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Get a Job With an Edge

Laura Morsch,

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Finding a job can be tough -- especially when you're not looking in the right place. Tight as the job market may seem, some jobs are so hot and growing so quickly that employers are itching to find qualified candidates to fill them.

As the American population grows older and more dependent on technology, the number of medical and computer related jobs is escalating rapidly to keep pace with demand. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 15 of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the United States are in healthcare, and another seven are computer-related.

Here is a list of some of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States, where qualified applicants, not the employers, have the edge -- and the vital facts about each -- from the BLS's Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Medical Assistants
What they do: Perform routine administrative and clinical tasks -- from answering phones to explaining medications to patients -- to help keep medical practitioners' offices running smoothly.

What you need: Most employers prefer graduates of a formal, one- to two-year medical assistant training program. A high school diploma is required, and some employers provide on-the-job training.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $23,940 in 2002.

Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts
What they do: Help keep your electronic communications -- Internet, voicemail, e-mail and so on -- up and running. They test and evaluate systems such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), the Internet, intranets and other data communications systems.

What you need: Some employers require just an associate's degree. Other, more advanced jobs, require a bachelor's degree in a computers-related field.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $58,420 in 2002.

Environmental Engineers
What they do: In response to concerns about environmental damage, they conduct research and develop solutions to environmental problems including pollution control, ozone depletion and wildlife protection.

What you need: Usually at least a bachelor's degree.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $64,410 in 2002.

Physician Assistants
What they do: Provide diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive healthcare services -- including examining and treating patients, making diagnoses and ordering prescriptions -- under a doctor's supervision.

What you need: Graduation from a formal physician assistant education program. Most programs require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $64,670 in 2002.

Social and Human Service Assistants
What they do: Assess client's needs and eligibility for services like food stamps, arrange for transportation and provide emotional support. They also monitor case records and report progress.

What you need: Usually an associate's degree or certificate, plus relevant work experience.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $23,370 in 2002.

Home Health Aides
What they do: Help elderly, disabled and convalescent people live at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home by assisting with housekeeping, bathing and other tasks.

What you need: Usually short-term, on-the-job training. Workers whose employers are covered by Medicare must complete 75 hours of training and pass a competency test.

What it pays: Median wages were $8.70 per hour in 2002.

Postsecondary Teachers
What they do: Instruct students in a variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level to help them earn a degree or improve their knowledge or skills. They may prepare lessons or lectures, grade assignments and conduct extensive research in their fields. Most of these teachers work on college and university faculties, but others work as postsecondary vocational education teachers and graduate teaching assistants.

What you need: Depends on the employer and subject taught. At four-year research institutions, faculty usually hold a doctorate degree and some conduct post-doctoral research. At two-year colleges, a master's degree is standard.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $49,040, but varies widely depending on rank, subject taught and employer.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
What they do: Assemble and assess patients' medical charts, determine a facility's Medicare and other insurance reimbursements, and use computer software to help improve patient care and cut costs.

What you need: An associate's degree and a written examination.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $23,890 in 2002.

Computer Software Engineers
What they do: Design, develop, test and evaluate the software and systems computers need to perform their applications.

What you need: A bachelor's degree, relevant work experience and strong computer skills.

What it pays: Median annual pay was about $70,900 in 2002.

Fitness and Aerobics Instructors
What they do: Amidst growing concerns about obesity, fitness instructors help their clients slim down and shape up by instructing them on physical activities and exercise like yoga, aerobics and weightlifting.

What you need: There are no specific educational requirements, but most jobs require certification including CPR and first aid training.

What it pays: Median hourly earnings were $11.51 in 2002.

Physical Therapist Assistants
What they do: Help provide treatment including exercises and ultrasounds, record the patient's responses to treatment and report the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist.

What you need: Usually an associate's degree and on-the-job training, and some states require a license.

What it pays: Median annual pay was $36,080 in 2002.

Laura Morsch is a writer for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 04/03/2008 - 1:31 PM

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