With 15 million Americans out of work in June 2010, many people crave economic security and stability. Once stable professions such as teaching have been hard hit as schools are closed, while law students from top-tier schools are graduating to find the doors of blue-chip firms shut. But despite the volatility in these sectors, there's still hope for job seekers across the spectrum of education and skills. NEWSWEEK consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics and career counselors to predict the most stable professions for years to come.
As America's baby boomers begin to reach the twilight of their lives and spending on care increases, health professions are expected to be among the fastest growing. As people live longer, they'll need more drugs, better equipment, and closer attention. "Anyone that’s looking for a sure career [should look at] any area in health care," says Pat Schwallie-Giddis, chair of the George Washington University department of counseling/human and organizational studies. Registered nursing in particular has a bright outlook, with the BLS projecting 22 percent growth between 2008 and 2018. And unlike becoming a doctor, it requires only a bachelor's or associate's degree to be an R.N.
Another beneficiary of the baby boomers: the medical-industrial complex. To help power the burgeoning medical industry, companies need thousands of trained biomedical engineers with at least a bachelor's, who will design everything from artificial organs to prosthetics to high-tech diagnostic equipment. How many new jobs will there be? BLS projects astronomical 72 percent growth between 2008 and 2018, although that translates into only about 11,600 new positions. With a median income of $77,000 in 2008, it's also one of the more lucrative jobs available for holders of bachelor's degrees. Here, a worker does maintenance on a bioreactor, a piece of biomedical equipment, at a factory in Boston belonging to the biotech company Genzyme.
The baby-boom generation is also increasingly a cash cow for hoteliers and restaurateurs. "Baby boomers have plenty of money, and they’re going to spend it, and they’re going to do it in leisure time," says Michael Lazarchick, a licensed professional counselor in New Jersey. From restaurants to resorts, the sector should have steady growth for the next few years. The bad news: although there are some prestigious hospitality schools, most of these are high-turnover and low-wage jobs. In this photo, a receptionist helps guests check in at a hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H.
It might try your patience, but it will guarantee a steady paycheck. Customer service already comprised some 2.3 million jobs as of 2008—making it one of the country's largest single job titles—and it's expected to grow. According to BLS, moving customer-service jobs offshore has subsided, while demand for representatives, especially in finance, continues to grow. There will be some 400,000 new jobs in customer service by 2018.
Sales jobs are a perennial presence on lists of stable jobs, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Although the field won't grow fast—BLS projects only an 8 percent increase by 2018—it's not going away, especially since many workers don't hold down retail jobs for extended periods of time. But unless you're able to snag a job in a top-tier business (car salespeople, in particular, do well), you're not going to get rich. The middle 50 percent of retail sales workers make between $8.26 and $13.35 per hour. Here, an Apple Store staffer shows a customer the iPad.
When it comes to job prospects, green is beautiful. Building owners want to find ways to save money and take advantage of tax credits by maximizing efficiency in energy use. For new buildings, owners are increasingly trying to snag coveted LEED certification, an environmental stamp of approval. The government is behind it, too: in January, President Obama announced a $2.3 billion program aimed at creating thousands of "green jobs." Lazarchick describes a man who was laid off from a job as an engineer but was able to find work auditing lighting systems. But even if you're not highly educated, the sector offers opportunities. "If you’re a laborer, you can build green buildings," says Lazarchick. "If you're a bookkeeper, there's green bookkeeping—looking at all the rebates available." In this photo, contractors install electricity-generating solar panels on the roof of a Maryland department store.
Hot, fresh job openings, coming right up: like retail sales and customer service, food-preparation jobs are consistent standbys with high turnover and, in most cases, low wages. Jobs for cooks are already relatively plentiful—career site Beyond.com cites them as among the 10 most common postings. And the number of openings will continue to rise, with another million positions added between 2008 and 2018, according to the BLS. The government says time-starved customers in an increasingly fast-paced environment will increase demand for restaurants, causing them to ramp up hiring.
The days when young Rust Belt men could drop out of high school, work for decades on the assembly line, and retire comfortably are over, but factories aren't dead. The new face of U.S. manufacturing will be smaller, higher-tech plants that require more specialized skill. "The factories we’re going to have are going to be high-tech factories, and they’re going to have small workforces that are able to run the machinery, fix the machinery, and change the machinery," Lazarchick says. While that doesn't mean workers need to have advanced degrees, they will likely need at least a community-college education, he says. Prestige Products in Walker, Mich. (above), employs fewer than 100 workers, who create specialized products like oil booms.
Since 9/11, security has been hot, and the trend is expected to continue. There are openings in everything from walking the beat to running surveillance systems, says Schwallie-Giddis. "It's become the biggest new profession." The BLS projects 10 percent growth for police officers alone, leaving aside private security and ancillary support jobs. Many positions require only a bachelor's or less, but some of the more high-tech jobs will attract jobseekers with more advanced credentials. In this image, a controller watches footage from surveillance cameras in Chicago's Office of Emergency Management.
It's a sad fact of life: once an aging population is finished having its postretirement fun (see "Hospitality") and taking advantages of medical care (see "Registered nurse"), its members will begin to pass away. In contrast, funeral directors can expect to see their ranks swell—by some 12 percent by 2018, with opportunities particularly good for candidates who are also able to embalm.
Laid off? Can't find a job in your field? Rather than continuing a fruitless search or making a costly, time-consuming switch, hire yourself, Lazarchick says. "Why go out and look for a job when you can market to employers your skills?" he says. Although there's reluctance to add to payrolls, companies still need skilled assistance, from bookkeeping to IT. Even if that's not the case, it might be an easier proposition to start your own business. And freelancing isn't quite the grind it used to be, as the Internet makes finding work and marketing yourself easier and cheaper. The downside: small businesses have a famously high failure rate, so you may find yourself back in the hunt before too long. Letty Morales, above, opened up a pet salon in Pompano Beach, Fla., that offers deluxe treatment for pets, from pedicures to haircuts.
No, it's not a joke: career counseling is booming, practitioners say. "In the last couple of years, our clinical mental health counseling program has nearly doubled," says GWU's Schwallie-Giddis. "I get a call every week from someone who says, 'I really want to be a career counselor. Where can I get that training?' " She says that while the Internet has made job postings more available, the search process has also become so elaborate that it's beyond the abilities of some seekers, creating a strong demand for middlemen. Above, a counselor offers résumé tips to a job seeker at a career fair in Glen Gardner, N.J.