By Tony Moton
In a competitive job market, maximizing the potential of your education could hinge on a question of numbers: How many workers might be hired in a given field?
Since crystal balls aren't exactly what one might call reliable, the U.S. Department of Labor has done some projecting of its own when it comes to employment outlook.
Here's a closer look at six of the fastest growing occupations, in terms of numbers hired, through 2016.
1. Network systems and data communications analysts perform a number of tasks in relation to data communications systems, like the Internet, including designing, analyzing, testing, and assessing systems and their performance. Analysts might also supervise computer programmers and work as specialists who handle the interfacing of computers and communications equipment.
How Fast Is It Growing? This is considered the leading occupation in terms of the percentage of growth in jobs. In large part, this is due to the increasing use of computers and information technology. The rise from 262,000 employees in 2006 to 402,000 in 2016 represents a 53.4 percent increase over that span - that's 140,000 new jobs.
Salary: $73,800 a year
2. Dental hygienists are responsible for examining patients' teeth and gums, removing deposits from teeth, and providing other types of preventive dental care, like showing patients how to care for their teeth. They also record the presence of diseases or abnormalities.
How Fast Is It Growing? A total of 217,000 dental hygienists will be employed in 2016, up 30.1 percent from 2006. Population growth, tendency of older people retaining teeth, and an increased focus on preventive dental care has contributed to a demand for these workers. Dental hygienists are also increasingly taking on duties previously completed by dentists.
How Do I Get Started? An associate's degree or certificate in dental hygiene is typically necessary for practice in a private dental office.
Salary: $66,950 a year
3. Computer software engineers rely on their knowledge of computer science and mathematical analysis to develop, design, test, and evaluate the software and systems that operate our computers. Their tasks are evolving quickly and reflect the ever-changing landscape of computer technology. Computer games, word processing, and operating systems are among their areas of expertise.
How Fast Is It Growing? A 44.6 percent increase in jobs from 2006-2016 puts computer software engineers near the top of the growth scale. This growth will be the result of businesses and other organizations embracing and integrating new technologies and seeking to maximize the efficiency of their computer systems.
How Do I Get Started? The prospects are very good for job applicants with at least a bachelor's degree in software engineering or computer science and with some work experience.
Salary: $87,900 a year
4. Physical therapist assistants help physic al therapists treat victims of accidents or people with disabling conditions. The job involves working to improve patient mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or alleviate physical disabilities. A physical therapist might prepare physical therapy equipment, assist with exercises, or apply hot and cold packs while recording and reporting patients' responses to treatment.
How Fast Is It Growing? Consumer demand for physical therapy services is on the rise, helping employment for physical therapy aides to grow much faster than average for all occupations. The main reasons: an increasing elderly population, a baby-boom generation entering the prime age for illness, and an improved survival rate for trauma patients. There were 60,000 employed in 2006, and that number is expected to rise to 80,000 in 2016.
How do I Get Started? Most physical therapists earn an associate's degree from an accredited physical therapist assistants program.
Salary: $46,300 a year
5. Financial analysts and personal financial advisors share their expertise on investment strategies with businesses and individuals. Financial analysts generally focus on a specific industry, region, or type of product. Personal financial advisors assess and individual clients' assets, liabilities, cash flow, insurance coverage, tax status, and financial objectives to develop sound money strategies.
How Fast Is It Growing? Financial analysts and personal financial advisors held 397,000 jobs in 2006. This number will grow to 543,000 in 2016, an increase of 38.8 percent for both. The peak years of retirement savings and personal investments of a large baby-boom generation are creating a need for more people to seek help from experts.
How Do I Get Started? A bachelor's degree in finance, business administration, or accounting is considered highly desirable for financial analysts. Coursework in statistics, economics, and business is required. Knowledge of accounting policies and procedures, corporate budgeting, and financial analysis methods also is recommended. An advanced business degree such as an MBA can be an asset in this competitive field.
Salary: $66,590 a year
6. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors offers counseling and advice to people dealing with problems such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, and eating disorders. Some counselors work at therapeutic communities where people with addictions live while being treated.
How Fast Is It Growing? he number of counselors will rise from 83,000 to 112,000 by 2016, a 34.3 percent increase over the 10-year period. The rising number of people suffering from depression and other serious mood disorders has helped create a demand for counselors, according to a recent study by jobfox.com. That growth, coupled with the need to replace people leaving the field, make this a solid choice for those who seek a stable, rewarding career.
Salary: $39,670 a year