Top jobs for 2012 and beyond

It’s gloomy out there – and we’re not talking about the weather. Every day we hear about how hard it is for this or that generation to find good opportunities in today’s competitive job market. Worse yet, experts don’t expect the situation to change much for the next few years.

At the same time, some companies can’t get enough skilled employees to meet their needs, and some sectors anticipate further shortages when the glut of baby boomers do retire. (The declining birth rate won’t help either.) Despite record unemployment levels, many people don’t have the right qualifications to fill the gap.

So where are the opportunities hiding? Experts in Canada and the U.S. point to these top careers for a start.

Information technology

Computer, smart phones, tablets … technology seems to be everywhere these days, so it’s hardly shocking there’s a demand for the people behind the devices and software we use. Canada has a thriving tech industry with many big names (like Google and RIM) as well as startups bringing new innovations to the market. (Deloitte has a list of the top 50, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.) Invest in Canada reports that the country is particularly strong in areas like wireless, software and digital media (especially games).

While many areas are vying for the title of Silicon Valley North, you don’t have to work in the high-tech industry to be part of this trend. Many companies need IT personnel to evaluate, purchase, train and troubleshoot the technology and applications that bring value to their business.

Health-care professionals

The silver tsunami will fuel demand for health care and health-related services in the coming years, but aging boomers aren’t the only factor. Overall, we’re living longer and more people are living with diseases that were deadly only decades ago. We’re also becoming more proactive about our health, using services and technology to stay ahead of problems.

It isn’t just doctors and nurses who will be in demand: experts say many specialties will be in demand, among them physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dentists and optometrists. To find out more about these careers, check with the professional organization that governs them and schools that offer the training.

Health-care management and support staff

Likewise, it isn’t just the people who work directly with patients who are in demand. After all, running clinics, hospitals or health care-related companies requires employees across a variety of departments – including accounting, human resources and marketing.

If you’re looking for a “safe” industry to ply your skills and expertise, this one may be worth a look in the coming years. Not surprisingly, health care is second only to technology on CNNMoney Fortune‘s list of top careers.

Life sciences and biotechnology

Prefer to be on the cutting edge of research and innovation? These industries are predicted to grow thanks to demand for new treatments, new devices, new vaccines and new diagnostic tools. Don’t want to work for Big Pharma? Don’t worry: experts say startups will be hiring too.

Of course, the fields aren’t just about medicine. These umbrella terms include careers like biofuels and agriculture and are a major part of some of Canada’s top industries. Biotech programs are available through colleges and universities across Canada.  (Read more about this industry from Health Canada and the Council for Biotechnology Information.)


It may not be a profession easily picked up in mid-life, but experts say it’s one sector where new graduates can readily find a job in North America. According to a report from Engineers Canada, demand for engineers across many fields (including civic, mechanical, electrical, petroleum and computers) is already strong and set to increase through 2018. (Download a PDF of the report here.) Whether it’s replacing crumbling infrastructure, searching for oil or developing new technology, you’ll find engineers at the helm.

While tuition is often higher for engineering programs than other faculties, experts say it’s a good return on investment. Canadian programs boast a high employment rate within six months of graduation, and starting salaries often range a generous $45,000 to $59,000, according to a survey from

Industrial skills and trades

Parents used to dream of sending their offspring to university followed by a white-collar job, but the bias against the skilled trades has led to a shortage of workers. In 2010, experts say there was already a shortage of 50,000 workers in Canada – and this number is expect to rise sharply in the coming decades. Some of Canada’s top industries like food services, automotive and manufacturing rely on the trades.

What about compensation? Contrary to popular belief, many people in the trades earn above average salaries, says Skills Canada – plus they complete their training without the burden of massive student debt. In fact, the government offers grants of up to $4,000 for completing an apprenticeship.

If you’re already skilled in one of these areas, be on the look out for teaching opportunities. Colleges are looking to hire skilled instructors, and more high schools are offering courses in the trades. (Some faculties of education offer training programs for people in the trades, and teaching salaries can include credit for years worked in the field.)

For more information on careers in the trades, see Skills Canada,, and the Ellis Chart.

Accounting and finance

Good news for people who are good with numbers: the state of the economy has individuals and companies alike paying more attention to their money. Experts like accountants, financial planners and money managers are needed not just in North America, but also around the world. Forensic accountants, who audit and investigate, and compliance specialists will also be in demand as companies continue to focus on accountability.

Another boon for Canada: our banking industry receives top marks from international organizations. We also get kudos for having some top-notch business schools, though tuition won’t come cheap.

According to CNNMoney, private equity firms are also on the hunt — proving there’s room for opportunities for seasoned veterans too.


Did we mention those economic woes? Companies need income and the people who bring in the clients and the cash will always be needed. (In fact, some experts say a career in sales is as close to being a recession-proof job as we get!) If you’ve got the skills and charisma, this arena can be quite lucrative when commissions and cash incentives are involved.

What if your interests turn to retail instead? Those big discount retail chains are where to look, says CNNMoney. As they continue to grow, they’re reportedly looking for managers as well as customer service staff and clerks.

Of course, not everyone is interested in (or suitable for) careers in these sectors, and no one really knows what’s going to happen in the future. Demand can also vary according to location — as can the expected salary and compensation.

What’s the take=home lesson? Regardless of where your interests and ambitions lie, experts recommend doing some research before diving in.

For more information on careers prospects, see:
CNNMoney: 10 hot careers for 2012
The Globe and Mail: Top 15 industries for job growth in Canada
Invest in Canada: Canada’s Industry Strengths

If you’re curious what you could earn in different careers, and have salary calculators that can give you a rough idea.

Additional sources: Statistics Canada labour market statistics.

Photo © Pamela Moore

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