NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Even as the jobs picture slowly improves – the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in January – career seekers should still focus in on its brightest parts. Many fields are likely to grow, even if employment markets stagnate.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes projections of where job opportunities will be found in the future, in order to help people entering the work force or planning a career change.
One factor creating opportunities is the aging of America. As baby boomers, 77 million strong, approach retirement age, they've started to consume a host of services and products that are different from what they used at a younger age.
Health care concerns
Even though boomers may remain active far longer than the generations that preceded them, they'll still have to cope with a variety of health and wellness issues. Many of the fastest growing employment opportunities are in health care.
Nurses, physical therapists, and physician's assistants jobs are all increasing steadily, sometimes spectacularly.
The Labor Department projects that more than 600,000 nursing jobs will open up over the 10 years that end in 2012, a 27 percent increase over 2002. Physician's assistants jobs will grow by nearly 50 percent and physical and occupational therapists by more than 35 percent.
Registered nurses earn about $52,000 on average, and supervisory personnel make even more. PAs average more than $63,000 and physical therapists more than $61,000. Occupational therapists make about $53,000.
Home care workers will also see a big increase in jobs, up more than 40 percent by 2012.
As boomers strive to maintain their healthy glow – and their teeth – fitness trainers (up 44.5 percent) and dental hygienists (43.1 percent) will be in demand.
Other good opportunities will occur in emergency services. Ambulance drivers (up 26.7 percent) and hazardous materials removal workers (43.1 percent) will benefit.
Tech workers will still be in demand, although the field won't be quite as hot as during the 1990s. But the country will need more than 420,000 new computer support workers and another 307,000 software engineers, the BLS estimates.
As boomers fade, many will be leaving their long-held, public-sector jobs. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the average age of federal workers has reached nearly 46 years of age, up more than three-and-a-half years compared with 1990.
At both the Energy and the Education Departments, the average age is near 50 and it's over that half-century mark at HUD. Considering that federal employees can retire at 55 after 30 years on the job, it means many positions will open up.
Close enough for government work
"You have a great number of people at the federal government who will reach retirement age over the next several years," says Kevin Simpson, executive vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to revitalizing federal government service.
With 1.8 million workers, the federal government is the country's biggest employer, and it will have to have to go on a big hiring binge, adding nearly 150,000 jobs over the next two years alone.
Jobseekers may be put off by the idea of working for the government. It is perceived as bureaucratic, stodgy, and low paying, a poor choice for an ambitious go-getter.
At the same time, people also realize that government work is steady (you don't have to worry about your company going bankrupt), has excellent benefits, and normal work hours, which enable employees to maintain a good balance with their private life. In addition, the government also offers educational incentives and liberal leave time.
The government "does an exemplary job of hiring and promoting women and minorities," as Simpson puts it, making it an especially attractive employer for them.
Although entrepreneurial types would almost certainly find government jobs stifling, the perception that they pay poorly fails to hold up under scrutiny.
You won't become a dot.com millionaire but, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the average federal employee earns a salary comparable or better than his counterpart in private industry – in almost every job category.
The comparison doesn't take into account differences in length of time on the job. But it does at least indicate that the government tries to stay competitive.
"Polling tells us that this generation is very interested in doing public service, but they're more likely to look to the non-profit sector to scratch that itch," Simpson says. Putting the word out that you can do okay working with the feds is the message his organization is trying to air.