Now hiring: the hot jobs of the moment

This year, Ernst & Young hopes to hire 9,000 new accountants in the United States.

EnerDel, which makes lithium batteries, no longer hires people when it needs them. Rather, it hires them when it finds them.

And Marietta College in Ohio is proud that every one of its 14 petroleum engineers who graduated this spring has a job offer.

Accounting, electrical engineering, oil and gas specialists: These are just some of this year's hot jobs.

Although experts are quick to agree that the job market is not quite up to the late 1990s, when the economy was creating about 300,000 jobs per month, there are nevertheless numerous professions that are hiring as fast as the résumés come in. Many positions require math or science skills, such as the 158 job openings in the state of Pennsylvania for those who can apply technology to manufacturing and production. In Phoenix, meanwhile, plumbers are in such demand that one company calls them an endangered species. And in Dallas, a job fair at Richland College attracted 75 employers - in healthcare, accounting, and customer service - which is up from 45 companies in the fall.

In some of the fast-growing job areas, some executives expect a push on hiring for years ahead.

"The hot jobs are in the forefront of technology and medicine, or they are in the sweet spot of where the economy is growing like energy, healthcare services, financial controls, and international," says John Challenger of the Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "Of the hot jobs, the most sustainable will be those where you can't be outsourced."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its employment projections, forecasts the top five industries with the fastest wage and salary employment growth between 2002 and 2012 are: software publishing; management, scientific. and technical consulting services; care for the elderly; computer systems design; and employment services.

On a seasonal basis, experts say the spring or early summer is a time when companies reassess their budgets and hiring needs. "One of the key seasons might be right now," says Marc Karasu, vice president of marketing at Yahoo! Hot Jobs, where the job postings are up 41 percent over last year at this time. "There is definitely a heating up of certain industries and geographic areas."

Still, in the late '90s, the unemployment rate sank to 3.8 percent, while today, the rate is 5.2. The labor market was so tight back then that businesses gave generous signing bonuses and stock options and entered into bidding wars for employees.

"We're not close to the late 1990s by a long shot," says Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a strategic business consultant in Greensboro, N.C. "The reason is that CEOs don't have the same level of confidence as the late 1990s, when everything was coming up roses from housing to car sales to the stock market."

Yet the job market is still pretty strong for some job categories. Here are some of the strongest areas:

• Anything to do with energy, such as petroleum engineering or work on oil rigs. "It's difficult finding skilled labor, professional geologists, engineers," says Mark Baxter, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "I was talking to someone involved in the oil business recently and asked, 'If you could get your hands on a drilling rig, would you have enough people to operate it?' " says Mr. Baxter. "The answer was no."

That may be one of the reasons there is such a strong demand for petroleum engineers graduating from Marietta College this spring. By January, the 14 grads had landed jobs, as had the 20 students from the year before. This year, one student had a starting salary of $72,000 and received a $7,000 signing bonus.

"Over half of those working in petroleum engineering could retire in the next 10 years, so we think the demand for our students should remain strong for the next 10 to 15 years," says Bob Chase, chairman of the Petroleum Engineering and Geology Department.

And it's not just hydrocarbons. EnerDel, for one, expects to grow at double-digit rates as lithium batteries become established in hybrid autos and other industrial uses. The company, which has plants in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Indianapolis, is looking hard for battery engineers. "With our business growing, we always have our feelers out," says Pankaj Dhingra, president of the company.

• Accounting, which continues to grow. With the requirement that companies comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, which compels CEOs to certify their company's financial results, demand for accounting services has soared.

The 9,000 people that Ernst & Young plans to hire this year is a 35 percent growth rate. The company also plans to hire 22,000 globally. "Demand is exceeding supply," says Karen Glover, director of recruiting for the US at the firm.

To attract the green-eyeshade set, the company is giving additional bonuses, more vacation time, and a new concierge service. In addition, this year Ernst & Young is taking on 1,900 interns, an increase of 32 percent. And the company sees its growth track continuing for at least the next two to three years, says Ms. Glover.

• Building trades, especially as America's love affair with real estate continues. For example, in Phoenix, contractors run ads every week to attract plumbers, who are being enticed with $500 sign-up bonuses. "Tell people to quit going to school for computers and go to school to learn a trade instead," says Mark Larson, vice president of Marlin Mechanical Corp., which supplies plumbing systems for condos, apartments, and hotels.

• Computer security. The recent data breaches has given companies an incentive to improve their ability to block hackers and others who want to steal information. This has resulted in a growing need for computer security specialists, says Bob Cohen, senior vice president at the Information Technology Association of America. "Companies have come to realize the security of their systems is critical to the integrity of their business," he says.

• Healthcare. One example is a burgeoning demand for pharmacists. Workloads are getting heavier, so chains and pharmacies are staffing up. In the past four years, the number of applicants to pharmacy programs has doubled, says Justin Serrano of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, which helps students prepare for the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. Once a student graduates, the pay is good: $83,000 for the first year out of college, says Mr. Serrano.

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