. students. That doesn't deter students' wanderlust, however: "From what we have seen, many students who do go overseas work in education, often teaching English, or volunteering with the Peace Corps."

For the Newby: Best first jobs
When President Bush gives his State of the Union address on the 29th of this month, it's likely that he'll discuss how many jobs were added to the economy this year. Behind his "total new jobs" figure there will be three specific jobs doing the heavy lifting: registered nursing, retail sales and customer services, which also happen to be the three top jobs for workers new to the workforce. Luckily for freshmen entering the job market, these three jobs alone will account for about 1/10th of all new jobs this year. That's 168,000 out of about 1.6 million new jobs nationwide — not a bad selection for the recent high school or college grad.

For the young, the options are plenty — if not plenty lucrative. Retail sales, wait staff, and cashier jobs are numerous, but each carries a wince-inducing median salary of between $14,000 and $20,000 per year. Customer service offers the fourth most job openings for new workers, with a substantially better median salary of just over $28,000. Financially, the best bet for a new worker: becoming a registered nurse. With over 50,000 new nursing jobs to be created this year alone, nurses will have their pick of jobs and salaries, the latter averaging about $57,000 per year.

The increasing growth in nursing, as in the social services and health fields at large, can be attributed to the upswing in retirees in need of medical care, according to the BLS. In 2008, the first of the baby boom generation will reach age 62, qualifying them for early retirement. From there, roughly 70 million more Americans will begin enjoying ever-lengthening life-spans, often with the assistance of medical staff — many of whom will graduate from college this year.

If you haven't studied nursing as an undergraduate, it's likely you'll be lured into teaching, accounting, or software engineering. Those three fields represent the biggest market for college grads, with software engineers leading the compensation race with a median salary of almost $80,000. Among candidates with Bachelor's degrees and a few years of experience, jobs involving management analysis, financial management and computer/systems management will be big needs for employers.

There may be no way to know what the Class of 2008 is thinking, but according to Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor and author of The Career Coward's Guide to Changing Careers, one thing is for sure: they are thinking. "These days, there is much more awareness and acceptance of 'changing what you're doing.' A lot of older people are waking up and realizing they need to restructure their lives to fit what they want — but Gen Y isn't going to do that. They're not going to put in 20 years and say, 'Yuck!' Instead, they might put in two years before deciding to switch."

School Loan Busters: Jobs with top salaries
For workers who have graduate school degrees, the clear leader in job growth is the position of college professor. In 2008, roughly 38,000 of these jobs will be created in colleges and universities nationwide. The runner-up job in demand for graduate degree holders: physicians. There will be a new demand of up to 9,000 this year in that field. Attorney jobs come in a close third in growth, followed by clergy and pharmacist positions. As a college-level teacher, you'll make a median $56,000 annually, while doctors will see an annual compensation that the BLS lists as "greater than or equal to $145,600." Lawyers and pharmacists come in at a median of $102,000 and $94,000, respectively, while new clergymen and women will see a median of about $39,000.

Going Solo: The future of self-employment
The percentage of self-employed workers in the U.S. is predicted to stay the same over the next ten years, and that means that new forms of white-collar self employment are replacing farming — the shrinking mainstay in this segment. According to the BLS, the demand for farming jobs will suffer from improvements in technology; as workers and machines get more efficient, drastically fewer individuals will be required to maintain the same level of output.

Replacing farmers in the self-employment demographic are growing numbers of people "who don't want to be employees anymore," says Katy Piotrowski. "I'm seeing a lot of people buying franchises, or setting up arrangements that involve multiple online businesses," she continues, invoking author Tim Ferriss's philosophy on the 4 Hour Work Week as shorthand for this multi-faceted strategy. As a career counselor who deals largely with adults interested in mid-life career switches, Piotrowski reports growing numbers of workers "trying to escape the desk job format," and workers who express weariness of taking new positions that promise little job security — jobs Piotrowski likens to "black holes" of employment.

The trends
So what does 2008 hold for job seekers? On the whole, the workforce is retiring and re-prioritizing, becoming more technology-oriented and less dependent on agriculture and manufacturing.

If you're a younger worker, it's within your generational prerogative to shop around, switch jobs, keep one eye on the environment and another eye on your aging parents. Management and leadership are the new hot commodities, so if you're an aspiring business person look for companies with corporate rotation programs or leadership programs for the most forward-looking career opportunities.