The current unemployment rate is hovering just below 7% and this doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of underemployed individuals or the millions of people who simply gave up searching for a job and left the labor force. Worse is that millions of students are graduating college each year and some may not be able to find jobs or careers in their chosen fields. Although the U.S. economy is improving every quarter, the stock market is boasting new highs, and large businesses are earning more than ever, the labor market isn’t showing strong levels of hiring due to increased productivity and cost cutting strategies employed by major corporations. Nonetheless, there will always be industries somewhat immune to downturns, and finding one of the top careers for the future is the best way you can ensure you never lack job security again.
There are a multitude of factors that can be used to determine what the top careers are, such as median wages, job growth forecasts, required education levels, benefits, industry profitability and long-term growth prospects, etc. After some thorough research and analysis, the following industries appear to offer the best careers for the future. If you have a child about to enter college or you are considering a career change yourself, these fields and respective jobs may offer the best options for career advancement, financial security, and a strong benefits package.
Healthcare / Medical Field
With the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) provisions being implemented on or before January 1, 2014, healthcare in the United States is a booming industry and analysts anticipate greater expansion in the coming years. The Affordable Care Act plans to extend medical coverage to more than 45 million Americans previously without health insurance, which means the demand for providers – from nurse practitioners to pharmacists to consultants to physicians – will skyrocket.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 7.6 million people currently work in the medical field, and that number will grow at an unprecedented rate by 2020. For example, the BLS estimates that nursing jobs will increase by 26%. The demand for healthcare professionals is magnified by the aging Baby Boomer population, who require more medical care from the likes of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors, not to mention pharmacists to keep up with the growing number of prescriptions and pharmaceutical drugs. The government agency also reports there will be a sharp increase in the demand for counseling and therapy (family, marriage, etc.) in the coming years.
On the other hand, two of the best jobs in America you may have never heard of are physician assistants and nurse anesthetists. A physician assistant practices medicine under the supervision of a physician or surgeon by conducting basic physical exams, diagnosing illnesses and injuries, prescribing medicine, and offering treatment options. Physician assistants average about $90,000 per year and labor market data suggests job growth could be close to 40% over the next 10 years.
In the case of a certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA), CNN Money reported that the average base salary for a CRNA is $190,000 – compensation that trumps the average pay of $175,000 for primary care physicians. The prerequisites for becoming a certified nurse anesthetist are that applicants must be registered nurses, have one year of full-time nursing experience, obtain a Master’s Degree in anesthesia and pass a rigorous national certification exam. Though it is not easy to achieve, a year or two of higher education and preparation for an exam would certainly be worth doubling your salary for the rest of your career.
High-Paying Healthcare Careers
Beyond job security, healthcare careers also top our list of highest paying jobs in America.
Nurse Anesthesiologist: $90/hour ($190,000 per year)
Pharmacist: $56/hour ($115,000 per year)
Nurse Practitioner: $45/hour ($91,000 per year)
Physical Therapist: $40/hour ($81,000 per year)
Dental Hygienist: $35/hour ($71,000 per year)
Diagnostics Medical Sonographer: $31/hour ($65,000 per year)
Note: Sonographers only need an Associate’s Degree and/or professional certification and the BLS predicts an increase of 43.5% in the number of positions from 2010 to 2020.
As you can see, getting into the medical field is a viable and extremely rewarding career option, even if you don’t have a Bachelor’s Degree. The BLS forecasts well above-average job growth rates in this sector for the next several years, so if you’re in college or in the midst of a career change, consider entering the healthcare industry. If you’re specifically interested in becoming a doctor, check out our guide on the highest paid doctors.
STEM jobs, which refer to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, are a rapidly booming career sector with no sign of slowing down in the coming decades. A report from the BLS in May of 2011 provides a thorough analysis on the current trends in STEM hiring and future projections for job growth. Currently, 6% of jobs in the U.S. comprise of STEM workers, who work in fields such as research and development, engineering, computer and equipment manufacturing, software publishing, civil, mechanical, structural, and electrical engineering, and more.
Average annual salaries for these jobs range from $45,000 for biological technicians in pharmaceutical manufacturing to $100,000 for medical scientists or $135,000 for computer programmers or engineers.
But don’t let these general figures fool you because the careers within these industries are very broad. More specifically, the technology sector in California and especially in cities such as San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles are offering new graduates six figure salaries straight out of school.
Additionally, electrical, chemical and petroleum engineers are also starting with compensation close to $100,000, especially when candidates graduate from top ranked universities. Again, students and potential job candidates need to remember that an industry’s dynamics, profitability and future outlook plays a huge role in determining the pay for its participants.
In addition to the current demand in technology and engineering, future job growth is also looking strong. According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 17% between 2008 and 2018. However, there may not be enough workers to fill these jobs.
In an April 2012 report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee on STEM education, many STEM employers and businesses are complaining about a lack of qualified workers. This may be one reason Silicon Valley giants Google, Facebook, and Apple are competing to attract the most talented programmers, developers, designers, and academics.
Congress is also aware of the unfulfilled demand for workers with advanced degrees in STEM fields. In late 2012, the STEM Jobs Act, which would’ve granted 55,000 green card visas to immigrants with advanced degrees, made its rounds through the House of Representatives, but ultimately failed in the Senate. Regardless of who acquires these jobs, the fact remains that the U.S. economy is starved for individuals with technical degrees, and demand will continue to rise in the coming years.
With the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the banking system as a means of continuously stimulating the economy, the financial services industry is reaping a windfall from essentially zero-interest, free cash. As the economy continues to accelerate growth, the housing market will recover, lending and investment activity will multiply IPOs and M&A deals, and consumer spending and confidence will swell, all of which will directly and indirectly promote the growth of the banking sector.
From investment banking, private equity, and traders to mortgage loan officers, accountants, and financial advisers, the financial services industry is one of the top ways to becoming a millionaire. When it comes to high paying careers leading to millionaire status, look no farther than Wall Street. Bankers, hedge fund and mutual fund managers, and traders may average salaries of $300,000 to $500,000 per year, but their millions come from bonuses based on performance. With so much wealth and liquidity, becoming a finance professional is naturally one of the top careers for the future.
Furthermore, as more companies push the burden of managing pension plans and retirement planning on employees, financial advisers will reap the rewards of increased assets under management (AUM), which they charge fees on. Employment prospects for financial planners and advisers, who average about $101,000 per year, are expected to soar 41% over the next 10 years. In comparison, certified public accounts (CPAs) average about $80,000 with projected growth of 18% and actuaries have a median income of $135,000 with a growth rate of 24%.
Marketing has been a popular career path for quite some time, and the BLS reports that the demand for advertising, promotions, online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) specialists and marketing managers is expected to rise 14% in the coming years. Although traditional marketing and communication careers will always be in demand due to the importance of traditional media, such as television, radio, and print, online marketing and advertising has consistently been growing leaps and bounds over the last decade.
Median hourly wages are over $52, and average annual salaries top $108,000 per year. Market research analyst jobs are also high in demand, with job growth predicted to be 28% over the next several years and median wages around $32 per hour (or $67,000 per year).
The need for more workers in these positions comes from a variety of factors, such as our increasingly globalized society in which companies want to gain an edge on foreign competitors by analyzing global markets, the gradual shift towards the internet becoming a central marketplace for e-commerce, news, media channels, producers and service providers, and the need to incorporate social media to reach younger, tech-savvy generations of consumers. As evidence, compare the $32, $39.5, and estimated $46.5 billion in U.S. online ad spending in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively.
Consulting and Sales
Companies are always trying to improve internal efficiency and control costs, particularly during an economic recession when business confidence is low. For this reason, job prospects for management analysts, also referred to as consultants, are expected to rise 22% between 2010 and 2020.
Those with Bachelor’s Degrees and some experience in healthcare, financial, and operations consulting currently bring in $40 per hour on average, or $82,000 annually. Some companies prefer to hire consultants to save money on employee-related costs, such as benefits, healthcare coverage, pensions, etc. Productivity is arguably another benefit to hiring a temporary (or long-term, contracted) consultant in lieu of hiring a full time employee, so the demand for new consultants will continue its upward trend in the coming years.
On the flip side, sales representatives, executives, and directors are incredibly important to the growth of businesses. Sales managers are needed to direct and motivate staff and employees to meet corporate goals, deliver higher revenues and profits, and maintain customer relationships. Although most fixed sales salaries are relatively low, performance incentives and commissions earn sales directors close to an average $150,000 per year, and senior sales executives about $135,000.
Pets are more like family to many Americans, and according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, 36.5% of households own dogs, 30.4% own cats, and thousands more own specialty and exotic animals. Because of this, veterinarians are always in demand and the BLS expects this sector of animal medicine to grow by 36% by 2020, especially for veterinarians working with farm animals. Current wages clock in at $45 per hour or $94,000 per year, but keep in mind this career requires years of education and a DMV (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) Degree.
A practical alternative to being a veterinarian is to train as a veterinary technician, which requires an Associate’s Degree and certification. Median pay is $15 per hour, or $31,000 per year. Best of all, it’s one of the fastest growing jobs today with an estimated 52% increase between 2010 and 2020.
Best Jobs For The Future
The old adage tells us to “do what you love”, but improving our own well-being by pursuing careers with the best job prospects (and good wages to boot) isn’t a bad idea, either. Luckily, there is a wide variety of options available to future job seekers, including high paying jobs that don’t require a degree. So, if STEM jobs aren’t your forte or the sight of blood and syringes make you feel queasy, perhaps consider a career in consulting, marketing or finance instead.
Social trends are shaping our economy – from the passage of new healthcare laws to the need to compete with our international counterparts in the fields of math and science – and labor market statistics indicate that the fields of healthcare (for humans and animals), STEM, marketing, finance and consulting offer some of the best careers for the future.