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2017 Jobs/Employment Outlook

If you're looking for new work or planning a career change, 2017 may be your year. The economy is adding new jobs at a steady pace, and unemployment is on the decline. According to the January 2017 employment report from the Labor Department, the US added 227,000 jobs from December to January, and 230,000 in February. We are at what economists call full employment, which means that in theory, there is work for everyone who wants it.[1] Many of these are retail and food service positions and don't necessarily pay well, but construction, financial services, and health care contributed to a good percentage of the growth.[2]

As always, of course, prospects are not equal in all careers and all places. Experts expect experienced workers to command a premium, and the Atlanta Fed reports that the pay premium for switching workplaces is at an 8-year high.[3] If you are planning to change jobs or planning to use the leverage of a possible change to get a better package at your current workplace, this may be the time to make a move. Location also matters. Oregon, Hawaii, Florida, Iowa, California, and Oklahoma have the most positive outlooks, while Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia lag, dragged back by low prices for mining and energy products.[4]

President Donald Trump promised to create 25 million new jobs while in office.[5] Political promises are subject to change, but the emphasis on retaining and returning manufacturing employment and revitalizing the domestic energy industry is likely to drive a faster recovery in these sectors. Economists predict that the labor market will continue to climb under Trump and unemployment will continue to decline steadily.[6] One area that may be adversely affected is government employment, as a freeze on hiring in the federal government makes prospects there uncertain. That may be offset by increased demand for workers at the State and local government level as decentralization policies take effect, but it's too early to predict that trend reliably!

Hot Fields: Health
If you work in health care, your prospects are bright, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.[7] High employment in the sector comes from a confluence of an aging population and higher rates of insurance coverage. As the US population ages, demand for home healthcare and healthcare services will increase.[8] As more people gain access to health insurance, the need for these services increases as well, which also contributes to the clamor for more healthcare services.[9]

Health care includes more than just doctors and nurses, and many positions in high demand require a training program instead of a four-year degree. Many of these positions include workers that aid in patient care, tests, scans, assist with therapy, or keep medical records. These posts require a certificate, license, or registration that demonstrates some training and legal requirements, but some carry median salaries ranging from $59,000-$69,000 (Diagnostic Imaging) up to $80,000 (Radiation Therapists).[10] If you're considering going back to school to boost your employment prospects, these are great fields to pursue.

Diagnostic imaging workers operate equipment that assists in the medical process. MRI technologists run scans to help doctors in diagnosis. They typically begin as radiologic technicians (x-ray techs fit in this category) and with training, become MRI techs. Other imaging techs require an associate's degree, certificate training, or a license.

Occupational and physical therapist assistants and aides help patients under the care of an occupational therapist (OT) or a physical therapist (PT). They typically need an associate's degree and license.

Massage therapists can earn a license through non-degree programs that require at least 500 hours of study and practice.

Radiation therapists and respiratory therapists also do not require a four-year degree and are among the fastest growing careers due to the aging population and increase of cancers.

Other non-degree medical positions include paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), licensed practical nurses (LPN), nursing assistance, orderlies, dental hygienists, dental assistants, lab techs, phlebotomists, and pharmacy techs.

Home health aides help people in their homes with daily activities such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning. These positions may not need any education beyond on-the-job training and CPR, though some agencies may require other training. This market is expected to continue to grow as the Baby Boomer population (born in 1946-1964) enters their 60's and 70's. Patient care occupations are expected to add 945,600 places between 2014 and 2024, and healthcare occupations are projected to account for 1 in 4 of the new positions added to the economy from now until 2024.[11]

Hot Fields: Energy
Renewable energy is a booming occupation. Employment increased 6% in 2015, while opportunities in gas and oil extraction, punished by declining prices, decreased 18%. Solar Photovoltaics (PV) provided 194,200 positions, mainly in installation for the residential market. Employment in the wind energy field saw a 20% increase in 2015.[12]

Solar Photovoltaic Installers need a high school diploma and on-the-job training. There are training programs offered at technical and community colleges. Solar PV installers earn a median income of $37,830, or around $18/hour.[13] Demand is expected to remain high due to the extension of the Investment Tax Credit, which rewards homeowners 30% of the cost of installing solar energy into their homes, through 2021.[14]

The conventional energy efficiency sector is expected to add 200,000 positions in 2017. Many of those will be in the natural gas industry, where employers have had a hard time finding enough qualified workers, particularly in skilled construction trades, to fill their needs.[15]

The Bottom Line
The 2017 employment market is looking favorable particularly in healthcare and renewable energy. Employment service Challenger, Grey, and Christmas, Inc. predict that construction and manufacturing will also be winning industries in the next year.[16] The only fields expected to see employment declines are production occupations and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations.

Many available positions in the top fields for employment growth do not require college degrees, but rather specialized training programs and in some cases only some on-the-job training. That makes this a good time to consider a career shift if your current field is in less demand or is not satisfying you.

Overall, the market is better than it's been in many years. If you're looking, a good place to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can search for occupations and read about what education or training is required, general descriptions, the average income to expect, and the forecast for growth.

Good luck!