Hot Careers for College Grads and Returning Students

by Henry DeVries, Sundari Baru,and Josh Shapiro

What constitutes a hot job for a college grad?

In a research study by UC San Diego Extension, that question was examined through an analysis of wage and employment information gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Four weighted categories were used to determine the rankings: The number of jobs in the field now, the ten-year projected growth from 2010 to 2020, the median wage, and the work environment. The “work environment” category sums up factors relevant to employee satisfaction. It includes such factors as workplace atmosphere, relative time pressures and on-the-job stress, responsibility for others’ health and safety, and the consequences of mistakes.

Finally, a bridging parameter was added to account for the dilemma faced by so many college graduates struggling to find the right job in the wake of the recent recession: Is the job one for which a college grad can qualify with a minimal amount of continuing education?

The data analysis revealed 18 major career sectors with strong employment potential. There is a clear pattern as to where employment opportunities are growing: ten of the highest demand jobs are in computer-related fields, five are in medical, and three—cost estimators, personal financial advisors, and management analysts—are occupations that process or adapt information generated by computers.

The following is a synopsis of the top five jobs in the report:

1. Software Developers, Systems Software
The hottest of the hot careers is software developers for systems software. Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. They set up the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks. People with different occupational titles develop the applications that permit specific tasks and still others write the programming code and test it. This field is growing at a rate of 32 percent and commands a median salary of $94,180. Successful applicants demonstrate strong programming skills and typically have a degree in computer science or mathematics.

2. Physical Therapists and Assistants
Come 2020, gather all the physical therapists whose jobs did not exist in 2010 and they would overflow San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. There are expected to be 77,400 new job holders across the United States, greater than the stadium capacity. This occupational field is experiencing an incredible growth rate of 39 percent over ten years, from 198,600 employed in 2010 to 276,000 employed in 2020. The median salary is $76,310.

The therapist assistant category is growing even faster at 46 percent, although in a smaller employment pool with 30,800 new job openings. An assistant performs routine tasks such as cleaning treatment areas, helping people to the site, and assisting patients with insurance forms. They also observe patients, assist with exercise therapy, and educate families on what to do after treatment. A prerequisite to becoming a therapist assistant is an associate’s degree and the median pay is $49,960.

3. Software Developers, Applications
Chances are every college student has been a software applications customer many times over. Download a song, comparison shop, find directions to the weekend party, play a computer game, submit a job application online, or share a photo electronically—all these functions and widespread access to Internet distribution did not exist when they were born. Applications developers, similar to the number-one hot job of systems developers, have their own classification, which can be filled by people who have analytical skills (i.e.: a political science graduate) and also acquire programming skills in such things as Java or C++. Computer science and math grads are also obvious candidates. This is a very large field, 520,800 already employed, and getting larger at a ten-year clip of 28 percent, slightly less than the systems developers’ projected 32 percent increase. Their median pay is comparable at $87,790 a year.

4. Market Research Analysts/Data Miners
Market research analysts and a proliferation of data mining occupational titles are in extremely high demand. These skills are relevant in many parts of the economy and the field leads all others in expected growth at 41 percent (116,800 positions) between 2010 and 2020. The median annual salary is $60,570. Companies rely on these analysts to study market conditions, form sales campaigns, establish customer satisfaction levels and even decide where to locate stores. Market research analysts help financial institutions decide whether to grant loans or credit cards.

5. Cost Estimators
More and more companies are looking for people who are adept at assessing the real costs of business. For example, if a cost estimator for a construction company overestimates the expense of erecting a building, the firm bids too high and probably will not win the project. If a cost estimator underestimates, the firm probably wins the project but may lose money on materials and labor. Cost estimators are also critical to technology developers, manufacturing and defense industries. The median salary is $57,860 and expected growth in positions is 36 percent, an increase of 67,500 new positions by 2020.

These and related careers represent promising opportunities for college grads willing to augment their university degrees with additional training. Continuing education can rapidly bridge specific skill requirements without spending multiple years in costly graduate programs. The diverse range of certificate programs available through UC San Diego Extension are designed for just that purpose. From Accounting, Data Mining, Embedded Computer Engineering, Healthcare Information Technology to Biotechnology Project Management, UC San Diego Extension offers over 100 certificate programs and 600 courses every quarter to help graduates bridge the employment gap.

For the full 2012 report released in June, go to extension.ucsd.edu/specialreports.

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