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Where the jobs are

If you want job security and higher pay, health care is exceedingly robust, geekdom is good and even accounting is sexy.

Experts say 2006 is expected to be a good year for those who have slogged their way through college -- if they have the right skills and credentials.

The 2005 Job Outlook survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, found employers plan to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates in the 2005 to 2006 academic year than they hired in 2004 to 2005 -- the third consecutive year that employers have predicted increased hiring. Additionally, the Spring Update addendum to the survey found that nearly 38 percent of respondents expect to hire more new college graduates for full-time, entry-level positions in fall 2006 than they did in fall 2005.

Heightened demand for skilled workers could also mean fatter paychecks. Three-quarters of employers who responded to the NACE survey expect to boost their starting-salary offers to attract new recruits. Grads with bachelor's degrees are seeing a 3.7 percent bump in starting pay, while those with master's degrees are seeing a 4-percent increase.

"Overall, starting-salary offers rose consistently over this past academic year, with the majority of disciplines reporting higher increases this year than they did last year," says Marilyn Mackes, executive director of NACE. "Increased competition is playing out in a number of ways, including an increase in employers participating in on-campus recruiting activities."

"Generally, we believe that this year's graduates will fare well in the job market," Mackes says. "At the same time, the good job market shouldn't be an excuse for students to sit back and wait for employers to come to them. Students need to be proactive in the job search; they can start by going to their campus career center for guidance and resources."

Tops in demand: medical
Seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in the country are related to the medical profession, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS.

The bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook projects employment will grow 50 percent or more between 2004 and 2014 for home-health aides, medical assistants and physician assistants. Over the same period, job growth will climb in excess of 40 percent for physical therapist assistants, dental assistants and personal and home-care aides.

"As the population gets older, there is a higher demand for all types of health-care services, so more workers are needed," says Debra Stock, vice president of the American Hospital Association in Chicago. "The other thing fueling demand in the industry is the fact that many current health-care workers are getting older themselves and starting to retire. You put those two trends together and it means huge opportunity in terms of employment."

Demand for skilled workers in the dental industry, meanwhile, is largely a result of the growing number of hygienists and assistants performing services previously provided by dentists. Hygienists, who often work part-time for several offices, earned a median hourly wage of about $26.59 in 2002, the most recent year for which data are available from the bureau. Assistants, who perform more clerical duties, earned a median $13.10 per hour.

Job prospects for dental hygienists and assistants "are expected to remain excellent," writes the BLS in its Career Guide to Industries. "As dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures."

In the more traditional health-care setting, physician assistants are among the highest paid in the industry, with first-year graduates earning roughly $68,116, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants in Alexandria, Va.

Median income for physical therapist assistants was $36,330 in 2004, reports the American Physical Therapy Association. And medical assistants, who typically hold a one- or two-year vocational degree, earned roughly $24,000 in 2002, according to the bureau.

On the lower end of the pay scale, home-health aides, who provide at-home health-related services for the elderly and disabled, earned less than $9 an hour, while personal and home-care aides, who provide mainly housekeeping and routine care services, earned less than $8 an hour in 2002, according to bureau statistics.

But medical practices aren't the only ones ramping up. Companies in all industries are on the prowl for those with highly prized information technology skills.

It pays to be a computer geek
Network systems and data communications analysts, the second-fastest growing occupation on the BLS list, will enjoy a 55 percent bump in employment between 2004 and 2014, while computer software engineers who specialize in applications and systems software will watch their numbers climb roughly 48 percent.

The IT sector, of course, was hit hardest during the dot-com collapse. Fueled by speculative demand, employment in the field surged to unsustainable levels during the late 1990s, adding millions to the unemployment rolls when the economic recession took hold in 2001.

Next: IT remains one of the highest paying entry-level jobs
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