Where The Jobs Are

Despite a cold economy, these sectors are hot.

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Jennifer Gill is glad to be among the employed—and, as it happens, just plain glad.  After practicing law and operating a franchise business, she enrolled in the nursing program at County College of Morris, got her R.N. degree in December 2008, and scored an interview at Hackensack University Medical Center two days after submitting her résumé in February.  She got the job and, she says, she could not be more pleased: “I think nursing is a great profession to be in—for me, the best profession.”

In an economy that, to many job seekers, appears to have plummeted off a cliff, Gill is in an enviable position.  But she’s not alone.  In New Jersey and across the country, certain sectors are expanding and actively hiring.  Some, like nursing, you’ve probably heard about. Others­—systems integration, for instance—may be news to you. And while many require a specialized degree or set of skills, others are hiring from a more general pool of workers. These are glad tidings for anyone looking for work, but especially for those with experience or interest in one of the state’s high-growth fields.


Driven by an aging population, healthcare has been New Jersey’s major growth industry for the past decade and a half, with two sectors—nursing and home healthcare—in particular demand.  That doesn’t mean that either field is recession proof:  Though many hospitals in the state continue to hire, others—smarting from a recession-fueled increase in charity-care patients and ER visits, and a decline in elective procedures—have instituted hiring freezes. But the downturn is likely to be temporary.

“The recession is masking the fact that we are, in fact, in desperate need of new nurses,” says Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to sponsor the New Jersey Nursing Initiative in an attempt to address the need for nurse educators.  “There’s no shortage of people willing to be nurses,” says Verplanck, “just of those able to teach.” 

The recession hasn’t rocked the home healthcare sector, but it has delivered a glancing blow; the dip in demand, speculates John Hess, founder of Generations Home Healthcare in Warren, likely reflects unemployed workers temporarily caring for homebound relatives.  Nevertheless, when it comes to projected growth, the industry, Hess says, “is pretty close to the top of everyone’s list, with estimates for revenue expansion generally ranging from 25 to 30 percent.”  And, he adds, like many of the state’s 717 home-healthcare agencies, “we’re always looking to hire.”

A caveat: In general, home-healthcare aides are considered unskilled workers and don’t command salaries commensurate with other sectors of the healthcare industry.  But elder care in general is a rapidly expanding sector, “and opportunities in the field really cross industries,” observes Ilana Levitt, co-president of the New Jersey Career Development Association.  That means, she says, we’re likely to see a continuing need for pharmacists, medical support, and retirement- and assisted living-center staff.


Risk Management
Take an economy still reeling from a banking and investment crisis, add a world made more volatile by the threat of terrorism, and you understand why the industry known as risk management is expected to continue to expand over the next decade. “It’s all about what can happen of an adverse nature to both organizations and individuals,” says Don Williams, operations manager at Churchill & Harriman, a business risk-mitigation consulting firm in Princeton.

Insurance companies, of course, have always been in the risk-protection business, but the industry has expanded to cover all manner of potential perils, including financial risk, data protection, and business continuity (buffering companies against possible business disruptions). That means the field is in need of a variety of professionals, from CPAs and MBAs on the financial end to IT specialists in the information-security sector.

Across the industry, there is particular demand for actuaries and actuarial scientists. Prudential Financial, for instance, is so eager to fill actuarial positions that it has teamed up with Rutgers to help direct students into the field. Don’t have actuarial science training? A strong math background will help get your foot in the door.


Systems Integration
“The high-tech fields are still hiring—not in huge numbers now, but of course that will change,” says Dorothy Kerr, executive manager of employer services at Rutgers University’s office of Career Services in New Brunswick. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a job in information technology, you might consider the sector known as systems integration.

“Over the past twenty years, businesses have been acquiring all kinds of hardware and software—phone systems, computer systems—which are like pieces of a puzzle that need to be seamlessly integrated,” says Ethan Chazin, president and founder of the Chazin Group. Rather than toss out all that technology and start from scratch—a costly enterprise even in a booming economy— businesses across virtually every industry are looking to make their disparate systems work together. To help them accomplish that, SI companies are hiring information technology professionals, network engineers, and—since the field is increasingly competitive—salespeople.


Unified Communications
If you haven’t taken up residence in a cave, you’re probably aware of the so-called “triple play”—a package of cable TV, Internet, and phone service marketed by companies like Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable. Where there’s endless marketing, there’s almost always vigorous hiring, which is certainly the case in the field known as unified communications.  UC businesses, says Chazin, are looking for workers “with a telecommunications or IT background, as well as anyone who understands fiber-optic and cable networks.” Growth in the sector is likely to benefit regional cable operators and telecomunication firms like Cablevision and Comcast, who are always hiring, Chazin notes, though at lower-end positions like customer service.


Professional Employer Organizations
Blame it on the recession or the increasing complexity of employee benefit packages, but whatever the cause, companies increasingly are outsourcing functions typically handled by human resources departments—benefits, recruiting, payroll, and workmen’s compensation, for instance—to professional employer organizations, or PEOs. (In New Jersey, two of the largest and best known are ADP and Paychex, but there are more than a dozen others across the state.) If you are employed in human resources, that means you could lose your job to a PEO; it also means you might find a job with a PEO. The organizations also offer opportunities for office managers and other administrative professionals, as well as accountants, client-support specialists, business analysts, and account sales reps.  Sara Herrmann, communications director of the National Association of PEOs, is bullish on the industry’s future: “We experienced phenomenal growth over the past five years—from 2007 to 2008 we went from a $63 billion industry to a $68 billion industry,” she says. “And we see that outsourcing as a whole, and HR outsourcing in particular, is continuing to grow in spite of the recession.” 


A few years ago, an accounting degree was gold.  But the economic downturn, coupled with an influx of accounting grads, recently has dampened what had been frenzied demand.  Nevertheless, “accountants will always be needed,” says Marietta Cozzi, a vice president of staffing at Prudential Financial in Newark.  The insurance and financial services firm, she adds, is continually looking to fill positions ranging from entry-level tax associate to partnership accounting director for the controller’s office. 

Ralph Albert Thomas, executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, views strong attendance by employers at programs like the society’s fall Career Night as indicative of demand.  But he says the potential employers have raised the bar for new aplicants. “They’re looking for some kind of differentiation among job-seekers: graduate work and CPA certification for recent graduates, for instance, or an internship or other experience in a hot specialty like tax accounting or financial planning,” Thomas says. What’s really hot today? With the financial world disgraced by the mother of all Ponzi schemes, forensic accounting—a specialty that integrates accounting, auditing, and investigative skills—is at the top of everyone’s list. 


If you’re still in school and looking for a major with a future, consider electrical engineering. If all the electrical engineers in the world quit their day jobs, we’d soon be without computers, not to mention cell phones and satellite communications systems. That isn’t likely to happen, but the United States continues to suffer from a shortage of engineers, electrical and otherwise, and the need is particularly acute in New Jersey, which has more than 500 electronics manufacturing facilities and an electronics industry with a projected annual growth rate of 30 to 40 percent a year.

While the overall market for engineers has definitely felt the downturn, people with experience in high-demand specialties like software engineering are likely to find work. Michael Mardenfeld, who graduated from NJIT in May with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same field, landed six job offers after graduation; he starts a job this month with the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, designing equipment used for fusion energy. “If you’re an engineer with a good resume and marketable skills,” he says, “you’ve got a good chance of finding a job.”


Green Technologies
Career counselor Ilana Levitt calls it “how to succeed in business without hurting the planet.” However you define the field, green is definitely growing, particularly in the Garden State. New Jersey’s recently adopted Energy Master Plan is expected to help create 20,000 green jobs over the next decade. And what’s been touted as the best solar incentives in the country have already benefited Ed Steins, CEO of the Solar Center in Rockaway. Founded four years ago, the company has installed solar panels on more than 500 residences and commercial buildings across the tri-state area.

“It’s a great time for solar,” says Steins, who also credits his company’s success to the federal government’s stimulus plan, New Jersey’s Clean Environment program, and burgeoning consumer interest. To keep the business chugging along, he’s hiring people with construction experience, as well as commercial salespeople, on a relatively constant basis.

Alternative energy is one of the most obvious sectors of the industry, but hardly the only one. “There are companies that offer green-type technologies like wind energy and waste management,” says Chazin, “then there are huge manufacturers like Ingersoll Rand, with whole business units that they’ve started staffing up with people from green-based technology backgrounds.”

Thinking about going green? Chazin sees opportunities for chemical, electrical, and other engineers, chemists, financial and business analysts, and people with a background in product development. If, like one in four frustrated job-seekers, you’re toying with the idea of starting your own business, consider green tech, which, Chazin says, is also a great field for entrepreneurs.

Leslie Garisto Pfaff is a frequent contributor to New Jersey Monthly.

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