En español | The prolonged housing market meltdown pushed Ann Jacobi Brown, a real estate broker of 11 years, to switch careers at midlife.
At age 52, she is months away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“The cyclical nature of the real estate business is something you learn to live with but it was getting so much more difficult,” Brown says. “I knew it wasn’t going to take me into retirement.”
Brown decided to pursue nursing two years ago because rapid growth is predicted for the occupation through the next decade.
“Going back to school at this point in time was a big challenge for me — financially and intellectually,” says Brown, whose husband works as a landscaper. But she says her new occupation is already giving her peace of mind.
“I can go anywhere and work as a nurse. I’ll never have to worry about being unemployed,” she says. “With real estate, you’re always at the mercy of the economy.
All over the country, people younger and older are moving toward occupations that promise big growth, like registered nursing. Some of the growth occupations require specific degrees, some don't. Some pay well, some are near minimum wage. But all offer the prize of potential job security.
Here are nine jobs and their expected growth from 2010 to 2020, as forecasted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The new hires include many people age 50-plus, though precise numbers are not known.
Registered nurses hold most of the jobs of health care. Of the 2.6 million RN positions, about 60 percent are in hospitals. The typical educational paths to this career are a bachelor's degree, an associate degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program.
RNs' responsibilities include recording patients' medical histories and symptoms, helping perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operating medical equipment, administering treatment and medications, and assisting with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.
Expected growth rate: 26 percent.
Many sales clerks work evenings and weekends, particularly during peak retail periods. Good communication skills are coveted, along with a courteous demeanor and neat appearance.
No high school diploma or degree is required.
Expected growth rate: 17 percent.
Home health aides, personal and home care aides
Aides help people who are physically challenged, chronically ill or cognitively impaired. They work with older adults who need help to remain at home rather than move to assisted living or other facilities.
A personal care aide may help with daily living tasks like bathing and dressing, for example, while a home health aide may provide basic health-related services, such as checking a patient's pulse rate and temperature, or helping with simple prescribed exercises and medications.
These job categories are growing particularly fast as the U.S. population ages. Training requirements for these jobs vary from state to state.
Expected growth rate: 70 percent.
These administrative support positions usually require a high school diploma, and job prospects are best for people who have basic computer skills and operate office equipment, such as photocopiers and faxes.
Duties vary from office to office. Some clerks spend their days filing or entering data at computers. Others prepare mailings, proofread documents and answer telephones.
Expected growth rate: 17 percent.
Food preparation workers and servers
This category includes cooks, waiters, waitresses, hosts, bartenders, concession-stand workers and fast-food workers who take orders at the counter or prepare food. About 2 out of 5 of these workers are employed part time.
High school diplomas are not typically required but short-term on-the-job training is common.
Expected growth rate: 10 percent.
Customer service representatives
Customer service representatives hold more than 2 million jobs, ranking among the largest occupations. Most companies require a high school diploma and will provide job training.
These workers are responsible for responding to customer inquiries and resolving problems, among other duties. Most customer service representatives work by telephone in call centers and often use computers in their work.
Bilingual job seekers are expected to have an advantage.
Expected growth rate: 16 percent.
Drivers of heavy trucks and tractor-trailer rigs
Truck driving employs more than 3 million people, making it one of the largest occupations. A commercial driver's license is the most important qualification for most of these jobs. Most prospective truck drivers take driver-training courses at a technical or vocational school to prepare for commercial driver's license tests.
Drivers are typically responsible for picking up and delivering freight and handle loading and unloading too. They must follow driving laws, keep logs of their activities and make sure their equipment is in good condition. Heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers are mostly long-haul drivers, delivering goods over routes that may span several states.
Expected growth rate: 21 percent.
Laborers and movers of freight, stock and material
Material-moving workers generally fall into two categories (1) Operators who use machinery to move construction and other heavy materials, usually over short distances — around construction sites, factories or warehouses. (2) Laborers who move freight, stock or other materials by hand. They may also clean vehicles, machinery and other equipment, and package products and materials.
Some states and cities require crane and derrick operators to be licensed.
Expected job growth: 15 percent.
College and university faculty members make up the majority of postsecondary teachers. Others instruct students in other academic settings, such as vocational or technical schools. Most postsecondary teachers, particularly those at four-year colleges and universities, also conduct research in the subjects they teach.
Most postsecondary teachers use computer technology extensively, including the Internet, email, and software programs. They may use computers in the classroom as teaching aids and may post course content, class notes, class schedules, and other information online. Some instructors use the Internet to teach courses to students at remote sites.
Education requirements vary though most jobs require an advanced degree. People with doctoral degrees typically have the best prospects.
Expected job growth: 17 percent.