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10 hot careers for 2012 - and beyond

December 27, 2011: 2:13 PM ET

Hiring overall probably won't pick up much next year, but there are pockets of prosperity even in this job market. Here's where the most opportunities are now.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Strange but true: Despite the fact that unemployment is stuck at around 9%, which translates to about 15 million Americans out of work, nearly 3 million job openings in the U.S. are going unfilled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why? The biggest reason is a mismatch between the qualifications employers are looking for and the skills job hunters have.

So which skills are most in demand? Here are 10 of the hottest:

1. Information technology. When career site Indeed.com recently analyzed millions of job postings on its web site, researchers found that the fastest-growing category of keywords — including HTML5, Android, mobile app, and social media — were in IT, and a new survey by tech job site Dice.com bears that out: About 65% of hiring managers said they hope to add tech staff in the first half of 2012. Roughly a quarter of those (27%) said they want to expand their IT headcount by more than 20%.

Openings for software developers who specialize in applications will rise by more than one-third (34%) by 2018, says Best Jobs for the 21st Century, a new book by job market analyst Laurence Shatkin, while companies will hire 20% more computer systems analysts. Rising pay in these fields reflects the surge in demand: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that developers of systems software, for instance, earn an average of $94,180 per year.

2. Health care professionals. Partly due to the aging of the U.S. population, health care has been hot for a while now, and the trend shows no sign of slowing. Shatkin's research says the U.S. will need 103,900 more registered nurses every year (average salary: $64,690) well into the next decade, along with 7,860 new physical therapists per annum (average pay: $76,310). Demand for dental hygienists is up too, with a projected 36.1% growth in job openings between now and 2018 (average pay: $68,250).

3. Health care management and support staff. Don't have the training or experience to work directly with patients? No worries. "People often overlook the fact that businesspeople run health care companies," says Justin Hirsch, president of recruiting firm JobPlex. "With all the change happening in the system now, there is churn as well as growth. We're constantly seeing new openings in general management, finance, marketing, human resources, you name it." More

  • A real-time look at who's hiring and where

    Want to find out which companies have announced they're planning to add to their ranks? While job location, required skills and pay run the gamut, a new web resource is providing just that.

    By Anne Fisher, contributor

    Fresh from a year analysts expect will be Ford Motor Co.'s most profitable ever, the automaker plans to hire about 7,000 people, in part to rev up production of its new C-Max minivan.

    French strategy MORE

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