- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

Pay close attention in biology class — students who pursue science and math careers will be earning far more money than their peers.

A range of high-paying jobs will have shortages, especially in medical fields, as the baby boomers age, both because they will retire from those professions and because they will need increasing medical services.

The boomer exodus will leave a quarter of a million jobs to highly skilled workers hoping to earn more than $100,000 a year.

The nation’s 76 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1954, make up 40 percent of the U.S. labor force. By 2012, nearly 20 percent of the total work force will be age 55 or older, according to a study from senior citizens group AARP.

Students with real vision for the future might find a career in optometry to be a good choice.

“The growth in demand for eye care will grow exponentially in the next few years,” said Richard Edlow, a spokesman for the American Optometric Association.

Mr. Edlow said the prevalence of cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes in the boomer population will increase 20 percent by 2020, and boomers will require extensive eye-care services.

“It will become a great opportunity,” Mr. Edlow said. “I’m telling high school sophomores to start looking into optometry now.”

By the time those students finish optometry school in 2017, there will be a shortage of eye doctors.

The American Optometric Association said the average annual income of optometrists was $136,898 in 2004; with demand growing, salaries are likely to rise.

By 2014, the U.S. also will need 17,000 more dentists to care for aging boomers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Jackson Brown, associate executive director of the American Dental Association, said he has been keeping an eye on the growth trends of the industry for years.

“Class sizes of dentistry have increased by 15 percent since 1990, and in the next 15 to 20 years, more and more dentists will be added to the population,” he said.

Dentists, with an average income of $123,000 a year, will have their work cut out for them, as aging boomers require more complicated dental work to keep their teeth healthy.

“A larger percent of the population goes to the dentist more than they did 20 to 30 years ago,” Dr. Brown said. “Generally speaking, the elderly generation is healthier, more ambulatory and goes to the dentist because they still have teeth.”

The future for high-tech specialists and engineers also looks bright as biomedical and computer engineering sectors offer some of best job opportunities in the nation.

Biomedical engineers can expect to see more opportunities as aging boomers demand better medical equipment and pharmaceutical treatments, said the BLS.

“It’s one of the hottest growing areas in engineering,”said Paul Kostek, a spokesman for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Mr. Kostek said 13,000 new biomedical engineers are needed by 2014, and they earn $67,690 per year on average.

There also will be more growth in old-time industries such as nuclear engineering, Mr. Kostek said.

The demand for computer engineers will grow over the next 10 years as employers seek skilled workers to address the reliance on information technology in the workplace.

“The demand for computer science engineers in IT departments and telecommunication firms is strong,” Mr. Kostek said. “Companies are looking for ways to manage and protect their data.”

Computer and information management workers earn an average of $92,570 a year, and more than 73,000 new jobs will be added by 2014, according to the BLS.

With lawmakers dueling over environmental policy, the use of low-emission nuclear plants is picking up steam as well.

The average age of nuclear engineers is 48 years, and they have decades of experience and institutional knowledge that can’t be replaced.

“These occupations are largely composed of an older work force with vast institutional knowledge,” said Dave Naton, a spokesman for AARP. “If their employers don’t think about transitioning the knowledge, they may be reinventing the wheel.”

Recently, the seats in nuclear engineering classrooms have been packed and educators are seeking ways to increase their capacity.

There will be more than 1,000 new openings for nuclear engineers by 2014. They earn an average annual salary of $84,880, according to the BLS.

For those who would rather skip the latex gloves but still dream of sky-high earnings, the nation is looking for plenty of air traffic controllers. Controllers earn $102,000 a year and are required to retire earlier than most federal employees, the BLS said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has a mandatory retirement policy for air traffic controllers older than 56 years. As a result, 70 percent of the current work force will retire over the next 10 years.

There is an ongoing dispute over whether the FAA should allow more air traffic controllers to work past 56 to address concerns about worker shortages.

“A lot of controllers are reaching retirement at the same time,” said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the FAA.

The FAA has increased its efforts to train and replace the aging work force. “Our 10-year strategy is to hire 11,800 new controllers,” Mr. Takemoto said. “That means we will take on 1,100 new controllers every year.”


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