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The hottest of the hot careers

Healthcare leads the way as economy looks to rebound

Nurses, pharmacists, accountants, and environmental engineers are enjoying some of the most robust hiring conditions in the workplace today. Jobs for computer programmers, technology support personnel, and hotel managers are also heating up as schools struggle to turn out enough specialized workers to fill demands of an improving job market.

Health care in particular is extremely strong right now. Baby boomers are approaching their senior years, aiming to live longer and be more active than previous generations. Research and technology are creating new medications and treatments to help them achieve that goal, generating unprecedented demand for health care and research professionals.

Medical facilities, universities, and research centers of Boston, Cambridge, and environs are at the epicenter of the healthcare explosion. Hot jobs range from dental hygienists and home health aides to respiratory therapists, nutritionists, and physicians .

Not only medical careers are benefiting. Hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices, and nursing homes also need receptionists, surgery schedulers, human resource personnel, accountants, cooks, and janitors. It's a giant enterprise, and it's helping keep New Englanders employed.

For the first quarter of 2006, the state Department of Workforce Development reported the state's average monthly health care and social assistance employment at 464,206, with total wages of more than $5 billion.

In August, employment in health care and education combined, the state's largest super sector, reached 600,000 for the first time. Nationally, the number of health care workers is projected to top 13.5 million by 2014, according to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The most acute shortages, according to Stephen Zoloth, dean of Northeastern University's Bouvé College of Health Sciences, are in nursing, including nurses, faculty, and nurse managers. Pharmacy and physical therapy are in need of workers, he said, with serious shortages plaguing respiratory therapy, X-ray technology, and medical laboratory science.

Ever since the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act mandated greater financial accountability from public companies, accounting has been one of the most in-demand careers. Accounting firms and departments within corporations are struggling to find competent, experienced professionals to help them meet increased government regulations and improve data systems security.

Certified public accountants are in greatest demand; other areas of financial services are also seeing increased need.

Engineering is a third field desperately seeking qualified workers. As boomer-age professionals retire, engineering industries are facing serious shortages, according to Abbie Goodman, executive director for The Engineering Center, which provides management services to professional engineering-related associations. Often taking a quieter back seat, engineering has moved front and center as one of the best careers, with dependable jobs and excellent pay.

``Firms are advertising for jobs and having trouble finding qualified candidates," Goodman said. ``We will need qualified professionals to do the work designing our water systems, school buildings, office buildings, and manufacturing facilities."

Among the most in demand are civil engineers, particularly those who have expertise in cleaning up manufacturing sites and repairing environmental damage.

Other hot fields in the region include information technology, enjoying a resurgence after its post-2000 crash; and hospitality, which is benefiting from a new convention center, new hotels downtown and on South Boston's waterfront, and general tourism interest in the Northeast.

With increased disposable income, people are traveling for business and pleasure and dining out more often.

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