The Next Hot Jobs

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Looking to make a career switch? You'll want to land in a profession that will be in high demand for years to come. Here are 10 to choose from.

SOME THINGS never change: death, taxes, Dick Clark's hairline. But one that certainly does: the hot profession of the moment. About the time you jump on the bandwagon and switch fields, things have cooled off in that industry. (You don't see many DeLorean salesmen these days, do you?)

The trick, then, is to stay ahead of the curve, to spot the next big profession before it really takes off. That's where we come in. This being our 10th anniversary year, we thought it was a good time to look ahead to the next decade and figure out which fields are destined for growth. Maybe you're a recent grad — or have a kid who is. Or maybe you've been laid off or are simply sick of your current field. Here are the jobs that could save your bacon for years to come.

Though our list gives you a glimpse of the future, it is grounded in the real. We'll show you why these jobs will be in demand, how much you can expect to make and, most important, what steps you need to take to break in. You can thank us later.

The fusion of biology and computer science is the hottest of the hot in science right now, and it's going to heat up even more. Bioinformaticians, also known as computational bi- ologists, use computer modeling to predict which drugs will work on which illnesses, shaving the time and cost of getting new products to market. No wonder drugmakers are salivating over these professionals, especially in the wake of human-genome mapping. Chris Smith, who works as a bioinformatician at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, predicts that "there will be a 100 percent increase per year in the field for the next five years at least." Even now a bioinformatician with three to five years of experience can command $120,000.

How to become one: You'll need graduate training in a biological science such as chemistry, biochemistry or molecular biology, and familiarity with computer technologies. Even better: a bioinformatics degree from one of the dozen universities now offering it.

Wireless Engineer
Palms, Pocket PCs, pagers, cell phones, BlackBerries-the wireless revolution shows no sign of slowing up. In fact, the market for wireless data is expected to nearly triple in the next three years alone. And as companies set up customized networks and the government beefs up its wireless snooping post-Sept. 11, engineers who can set up such systems will be the most popular kids on the block. Already those with five-plus years of experience are demanding salaries of $80,000 and up.

How to become one: As a general rule, you'll need at least a master's in electrical engineering. Computer science classes and experience in Java and C++ programming are a plus.

Forensic Accountant
While traditional number-crunchers-or at least those at Arthur Andersen-may be feeling sheepish these days, forensic accountants are almost too cool for school. They're the ones who ferret out fraud and shady practices at corporations. And with SEC investigations and shareholder lawsuits spreading like a bad rash, any court cases will involve reams of these guys poring over the numbers. Experienced forensic accountants can easily earn more than $100,000 a year, says Journal of Forensic Accounting editor Larry Crumbley.

How to become one: In addition to getting a degree in accounting and CPA creds, you'll need experience in auditing and risk assessment.

Speech Pathologist
In the old days, kids with speech or language problems were just considered slow. But as understanding of disorders such as stuttering, autism and language delays grows, so does the need for people who can treat them. At last count, 14 million Americans were afflicted with such disorders-nearly 6 million of them under 18. Back in 2000 the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 39 percent growth for the profession through 2010. Though the starting pay isn't great-$38,000 median-that can double once you rise to the administrative ranks.

How to become one: Get a two-year master's in speech-language pathology, then a nine-month clinical fellowship.

Data Miner
You've no doubt heard by now that your personal info is just sitting out on the Web, waiting for marketers to capitalize on it. But how exactly do they sift through the info glut? Enter the data miner, who uses software to comb through huge databases, crunch numbers and identify trends. For years to come, data miners will be needed not only for market research but for everything from spotting bioterrorism threats and money-laundering rings to helping astronomers find new stars. Industry analyst IDC projects that the market will grow by nearly 30 percent a year. Salaries start at $60,000 to $70,000, but managers can make $120,000 or more.

How to become one: Most data miners have a master's in computer science, statistics or physics.

Home-Care Nurse
Demographics are on this field's side. Of all the people ever to reach 80, half are alive right now. Throw in boomers nearing retirement, technologies that allow for more care at home, a shortage of nurses, and you see why there'll be a huge need for home-care pros. "Those with special skills-cardiac care, diabetes, oncology and working with the terminally ill-will be in especially high demand," says Marcie Barnette, education director at the National Association for Homecare. The median income for home-care nurses in 2000 was just $43,600, but that should rise. And those with specializations can demand a 15 percent premium or more. With fewer patients and better shifts, it's also a nice alternative to hospital work.

How to become one: It takes an associate or a bachelor's degree to become a nurse, and certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center or a master's will boost your resume for working as a specialist.

A.I. Programmer
Artificial intelligence used to be the stuff of sci-fi novels. Now it has spread from androids into all sorts of everyday fields, each of which is booming. Smart homes. Airport surveillance. Voice-recognition software. ATMs. Joanna Alexander, co-CEO of Seattle videogame producer Zombie, says demand for more A.I. programmers in her industry alone will be boundless. "You have to build in a personality, responses and realistic behavior for any characters you encounter," she says. "And games are only going to become more complex and more realistic." Salaries start at $50,000 and climb to $70,000 to $80,000 after a few years.

How to become one: You'll need a four-year degree in either computer science with an A.I. specialty or in mechanical or electrical engineering with a focus on robotics.

Adventure Travel Guide
Who spends the most on adventure travel? People with discretionary income who have time on their hands. Can you say, boomers nearing retirement age? "Adventure travel is going to see a huge bump," says trendspotter Joyce Gioia. Guides set up and lead trips to exotic locales, arranging all the sticky details including visas and hotel stays. And as developing nations realize the importance of tourism, they'll need more of these folks. Ask tour operator Jerry Mallett, who has consulted in Azerbaijan and Armenia. "It has phenomenal potential," he says. "Every country is trying to get in on it." While a staff guide might be lucky to make $40,000, those who run their own operation can make much more.

How to become one: There's no blanket certification required, but guiding certain activities (river rafting or rock climbing, for instance) often demands local accreditation.

Fuel-Cell Engineer
They may not be as jazzy as the hovercrafts on The Jetsons, but fuel-cell-powered cars are the wave of the future. No surprise why: They produce one-tenth the emissions of gas engines. Most automakers will be rolling out fuel-cell vehicles and more hybrids (which use a combination of electricity and gas) in coming years, and even the oil-friendly Bush administration is on board, helping fund their research. All this means that the engineers who design these vehicles can write their own paychecks. Senior specialists are already demanding $100,000 to $120,000. Uses aren't limited to cars; fuel cells may one day be used in PDAs, cell phones and laptops.

How to become one: All types of engineering are involved in the design and production process, so a variety of degrees are welcome-chemical, mechanical, electrical. A computer science background is a bonus.

Intellectual-Property Attorney
America has been called the most litigious society in history, so there's no doubting the need for lawyers. But intellectual-property attorneys-specifically, patent lawyers-have the sunniest prospects of all. Every burgeoning biotech firm has to patent its research, weave through regulations and fend off competitors trying to steal its work. Intellectual-property-related squabbling is rising in the software and engineering worlds, too. "Legal recruiters are saying demand is going to remain high in the future," says William Seaton, founder of legal careers site Starting pay for business lawyers ranges from $60,000 to $86,000. Intellectual-property attorneys, says Seaton, can make 20 percent more.

How to become one: In addition to your JD, it's good to have a technical bachelor's, such as chemical engineering. And for patent work, you must pass a special federal bar exam.