Preparing for a career is a serious business, and the wrong choice can be costly. You don't want to graduate after several years' work only to find that your industry has relocated to China. Technology has affected labor markets in two ways: First, companies jumped on labor-saving devices and processes that allowed them to increase productivity while decreasing labor requirements--that's why the only typesetters and telephone operators you see these days are in the movies. Second, unskilled jobs that were more difficult to automate have been moved overseas.
So what will tomorrow's in-demand jobs be--and which jobs are on their way out?
Not hot: data entry, customer service, and collections
As companies look for ways to save on labor costs, more of them are off-shoring entry-level "knowledge worker" jobs such as customer service, collections, and data entry. Many of these jobs can be handled remotely from countries like India, where English is widely spoken and the educational system is good. The trend is for English-speaking countries with low labor costs to pull these formerly lucrative jobs out of North America.
Hot: avoid off-shoring with these careers
A wise bet is to nail down a career that requires your actual presence--jobs that can't be done from overseas, no matter how inexpensive or brilliant the workers are: for example, doctors, hair stylists, teachers, nurses, auto-repair specialists, and physical therapists. Alternatively, careers that require a high degree of creativity are good choices--for instance, writing, marketing, and advertising. Cultural differences and language barriers will likely prevent most of these industries from moving offshore.
Prepare for top careers
The top careers of the future are not entry-level positions. They require career training in the form of an on-campus or online degree to get started. Here are five careers that are most likely to offer interesting work, loads of opportunity, nice paychecks, and job security.
1. Physical therapy
Physical therapists are health professionals who help people restore physical function and movement, often in consultation with doctors. The education requirements are extensive: in addition to a bachelor's degree, you need to graduate from an accredited master's or doctoral physical therapy program. Job prospects are expected to grow by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than average. If you like the idea of making people function and feel better, you may like this career a lot. You'll probably like the pay, too: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) those at the top earn six-figure incomes.
2. Automotive specialties
Auto specialists do things like mechanical work, collision repair, artistic auto painting, and antique-vehicle restoration; some even work on high-performance race cars. Pay varies widely, but according to the BLS, the best (and most fun!) opportunities go to people with formal career training, which can range from two-year associate's degree programs to bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering. Top auto-repair specialists earn over $50,000 a year, and those who add mechanical engineering degrees can earn nearly $80,000.
Most working writers have bachelor's degrees in English, journalism, or communications, but other degrees are acceptable in many industries if applicants demonstrate good writing skills. Many work on marketing, instructional, and technical materials; online journalism is popular, too. (Only a few writers pen bestsellers and award-winning screenplays.) Many writers work as freelancers, so business courses can come in handy as well. In-demand professional writers and editors can earn six-figure incomes. There are many opportunities, but competition is keen because many people want to enjoy this career.
4. Legal careers
Legal careers can allow you to work in any area that interests you, including environmental law, estate planning, personal injury, and politics. And there is a career for every education level--from legal-assistant certificate programs to bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies to Juris Doctor (JD) degrees for attorneys. Despite excellent growth in these professions, the BLS states that competition will be tough, and you'll need formal training to grab the best jobs. Earning potential for top-level pros ranges from about $60,000 for legal secretaries and assistants to about $75,000 for paralegals, to hefty six-figure salaries for lawyers.
Advertising is a sexy profession and a "highly coveted" one, according to the BLS. So of course there's a lot of competition. Advertising, marketing, public-relations, and sales managers are responsible for their companies' market research; marketing strategies; public image; print, online, and TV ads; and more. This job allows a lot of creativity but also brings pressure, long hours, and frequently a lot of travel. Most employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in business, an MBA, or a degree in communications, public relations, or journalism. If you can take the heat, you can pull in a cool salary--top dogs earn over $120,000 a year.
Choosing a career
When you're considering a profession, take a look at trends that drive opportunity. In addition to technology and labor economics, there are social trends to consider--for example, the growing demand for green industry and the aging of the U.S. population. These are just a couple of the factors that can make a career hot--or not.
Gina Pogol writes about a variety of topics and has enjoyed several challenging careers. In addition to working for a decade in mortgage lending, she has worked as a paralegal, a business credit systems consultant, and as an accountant for Deloitte. She graduated with High Distinction from the University of Nevada with a BS in financial management.