The fastest growing jobs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
Unemployment in Rowan County hovers slighty above 11 percent. That figure is 9.7 percent statewide and 8.6 percent across the nation.
As high school graduates prepare for the future and jobless adults wonder what’s next, many are looking for predictions to determine which fields are viable.
Local dental hygienist Neplus Hall put it best.
“No one wants to spend money on an education and then graduate and not be able to find a job,” she said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has taken some of the guesswork out with its employment projections.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics began making employment projections to help World War II veterans re-enter the work force.
The future size and composition of the labor force, aggregate economic growth and detailed estimates of industry production are used to compile the data.
The employment outlook is released on a two-year cycle, with the next updated data to be available at the start of 2012.
The latest data estimates what the fastest growing occupations will be through 2018.
The number of job openings for biomedical engineers is expected to increase by 72 percent during that time period.
Data communication analysts, dental hygienists and physical therapist assistants also top the list.
But officials with the department warn those figures are national and they might not reflect job availability in each state.
That’s the case for dental hygienists.
Hall said with 13 community colleges across North Carolina now offering dental hygiene training, many are jumping at the opportunity to secure a steady salary with a two-year degree. But that means the market is flooded with hygienists who can’t find jobs.
A Post reporter interviewed six local people who are currently employed in the hot jobs of the future to gain some insight into each field.
Biomedical engineer
CHARLOTTE — Dr. Charles’ Bridges’ background in biomedical engineering helps make him a better heart surgeon.
“In my opinion, to really understand how the heart works you need to think about it the way a mechanical engineer thinks about how a pump works,” he said.
Bridges, who chairs Carolina Medical Center’s department of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, said he can apply engineering principals to understand things like how blood clots form, how the heart starts to fail and why pressures are elevated.
After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in engineering and applied physics, Bridges went on to receive a doctorate degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Bridges said his focus on biomedical engineering is a good way to combine his love of medicine and science.
“Of all the medical fields, cardiovascular is one where having that kind of engineering background is really helpful,” he said.
Biomedical engineering is considered the fastest growing occupation in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s expected to grow by 73 percent by 2018.
Bridges said biomedical engineers are attractive to employers because of their training and background.
“I think companies like biomedical engineers because they have a broad science and engineering education,” he said. “Some engineering fields are very narrow, but bioengineers can morph into almost any direction you need to go.”
Bridges said as the health and biotechnology fields continue to grow, so does bioengineering.
“That creates a lot of different opportunities,” he said.
Those opportunities include working in health care, consulting, research and pharmaceuticals.
“Drug developers like biomedical engineers because they understand the technology as well as the biology,” Bridges said.
What it’s like
Bridges has spent the past 12 years applying his biomedical engineering background to research.
He’s looking for ways to regenerate the function in failing hearts through DNA therapy.
“One day this may be an alternative to heart transplantation or the use of mechanical devices,” Bridges said.
Bridges said those interested in entering biomedical engineering have a plethora of options, including working to build artificial organs, developing blood tests to diagnose diseases, constructing smarter prosthetic devices that connect with the brains for movement and developing time-release medications.
Bridges said those considering a career in the field should have a strong aptitude for science and math.
“You have to have a sort of confidence in your ability to do both,” he said.
And it’s great for people who aren’t really sure what they want to do.
“It’s a field that allows you to go in multiple directions,” he said. “If you major in mechanical engineering you kind of have to do something mechanical.”
Network systems/ data communication analyst
SALISBURY — Every day is different for Merenda Overcash.
It’s been that way for 33 years, since the first day she began her career as a computer systems analyst for the city of Salisbury.
“One thing about technology is that it’s always changing, so you never get bored because you’re always learning,” she said.
That’s one of the reasons, she said, the field is thriving. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates it will expand by 53 percent by 2018.
“Technology is constantly growing,” Overcash said. “There is hardly any job that does not require some type of computer equipment, so there is a need for people who can work on computers.”
Overcash was working as a records clerk for the Salisbury Police Department when she first got interested in technology.
“They got their first computer, and I started messing with it and I thought it was something I’d like to learn more about,” she said.
So, she went back to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to earn her degree and switched jobs within the city.
“When I started, a two-year degree was sufficient,” she said. “But now a lot of places will not even consider you if you don’t have a four-year degree in computers.”
But Overcash said people with two-year degrees can still find jobs. They just need to be sure to get some experience while they are in school.
What it’s like
Overcash starts her day by checking for service orders.
“Anybody in the city that has a problem with their phone or computer, they enter it into our system,” she said.
If it’s an easy fix, Overcash typically has it done before employees start arriving. She can fix about 95 percent of issues remotely from her office at the Customer Service Center.
“If it’s a hardware issue, I usually have to go out and get the computer so I can run some diagnostics,” she said.
But Overcash doesn’t mind.
“I like the challenge that goes along with this job,” she said. “And I like being able to meet new people.”
Overcash said being a people person is an important part of her job.
“You have to be able to listen to the user and really understand what they are telling you,” she said.
But being a technology guru isn’t a 9-5 job, Overcash said. She responds to requests from police officers and firefighters who work around the clock using mobile units. That means she’s on call at night and on weekends.
“I get called maybe once a week after hours,” she said. “But I enjoy fixing things, so it’s no trouble.”
Although Overcash spends a large chunk of her time making sure the computer systems within the city run smoothly, she also has to think about the future.
“This year, we ordered new computers, so I researched what we needed and got price quotes.”
As new technology comes out, Overcash receives additional training to ensure she’s up to speed.
“This is a learning process,” she said. “Even if I had a four-year degree, I would still have to keep up with the latest and greatest.”
Athletic trainer
Growing up, Bob Casmus’ mother wanted him to be a doctor. But he wasn’t interested in spending most of his 20s in school.
He wanted to do something related to sports, but knew he wouldn’t play beyond high school.
That’s how he ended up being an athletic trainer.
“It’s a good way to combine sports and medicine,” he said.
As the head athletic trainer for Catawba College, Casmus has spent the past 21 years providing athletes with treatment, rehabilitation and preventative care.
In the past, Casmus said, athletic trainers were mainly found in collegiate and professional sports, but now they are being sought out to work in places like public high schools, rodeos, race car driving, law enforcement and the military.
“The idea is that whether an athlete or a soldier rolls his ankle, the injury is still the same,” he said.
That’s why Casmus believes it is on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ listing of the fastest-growing occupations. The field is expected to swell by 37 percent by 2018.
Casmus said there is also a growing need for trainers because athletes now compete in longer seasons.
Dr. James Hand, director of athletic training education at Catawba, said he’s seen an uptick in the number of students interested in pursuing a career in athletic training.
“It’s one of the most popular majors on campus,” he said.
Hand said litigation regarding the care of student athletes is also spurring the growth of the profession.
“A lot of litigation is insisting that athletic trainers be put in high schools to protect students from permanent injuries,” he said.
Hand said other industries are also learning about the versatility of athletic trainers.
“We do everything from rehabilitation to working with total wellness and prevention,” he said.
What it’s like
Casmus said athletic training isn’t quite the “glamorous” job some people imagine it to be.
“When Cam Newton gets hurt during a game and the athletic trainer is out on the field, that looks very glamourous, but people need to be prepared for the not-so-glamourous side,” he said. “Filling the whirlpool up and cleaning it is not glamorous, but it’s got to be done.”
Neither is preparing an ice pack or wrapping a sprained ankle, but it’s all part of an athletic trainer’s duties, which aren’t always performed during regular business hours.
“During football season I sometimes work seven days a week,” Casmus said. “I’ve worked practice on Thanksgiving. Athletics is 24/7.”
Not that he’s complaining.
“When you see an athlete come back from a serious injury it makes it all worth it,” Casmus said. “You feel like you are a contributing part of that team and their success.”
Although most athletic trainers are only required to earn a four-year degree, Casmus said about 70 percent have a master’s degree, which puts them in a better pay bracket and allows more flexibility.

Fastest growing occupations
with a bachelor’s degree
1. Biomedical engineer
In a nutshell: Develop devices and procedures that solve medical and health-related problems by combining their knowledge of biology and medicine with engineering principles and practices
Median pay: $81,540
Projected increase by 2018: 72 percent
Why it’s growing: A growing focus on health issues will drive demand for better medical devices and equipment designed by biomedical engineers
Where they work: Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing, scientific research and development, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, colleges,  general medical and surgical hospitals
Where to study: Duke University, North Carolina State University
2. Network systems and data communication analyst
In a nutshell: Install and maintain network hardware and software, analyze problems and monitor networks to ensure their availability to users; troubleshoot problems reported by users
Median pay: $66,310
Projected increase by 2018: 53 percent
Why it’s growing: Growing reliance on technology
Where they work: Government agencies, schools systems, telecommunications companies, financial firms, insurance providers and business management organizations
Where to study: Various colleges and universities throughout the state
3. Financial examiner
In a nutshell: Enforce or ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing financial and securities institutions and financial and real estate transactions
Median pay: $53,060
 Projected increase by 2018: 41 percent
Why it’s growing: More laws and regulations taking effect
Where they work: Federal Executive Branch, state government, securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage
Where to study: Livingstone College, Pfeiffer University
4. Athletic trainer
In a nutshell:  Help prevent and treat injuries for people of all ages. Specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.
Median pay: $39,640
Projected increase by 2018: 37 percent
Why it’s growing: Third-party reimbursement is expected to continue to grow for athletic training services because of the demand for preventive care
Where they work:  Public and private educational services, primarily in colleges, universities and high schools hospitals, doctor’s offices, fitness and recreational sports centers; spectator sports.
Where to study: Catawba College, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
5. Computer software engineers, applications
In a nutshell: Develop, create, and modify general computer applications software or specialized utility programs. Analyze user needs and develop software solutions.
Median pay: $87,480
Projected increase by 2018: 34 percent
Why it’s growing: Growing reliance on technology
Where they work: Computer systems design firms, Software publishers, management of companies and enterprises, insurance carriers, architecture, engineering, computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing
Where to study: Various colleges and universities throughout the state

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics