Hot Jobs

Chris Carlson / AP Photo

Chris Carlson / AP Photo

Hot Job Rank 1: Oil and Gas Drill Operator

Total Employment Estimate: 22,554
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $48,442
Job Growth since 2006: 25.2%
Wage Growth since 2006: 26.0%

Analysis: Drill, baby, drill! It’s not a political slogan—it’s an employment strategy. Until scientists efficiently tame greener forces of nature, the world will continue to be powered by people extracting oil and gas from the ground. Skyrocketing fuel prices over the past few years have created a huge job boom in the energy sector. Drill operators lead the drill crew, ensuring that the big pump can get the black gold. Most of the training for drill operators is accrued through years of experience. Even though this is a typical union job, the unionization rate in the oil and gas industry has gone from about 25 percent in 1997 to 20 percent in 2007. While still triple the overall private sector, the decline is expected to continue. “I don’t see any indication why that would really change in any industry,” says Richard Hurd, a Cornell labor professor.

Josh Reynolds / AP Photo

Hot Job Rank 2: Disease Researcher

Total Employment Estimate: 97,324
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $74,835
Job Growth since 2006: 24.4%
Wage Growth since 2006: 21.3%

Analysis: President Obama’s commitment to medical research has given the entire field a boost. As part of his stimulus package, Obama announced $5 billion in grants, to be administered by the National Institute of Health, for researching diseases like cancer and autism. While less than 1 percent of the administration’s $787 billion stimulus, it will have a big impact on the industry, going toward supporting 12,000 existing projects during the next two years. “It’s a job that you can feel good about doing, too,” says Matthew Webb, who does endocrine research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Your contributions have a direct and immediate impact.…Furthermore, it's one of the only fields in which it's cool to be a nerd. It's hip to be square. Seriously.”

NBCU Photo Bank / AP Photo

Hot Job Rank 3: Producer and Director

Total Employment Estimate: 79,635
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $64,491
Job Growth since 2006: 24.7%
Wage Growth since 2006: 14.5%

Analysis: It seems some jobs in media and film still have potential. But forget acting, being behind the camera proves your best bet. Much of this work is migrating online, where video opportunities that didn’t exist five years ago are now flourishing.

Chris Shinn / Getty Images

Hot Job Rank 4: Oil and Gas Surveyor

Total Employment Estimate: 14,431
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $51,803
Job Growth since 2006: 27.9%
Wage Growth since 2006: 12.2%

Analysis: Another hot field courtesy of the energy boom. These are the people who help scientists analyze mud samples, keep track of how wells are functioning, and scope out new oil fields. “With the clear trajectory of prices,” says Cornell labor professor Matthew Freedman, “energy companies are willing to invest further in exploration and take on more employees.” Usually an associate’s degree or a certificate in applied sciences will suffice, at least to get your foot in the door, giving technician jobs — heavy on remote, outdoor work — a low education investment for relatively high pay.

Junko Kimura / Getty Images

Hot Job Rank 5: Food Scientist

Total Employment Estimate: 10,254
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $61,360
Job Growth since 2006: 16.9%
Wage Growth since 2006: 14.0%

Analysis: Americans are eating more—average daily caloric intake increased by 570 calories in the three decades after 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Genetic modification has made that food more complicated. And a resulting backlash has increased demand for healthier and organic alternatives. All of this conspires to make it a boom time for food scientists. These researchers, largely focused on food supply efficiencies and improving quality, typically have at least a bachelor’s degree. Employment is concentrated in colleges and universities, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts those with a master’s degree or higher will fare best as we continue to collectively feast.

David Sucsy

Hot Job Rank 6: Pharmacist

Total Employment Estimate: 267,491
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $108,309
Job Growth since 2006: 11.5%
Wage Growth since 2006: 14.6%

Analysis: The medicating of America pays…for pharmacists. From 1997 to 2007, the number of prescriptions purchased increased 72 percent. “The older you get, the more prescriptions you need,” says Ralph Vogel, president of the Guild for Professional Pharmacists. According to Vogel, virtually any pharmacists can find a job in one or two days. But he knows that’s not forever. “The future for pharmacists looks fine for the next 15 years,” Vogel says. “But when the baby boomers die off, they’ll be looking for jobs in shoe stores or something.”

Randy Belice / NBAE / Getty Images

Hot Job Rank 7: Occupational Therapist Assistant

Total Employment Estimate: 26,137
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $48,486
Job Growth since 2006: 10.3%
Wage Growth since 2006: 15.3%

Analysis: A beneficiary of an aging population. Occupational therapists help the disabled learn or relearn the daily activities most of us take for granted, from banking, to grocery shopping, to holding down a steady job, to bathing. OT assistants first emerged in the 1960s, during a shortage of occupational therapists, and are viewed as deputies. For example, an OT assistant might help a quadriplegic learn how to use his wheelchair safely. Increasingly, the profession is linked to medical advances that allow the elderly, accident victims and premature children to live. “Although you may be fairly healthy,” says Penelope Moyers Cleveland, president of the American Occupational Therapy Association. “you’re probably going to need help learning to adapt as you age.” OT assistants typically have an associate’s degree or certificates, and receive lots of on-the-job training. Many eventually become full-blown occupational therapists.

Richard Drew / AP Photo

Hot Job Rank 8: Natural Science Manager

Total Employment Estimate: 42,013
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $116,288
Job Growth since 2006: 8.7%
Wage Growth since 2006: 16.2%

Analysis: Apparently, it’s not just the science nerds with good job prospects. Someone has to manage those brains, as well. “There's a vertical integration that you don't see in the ivory tower,” says Scott McKinney, who does neurobiological research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “I think that teamwork, when it happens, is exciting because the people are usually sharp.” As with most jobs, it pays better to be the boss, than do the work.

Antenna / Getty Images

Hot Job Rank 9: Art Director

Total Employment Estimate: 32,851
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $79,360
Job Growth since 2006: 5.9%
Wage Growth since 2006: 16.5%

Analysis: This is a job that simply can’t be automated. Computers can generate images, but they can’t envision a unified creative work. For that reason, skilled art directors will be not only valued; they will be prized. “Communication is the key to uniting all peoples, and that creativity is integral to some kinds of communication,” says Katha Dalton, art director and creative strategist for Pyramid Communications in Seattle. “People learn in different ways, so to communicate non-verbally, or multi-modally, helps us reach more people effectively than relying only on words.” Before ditching medical school, know that newcomers lack the skills sets that make art directors valuable. And while jobs are increasing, so will competition, due to the simple supply and demand inherent to many exciting, creative professions when there are more candidates than jobs.

AP Photo

Hot Job Rank 10: Data Analyst

Total Employment Estimate: 224,805
Median Annual Wage Estimate: $73,298
Job Growth since 2006: 10.4%
Wage Growth since 2006: 13.5%

Analysis: In the last century, architects planned out roads and buildings. American progress is now dependent in large part on the computer systems being implemented by network architects, who have replaced blueprints with flow charts. This occupation, which revolves around installing hardware and software, typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree, though as systems become increasingly complex, more education will be preferable.

For the ranking of America’s 10 Worst Jobs, based on wage and employment growth, click here.