Doctor. Lawyer. Business executive. Most people planning a career aim for professions they know the most about. But those aren't always the best jobs. In its Best Careers 2007 guide, U.S. News has sifted through trends in the economy and the workplace and has identified 25 professions that will be in growing demand as baby boomers age, the Internet becomes ubiquitous, and Americans seek richer, simpler lives. All of the jobs offer a great mix of pay, status, and quality of life. Many are not surprising, such as engineer, pharmacist, and dentist.
But many others might be. Even though anybody can do a Google search, for instance, librarians will be needed more and more to help us navigate all that digital information. Audiologists will find plenty of work helping aging boomers retain their hearing. And did you ever consider how satisfying life as a politician might be? Making a difference for constituents "has been the greatest joy of my life," says California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Not surprisingly, nine of the 25 careers in the U.S. News list are in healthcare. Physician is one, although the lengthy training and thicket of regulations governing medicine are dimming the allure. Other healthcare jobs require far less training, have better hours, and offer the same satisfaction that comes from caregiving. Optometrists, for instance, typically work predictable hours, and they regularly watch patients walk out the door in better shape than when they came in. Physician assistants are rapidly replacing doctors as primary-care providers, and they earn healthy salaries with far less schooling. Science-minded high achievers might consider becoming a medical scientist instead of a doctor, since advances in genetics and other disciplines are leading to a revolution in preventing and curing disease.
U.S. News also identified a number of desirable careers in the nonprofit and government sectors, where job security is usually strong. School psychologists work hands-on with kids, from disabled to gifted. Urban planners help design communities wisely. Higher-education administrators and professors work in highly stimulating job environments–college campuses–and get to keep learning themselves. Many such careers appeal to people who want to make a difference.
The list also takes into account the trend among employers to outsource jobs that can be done more cheaply in low-cost countries like India and China. That's one reason a lot of popular computer-related jobs no longer make the cut. Not long ago, it seemed like a smart move to become a website developer or software engineer. But the market for those jobs is softening, as American firms send much of the work to India and China, where armies of programmers and software engineers crank out code for far less than their American counterparts. Other jobs, however, can't really be done by somebody overseas. Occupational therapists, clergy, and management consultants, for example, work directly with clients, which requires personal presence and a human touch. Those careers are very resistant to being moved offshore.
Other events could shake up the outlook for certain jobs in 2007. Such as:
Terrorism. Many experts predict further terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. If that should happen, watch for a hiring boom in the areas affected. A cyberterrorist attack, for instance, would produce lots of jobs for computer-security experts. If the water supply gets poisoned, toxicologists will suddenly be in high demand.
Healthcare reform. New national measures could be years away, but lots of states are passing their own reforms. One result could be plummeting pay for physicians, [insert link] on top of even more onerous paperwork requirements.
Immigration. The growth in America's Hispanic population seems likely to skyrocket, creating a virtually unlimited demand for translators, English-as-a-second-language teachers, and bilingual workers in healthcare and the legal system.
Still determined to become an attorney or chiropractor or small-business owner? Think twice. They rank among America's most overrated careers. But there are alternatives that have similar appeal, without the hassle, costly training, or killer hours. Instead of joining a law firm, for instance, consider work as a mediator–and help resolve disputes before they get to court. It might be your dream to start your own business, but you might still get an entrepreneurial thrill–with far fewer headaches–if you can settle for being No. 2 in somebody else's venture. Being the boss might boost your ego. But a great career needs to enhance your life, too.