Hottest jobs for the next decade

When I was working on MONEY’s annual Best Jobs in America project a few months back, I was frustrated by a major shortcoming of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ long-term employment forecasts: They didn’t take into account the nation’s economic meltdown, which will no doubt have a huge impact on the nation’s job market for years to come.

The problem was that the BLS’s Employment Projections Summary comes out every two years, and the last time the BLS reported stats on which occupations and industries have the best long-term prospects was December 2007 — well before the traumatic downturn. For our Best Jobs project, we had to rely on other data to adjust the projections for the recession.

But on Thursday, the Labor Department released its updated forecast, Employment Projections for 2008 through 2018. There are lots of fascinating trends and findings in the data. Here are three that stand out:

  • The best jobs will require more education. Among the 30 fastest growing occupations, nearly half are professional jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Those occupations include biomedical engineers, network systems and data communications analysts, financial examiners, physician assistants, medical scientists, biochemists, computer software engineers, veterinarians, environmental engineers, survey researchers, physical therapists and — one of MONEY’s favorites — personal financial advisers.
  • Healthcare isn’t the only industry adding jobs. Professional and business services and the social assistance sector are expected to grow at more than twice the annual average rate for all other industries the next 10 years. The push to keep businesses competitive and profitable will spur demand for professional and business services which includes management, scientific and technical consulting; computer systems design; and employment services. Demand for social services is growing because of the needs of the aging population, and because more health insurers are covering mental and behavioral health treatment. State and local governments and the leisure and hospitality industry will also generate numerous jobs. The construction industry is expected to fully recover from the housing bust and return to its former growth trend, adding 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. And educational services will add more than 1.2 million jobs in both primary and post-secondary education services.
  • The notion of early retirement is dead. If you feel like you can never retire, the BLS employment projections bear that out. The percentage of people age 55 and older who are working has been steadily increasing since the mid-1990s. In 1988, the group made up 30% of the labor force; today it’s 39.4%, and the BLS projects it will increase to 43.5% by 2018. Among workers age 55 and older, those age 62 to 64 and 65 to 74 are projected to show the strongest growth in work force participation. It’s for all the reasons you suspect: longer life expectancy driving the need and ability of people to work longer, the high cost of health insurance is forcing people to stay employed and on their company health plan, the rising Social Security retirement age and the decline of pensions.

The BLS report is certainly timely. With employment in the double digits, jobs are a hot topic in Washington. Following President Obama’s jobs summit last week in Washington and the proposals that the Obama administration laid out this week to bring down high unemployment, Democrats and Republicans are bickering over the best way to create more jobs. But in the midst of all this debate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report highlights important trends for anyone who is hoping to get or keep a job in the next decade.

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