SAN FRANCISCO – The job market for recent college graduates is as brutal as it has been in two decades, but industries poised to capitalize on the aging population and the uncertainty facing the nation still offer ample opportunity.

In a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, companies expect to hire 3.6 percent fewer graduates than they did a year earlier.

“It’s going to be very tough out there this year,” said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “There are lots of rejection notices out there.”

An estimated 1.3 million college graduates are due to hit the pavement this spring in an attempt to join a U.S. workforce that numbers about 135 million.

But with turnover rates highest at entry-level positions, the jobs are certainly there, Challenger said. Knowing where to look is the key.

Here are the strongest professions job experts say are worth considering right out of college:

Healthcare

Aging baby boomers should provide plenty of opportunity for caregivers like pharmacists, physical therapists, audiologist, etc. There are currently 126,000 open nursing positions, according to report by HotJobs.com, while many currently-employed nurses are nearing retirement age.

Insurance

The greater the uncertainty, the greater the need for insurance. Agents, adjusters, researchers and many more positions should stay in demand. Average salaries range from nearly $20,000 up to almost $85,000.

Biotechnology/Drugs

As baby boomers move deeper into their golden years, the demand for prescriptions drugs will pick up. Challenger also expects opportunities to grow as more money is dedicated to gene research. Affymetrix and Applera are examples of two companies on the forefront of genomics.

Financial services

Financial planners stand to gain from investors looking to forego their company-sponsored 401k and take control of their own savings. Additionally, mortgage brokers should continue to cash in on record low interest rates and the nesting effect.

Education

Another sector that stands to flourish as more and more people prepare to exit the workforce. “There are a lot of educators approaching their retirement dates,” said Christopher Jones, vice president of content at HotJobs.com.

Energy

With the Iraq and the Middle East in turmoil, the need for alternative energy sources has never been more apparent. Not only will there be an increasing demand for research and development, but workers will be needed in marketing, sales, accounting, etc.

While job availability in the high-tech arena is scarce relative to previous years, pockets of strength still remain.

“Technology is immense,” said Jones. “In fact, there are some others where we’ve seen only growth, like security specialists, for instance.”

With the proliferation of hacked databases and the need to protect their information, this job title should stay popular for a while.

Some of the leaders in this field include Network Associates, RSA Security and Symantec.

There are also opportunities in software sales, according to Edwin Pollock, regional president at job placement firm Bernard Haldane Associates.

“Sales is probably the biggest opening we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Of course, many of these companies are still laying off lots of high-salaried people from the dot-com revolution.”

Pollock suggested job seekers look to viable companies that have reduced their workforce considerably, as they would be the most likely to replace workers “at a more reasonable compensation.”

“Microsoft is doing great things with how they’re hiring grads,” said Challenger. “The best people looking for the best people.”

Finally, Pollock offered this bit of advice should the search come to a grinding halt: “Go to the company you want to work for and volunteer to work for nothing – offer your services as an intern or whatever you want to call it.”

“If you’re good, the company will find a spot for you.”



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AP-NY-04-14-03 1729EDT



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