Cutting-edge careers are often exciting, and they offer a strong job market. Alas, the cutting edge too often turns out to be the bleeding edge, so here are some careers that, while relatively new, are already viable and promise further growth. They emerge from six megatrends:
Growing healthcare demand. The already overtaxed U.S. healthcare system will be forced to take on more patients because of the many aging baby boomers, the influx of immigrants, and the millions of now uninsured Americans who would be covered under a national healthcare plan likely to be enacted in the next president's administration. Jobs should become more available in nearly all specialties, from nursing to coding, imaging to hospice. These healthcare careers are likely to be particularly rewarding. Health informatics specialists will, for example, develop expert systems to help doctors and nurses make evidence-based diagnoses and treatments. Hospitals, insurers, and patient families will hire patient advocates to navigate the labyrinthine and ever more parsimonious healthcare system. On the preventive side, people will move beyond personal trainers to wellness coaches, realizing that doing another 100 pushups won't help if they're smoking, boozing, and enduring more stress than a rat in an experiment.
The increasingly digitized world. Americans are doing more of their shopping on the Net. We obtain more of our entertainment digitally: Computer games are no longer just for teenage boys; billions are spent by people of all ages and both sexes. Increasingly, we get our information from online publications (just look where you're reading this), increasingly viewed on iPhones and BlackBerrys. An under-the-radar career that is core to the digital enterprise is data miner. Online customers provide enterprises with high-quality data on what to sell and for individualized marketing. Another star of the digitized world is simulation developer. The growing ubiquity of broadband connectivity is helping entertainment, education, and training to incorporate simulations of exciting, often dangerous experiences. For example, virtual patients allow medical students to diagnose and treat without risking a real patient's life. A new computer game, Spore, allows you to simulate creating a new planet, starting with the first microorganism.
Globalization, especially Asia's ascendancy. This should create great demand for business development specialists, helping U.S. companies create joint ventures with Chinese firms. Once those deals are made, offshoring managers are needed to oversee those collaborations as well as the growing number of offshored jobs. Quietly, companies are offshoring even work previously deemed too dependent on American culture to send elsewhere: innovation and market research, for example. Conversely, large numbers of people from impoverished countries are immigrating to the United States. So, immigration specialists of all types, from marketing to education to criminal justice, will be needed to attempt to accommodate the unprecedented in-migration.
The dawn of clinical genomics. Decades of basic research are finally starting to yield clinical implications. Just months ago, it cost $1 million to fully decode a person's genome. Now it's $300,000 and just $1,000 for a partial decoding, which, in itself, indicates whether a person is at increased risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and 15 other conditions. Within a decade, we will probably understand which genes predispose humans to everything from depression to violence, early death to centenarian longevity, retardation to genius. Such discoveries will most likely give rise to ways to prevent or cure our dreaded predispositions and encourage those in which we'd delight. That, in turn, will bring about the reinvention of psychology, education, and, of course, medicine. In the meantime, the unsung heroes who will bring this true revolution to pass will include computational biologists and behavioral geneticists.
Environmentalism. Growing alarm about global warming is making environmentalism this generation's dominant initiative. The most influential panel on the topic, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the most visible advocate of curbing carbon emissions, former Vice President Al Gore, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for insisting that vigorous action is needed. The environmental wave is creating jobs in everything from sales to accounting in companies making green products, regulatory positions in government, and grant writing, fundraising, and litigation work in nonprofits. Among the more interesting green careers, thousands of engineers are working on such projects as hydrogen-powered cars, more efficient solar cells, and coal pollution sequestration systems. But those jobs require very high-level training and skills and are at risk of being offshored. In contrast, so-called green-collar consulting is offshore resistant and often requires less demanding training (for example, learning how to do green-building audits). It is a worthy option for people who love novelty and don't want to be stuck in the same office every day, for years. Many environmental consultants are peripatetic, solving new and different problems at constantly changing worksites—often blending office work with time in the great outdoors.
Terrorism. The expert consensus is that the United States will again fall victim to a major terrorist attack. Jobs in the antiterrorism field have already mushroomed since 9/11, but if another attack were to occur, even more jobs would surely be generated. Demand should particularly grow in such areas as computer security and Islamic-country intelligence, but their required skill sets are difficult to acquire. More accessible yet also likely to be in demand is emergency planning.
For more career options, consult U.S. News profiles of 31 Best Careers.