2011's hottest job you never thought of

December 27, 2010: 9:39 AM ET

Hiring next year will heat up in several fields, including one with a decidedly unglamorous image: supply chain management.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

Everybody has heard by now that health care companies are promising hunting grounds for job seekers, and the New Year will see hiring perk up elsewhere, too.

But when you think of fields where there just aren't enough skilled candidates to go around, one that probably doesn't come to mind is supply chain management: The complicated, behind-the-scenes work of getting goods from one place to another, on time and on budget.

A shortage of qualified supply chain managers right now, especially in global companies that must coordinate far-flung operations, can be traced to two factors.

First, says Tom Kozenski, a supply-chain expert at consulting and training firm RedPrairie, most people still think of logistics -- if they think of it at all -- as a "non-sexy" field centered on boring, low-paid warehouse work.

And second, while perceptions haven't changed much, the reality has: Making sure stuff gets where it needs to go, as cheaply and efficiently as possible, has evolved into a high-tech, high-stakes game that calls for a scarce combination of "hard" and "soft" skills.

A new MIT white paper, ominously entitled "Are You Prepared for the Supply Chain Talent Crisis?," bears that out. Supply chain managers need sophisticated tech skills, sure, but they also have to be adept at "high-order diplomacy," expert at general business strategy and problem solving, and able to "thrive in ambiguity," the study says.

It's a tall order, but if you want to go after one of the thousands of supply-chain jobs that are going begging, a solid start would be logistics training, available at many colleges and universities. Some programs, like Penn State's graduate certificate in supply chain management, are offered online.

The shortage of supply-chain talent explains why 48% of U.S. companies plan to snap up logistics grads in 2011, according to a new survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Accounting and finance grads will be in demand too, the poll says. Note to college students already looking ahead to the summer: 52% of employers in the survey said they prefer to hire graduates with internship experience.

The most encouraging news may be that 88% of the 4,000 executives in a new survey by staffing firm Robert Half International expect business to pick up in the coming 12 months.

"Many companies operating with reduced staff levels are bringing in reinforcements to relieve their overworked teams," notes Max Messmer, Robert Half's chairman and CEO. "While some firms are backfilling positions out of necessity, businesses are also hiring to accommodate anticipated growth in 2011."

Law firms will lead the pack, with 30% expecting to add staff. Paralegals with four to six years' experience are in particular demand, as are attorneys who specialize in "lucrative areas like litigation, health care, bankruptcy, and foreclosure law," the report says.

All kinds of companies say they plan to add senior systems analysts, whose base pay is projected to rise 5% over this year's levels, to as high as $85,500; financial analysts, whose salaries will start at $81,500 at large companies, 4.8% more than in 2010; and experienced administrative assistants, at starting salaries of up to $41,750, a 3.1% increase.

Companies that cut support roles during the downturn, the report notes, will be "adding staff to help make departments more productive and efficient." That trend may herald a happy new year for job hunters.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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