If finding a hot job in a cooling economy strikes you as a lukewarm prospect, you've either overlooked the possibility of becoming a computer geek or haven't considered nursing school. Evolving technologies don't stop for an economic downturn, nor do people stop getting sick.
November 2008 projections by the state Department of Workforce Development suggest sustained strong growth in demand for network systems and data communications analysts, computer software applications engineers, registered nurses and other health-care professionals in south-central Wisconsin.
Crunching a handful of published and unpublished data sets from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources, the Wisconsin DWD report forecasts prospects for almost 1,000 occupations for 2006-2016 in Dane and five other south-central Wisconsin counties. Based on data from 2005 and 2006, the statistical snapshot tried to anticipate changes in Wisconsin's economy. Three months after its publication, the chart must be read in the context of economic convulsion and large-scale layoffs. Even those who are trying to navigate the rough seas for Wisconsin's workforce urge caution in trying to make sense of the numbers.
"Right now, things are moving so quickly that I wouldn't want to speculate," says Pat Schramm, executive director for the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin. "You really have to work with numbers that aren't more than a couple weeks old." In such a fluid environment, the deep dive into a broad pool of sources including Wisconsin's WORKnet database suggests the report still holds water for anyone who wants to stay afloat long enough to land a hot job.
Computer network systems and data communications analysts appear to be among the professions most resistant to economic downturn. The report projects 43.4% growth in these careers for 2006-2016 in south-central Wisconsin (defined as Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Jefferson, Marquette and Sauk counties), with an average of 60 openings per year in the region. Information technology spans education, government, health, insurance and almost every other category in both the public and private sector. The recent opening of Google's Madison office and the UW-Madison's east-side incubator for information technology and related startups helps, too.
Substantial salaries stoke these jobs with even more heat. A recent vacancy for a network specialist at a local insurance firm is typical of dozens of local jobs posted since the start of the year on WORKnet. The stated pay range for the position is $50,000-$75,000/year, and the job comes with all the compensation bells and whistles: health, dental, life and disability insurance; sick and personal leave; vacation time; paid holidays; 401K plan and profit sharing; and paid training and tuition reimbursement to keep current with the latest technology.
The price of admission to jobs like this can be steep: a BS degree in computer science or an MBA in management information systems, plus three to five years of Windows and Linux experience. But an associate degree can get you through the door for other recent vacancies. Employers are also listing an aptitude for critical thinking and trouble-shooting complex problems, along with strong interpersonal and communication skills.
If you define a hot career as one with strong growth prospects, a substantial number of annual posted vacancies and an above-average salary, software applications developers and engineers also show promise in the November 2008 forecast for south-central Wisconsin. Their numbers are projected to grow 40.6% from 2006-2016, with 110 job openings per year on average. A BS in computer science is often the port of entry to the profession, but recent openings posted on WORKnet include an applications developer requiring an associate degree in computer science and two to five years of experience with Visual FoxPro. Compensation: $53-$58,000 plus impressive benefits.
If these and other information technology careers are at or near the top prospects for hot jobs in a cooling economy, health-care professionals are right on their heels, with registered nurses leading the chase. Indeed, the need for RNs may approach the critical stage in south-central and southwest Wisconsin within the next five years, according to an October 2008 report published by the UW-Madison's Center on Wisconsin Strategy.
"The Future of the Health Care Workforce in South Central/Southwest Wisconsin" surveyed 15 hospitals and medical centers in the region, including the three big ones in Madison: Meriter, St. Mary's and UW hospitals. Among the survey's key conclusions: More than 700 RNs in the region are at least 55 years old, along with about one-third of its licensed practical nurses, vocational nurses and medical technologists. Taking into account the aging of baby boomers and the state's population growth, the report projects an acute need for 300 more RNs in the survey area in the next five years, along with substantial numbers of LPNs, VNs, nursing assistants and medical technologists with four-year degrees.
These findings reflect state Department of Workforce Development data, which project 25% growth in RNs for the south-central Wisconsin from 2006 to 2016, and an average of 320 annual openings for RNs with associate or bachelor's degrees. A quick scan of the WORKnet database supports this forecast, with more than a dozen position vacancies posted for registered nurses in Madison alone since the start of the year.
Among the prospects: a nurse clinician vacancy paying $27-$36 an hour based on experience, plus full benefits. Requirements: associate or bachelor's degree in nursing, an RN license and two years of clinical experience.
The hottest jobs of all may spring from the cross-disciplinary Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and Wisconsin Institutes for Health now under construction on the UW-Madison campus. But it remains too early to arrive at a precise forecast for how these initiatives might interact with the off-campus UW Research Park and the accelerating biotech field to create additional combustion for local employment prospects.
"Guessing where an economy is going to be, especially on the edges of biotech, is difficult," says Laura Dresser, associate director for the UW-Madison's Center on Wisconsin Strategy. Science training will, however, be essential to building a skill set that affords greater agility and choice in a changing job market. "We like to hope," Dresser observes, "that Madison is growing hot jobs that require lots of education."