Where the Jobs Are

In this recession, it may seem that the job market is going only one way—down. At Retirementjobs.com, a job-hunting website for people over 50, the number of help-wanted postings has plunged from 55,000 a year ago to fewer than 40,000. But as Bob Skladany, the site's chief career counselor, points out, that suggests "there are still hundreds of thousands of jobs open across the U.S." Finding one for you, Skladany and other experts say, means looking at the industries that are hiring—and being flexible. "You'll need to be creative in marketing yourself and willing to move around," advises Bert Sperling, who publishes "Sperling's BestPlaces" to live, retire, and work at bestplaces.net.

The most promising industries might surprise you. They include:

Finance. Sure, banks are merging and brokerages are throwing staff out on the street, but someone has to clean up the mess from Wall Street's meltdown. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its 2008–2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook, expects a hiring surge for positions such as accountants, auditors, personal financial advisors, financial analysts, and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks. At Retirementjobs, finance is one of the top four categories for postings (health care, education, and the federal government are the other biggies). Financial jobs include customer service reps, bank tellers, and even lending officers, as borrowers scramble to refinance. Mutual fund houses like Vanguard Group are coming to job-hunting websites for customer reps because "these companies, whose customers are principally older, have found that it can be very helpful to have customer contact people who are the same cohort," says Skladany, whose regular column on finding work can be found on AARP.org.

Check out AARP Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love by Samuel Greengard (AARP Books/Sterling, 2008).

Office help. How can there be vacancies for positions like administrative assistant and clerk when so many companies are suffering in the downturn? "It's a fairly large category to start with, so there are a lot of jobs," says June Shelp, a vice president at The Conference Board who sees those postings when she analyzes 1,200 Internet job boards every month. And nearly 14 percent of the 3,200 hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder.com in November said they would be filling administrative and clerical slots. Another plus: most of these jobs don't require advanced skills.

Health care. "This has been a continuously growing area within the U.S. economy for some time," Shelp points out, and even a deep recession won't change the two main reasons for that: the aging of Baby Boomers and the constant creation of new drugs and medical devices. Nor do job hunters always need a specialized degree. The potential work runs the gamut, from home health aides and pharmacy technicians—positions that usually require only on-the-job training—to physician's assistants, nurses, dental hygienists, pharmacists, veterinarians, and M.D.s.

Social work. Times of intense financial stress unfortunately may lead to more drinking, gambling, drug use, and violence in the home. For instance, the National Domestic Violence Hotline in Austin, Texas, reported a steady rise in call volume in 2008, up as much as 15 percent in some months. Accordingly, five of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the BLS outlook are these: substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, social and human services assistants, gaming surveillance officers and gaming investigators, mental health counselors, and mental health and substance abuse social workers. The assistants and gaming-control jobs have the lowest educational requirements.

Education. Sperling notes that people who can't get a job often return to school for further training in hopes of boosting their employability. That can create demand from schools for everything from professors to janitors. Postsecondary teaching is one of the growth areas career consultant Laurence Shatkin cites in 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs (Jist Publishing, 2008), and there is a steady supply of online postings for food service, clerical, administrative, and cleaning staff at colleges.

Government. Washington, D.C, is seeing a flurry of hiring as the Obama Administration and new members of Congress staff up, but outside the nation's capital and apart from politics there's also a longer-term job trend operating: nearly half of current federal employees are eligible for retirement. "We have three major government agencies leading the postings," says Skladany. "The Department of Veterans Affairs, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service."

Information technology. IT is a category that seems to bloom in any economic weather, with opportunities for people of varying skill levels. Retailers, banks, utilities, schools, hospitals—any enterprise with records to keep—need computing power. As U.S. News & World Report points out, "Equipment technicians install, train, calibrate, and maintain a cadre of fast-evolving medical equipment … and you can be an everyday hospital hero after only a two-year associate's degree." Computer systems analysts, network systems and data communications analysts, and network and computer systems administrators are the top three occupations in Shatkin's 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs.

To uncover opportunities, experts recommend Web sites such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, and Manpower.com—and, for people over 50, RetirementJobs.com, Workforce50.com, RetiredBrains.com, Seniors4Hire.org, and RetireeWorkforce.com. Even better, "seek out job boards that are meant specifically for your industry," says Manpower's Melanie Holmes. Among these are JobsintheMoney.com and eFinancialCareers.com for financial positions; Net-Temps.com and EmploymentGuide.com for office work; and BioSpace.com, MedReps.com, and HealthcareJobs.org for health-related fields.

For job-hunters over age 50, Skladany finds signs that age discrimination is disappearing. "A significant number of major companies have now started treating age as a diversity issue," just like race and gender, he says. Within the past year, he's noticed companies saying, "We've got to start targeting older, mature, experienced workers for recruitment, retention, and promotion." However, Sperling warns that this advantage comes at a price: because older workers have some savings and no kids to support, he says, "managers think they can accept lower pay."

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