You're 18 years old, ambitious and ready to prepare for a career. Or maybe you're 30ish, sick of your current job and looking for something new.
In either case, lots of lines of work sound interesting, but slaving away in a dead-end industry just won't cut it. You want something that's going to be hot, where the job security or the chances for promotions and pay increases are good.
So what it comes down to is this: What fields are about to boom? In what lines of work will jobs increase the fastest from now until, say, the year 2000?
"Health care and computers," said George T. Silvestri, co-author of a federal report titled, "A Look at Occupational Employment Trends to the Year 2000."
Particularly health care. The federal study says that 10 of the 15 fastest-growing occupations from 1986 through 2000, in terms of percentage increases, will be in health fields. Another three are in computers.
"We're getting a more highly educated work force all the time, (though) it's happening slowly," said Silvestri, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even so, none of truly booming health occupations will require a full medical school education. (For that matter, they generally don't offer the kind of money that doctors make, either.) Leading the way in health care is the job of medical assistant, which ranks No. 2 overall on the federal government's fastest-growing occupations list.
Demand also is expected to skyrocket for physical therapists and their assistants, home health aides, podiatrists, medical records technicians, X-ray technicians, dental hygienists and dental assistants.
Many health jobs are among the fastest-growing occupations partly because so few people are in these lines of work now. Overall, even more openings are likely in traditional--though often less lucrative--areas. For example, more than 1 million new jobs are expected for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants.
Behind the boom in health care is the aging of America's population. Older people simply require more medical attention.
At the same time, the federal government is trying to clamp down on health-care expenses. Economists say that is translating into an effort to shift duties from highly paid doctors to medical assistants, nurses and the like. Along with government policy and demographic trends, the computer revolution is overhauling the job market. To begin with, technology is automating a lot of jobs into oblivion (try finding work as a telephone operator or typesetter, for instance).
The rise in high tech also is spawning thousands of openings for computer systems analysts, programmers and repairers.
Also on the list of 15 fastest-growing occupations are No. 1-ranked paralegals, who are expected to be gobbled up by budget-minded law firms, and--what else?--employment interviewers. With lots of people looking for work, a lot of people are going to have to interview them.
While the emerging, fast-growing occupations are changing the look of the job market, they hardly account for the bulk of the action. There still will be many more openings at restaurants and stores than in computer designers' offices.
"A lot of people are uncomfortable with the fact that a lot of the new jobs will be for waitresses, waiters and janitors, but robots can't do these jobs," Silvestri said.
All told, though, how much weight should job hunters put on the government's employment predictions?
Some, but not too much. For one thing, the predictions constantly are being revised. Federal economists are in the midst of upgrading the once-dismal outlook for jobs in low-tech manufacturing industries whose exports have been boosted by the weaker U.S. dollar.
Personal preferences are paramount. "If you're going to do well, you need to like your job," said John M. Lukasiewicz,the Bureau of Labor Statistics economist who worked with Silvestri on the government's job-projection report.
Lukasiewicz sometimes needs to remind himself of that fact. He confesses to having tried to persuade his 17-year-old son to take the national job outlook into account when considering careers.
"He's not very enthusiastic, I guess," Lukasiewicz conceded. "His real ambition is to play professional basketball."
Outlook for Other Jobs Eighteen occupational fields with 25,000 workers or more, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' projected percentage employment change in them between 1986 and 2000.