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Hot Careers

The hottest careers in 2003–system analyst, computer support specialist, and desktop publishing specialist, for instance–didn’t exist several decades ago. Yet the hottest career, for you, could be one not on the list but one that you have a knack for, like repairing cars or managing the family farm. Specialties, like nursing and teaching, are as much in demand as they were decades ago. How do you decide which career field and jobs to pursue, when there are so many choices?

When Jason Neagle began planning what he’d be doing after high school, he did what many high school students do: he chose a career that he was familiar with. His parents were teachers, and from them he knew what the job entailed, the required education, the hours, and the pay. “People tend to go into careers they understand,” says Neagle, now a technology teacher at Central Hardin High School in Cecilia. His second career choice might have been engineering, he says, but at the time engineering seemed more nebulous and there was little career direction in high school.

Choosing a familiar career is the right choice sometimes, but also consider the wide range of opportunities that have come about through technology and companies’ changing ways of doing business. About 25 years ago, students graduating from high school sought jobs in their local communities. The circle of job hunting has widened, points out Edwin Moss, instructor for Technical Education and Information Technology at Warren East High School. Competition used to be with one’s own classmates. Now, with a worldwide economy and computers, competition is with graduates all over the world. And yet training for these jobs can occur right here in Kentucky–starting in high school with courses such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate training, to programs and courses at community colleges, technical schools, and universities.

Look at Yourself

When Gail Ridgeway was growing up, friends and family came to her for advice. People would say, “It’s just your nature to give advice.” As the years passed, Ridgeway, who is now a disability resource officer and career counselor at Paducah Community College, learned that “it’s just your nature” is actually a person’s career evolving and emerging, and the person needs to take note of this.

When contemplating which career field to enter or switch to, consider your unique talents and skills, but also the skills you’ve learned in school and in your home life. That’s one of the best ways to decide what kind of job or career to pursue.

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you good at?
  • What careers allow you to do what you enjoy, while still earning a living?
  • What type of education or training will you need for a particular job?

This personal analysis also needs to be done with employers in mind: What can I offer an employer? Employers see many students at interviews who are interested only in what they will gain from the job rather than what they will contribute to the company.

“Think about what you have to offer the employer versus what you’re going to gain from the experience,” recommends Laura Melius, Eastern Kentucky University’s director of career services.

What’s Out There?

High-demand and difficult-to-fill jobs vary significantly across regions of the state. According to the comprehensive Kentucky Labor Supply and Demand Surveys issued in November 2002, the percentage of jobs that are in high demand or are difficult to fill that require a bachelor’s degree are typically higher than the percentage of Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree. That is also the case for jobs that require a high school degree or less. “Employers appear to be having a hard time finding workers at both ends of the educational spectrum,” says the final report of the joint University of Kentucky and University of Louisville research project prepared for the Kentucky Cabinet for Workforce Development.

“Going to college” can mean a two-year associate degree program in a particular career field or as an entree toward a bachelor’s degree. Registered nurse Renee Beckum worked eight years with an associate degree before earning her bachelor of science degree in nursing in 2000.

The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 created the Kentucky Community & Technical College System that now has 25 colleges in 16 districts throughout the state. You can opt for education and training through academic and technical associate degrees, diploma and certificate programs in occupational fields, and/or adult continuing education. The system also offers customized training for businesses and industries, and many sites offer GED assistance.

In choosing a career field, specialty, or major, consider the sub-categories, all of which require differing types of education. Students recently have expressed an interest in forensic science/medicine, but some students are disappointed to find out that this career demands at least four years of education on the university level. Consider mortuary science, Ridgeway points out as an example. With two years of training, you can earn a good salary and grow into this field that has some similarity to forensic science.

A career choice many times can be a steppingstone to other careers. Shamar Livingston is now a Western Kentucky University freshman, having graduated early from Warren East High School. Part of his high school course load was Cisco computer training. His original plan was to go into software engineering and computers, something he has loved since childhood as he and his father liked to re-build computers. But after two years of contemplating what field to pursue, Livingston chose pre-pharmacy as his major. “I wanted to be one of the first doctors in my family and do something to inspire people,” he says. Eventually, he hopes to earn a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in pharmacy, but he also savors the fact that computer certification, from this high school course, will enable him to make money while in college. And someday when he owns his own pharmacy–another of his goals–Livingston says, “I’ll be able to wire things,” since computers and technology have become indispensable in almost every field.

Exploring Career Choices

Even if you’ve been out of school for a number of years and are returning to the workplace, you can do your own career exploration into fields and their sub-categories. Libraries are teeming with books on careers, and the Internet is a great source. People love to talk about what they do for a living, so tap this source, and initiate a conversation with, say, a customer service representative, or an X-ray technician in your neighborhood, to find out about the training and expectations of the job.

Make an appointment with a career guidance counselor at a nearby college or technical school to discover various programs and possible scholarship and work-study opportunities. Talk with a wide range of people to discover what fields might best fit your interests. You might just stumble upon the perfect career.

For example, Melius, Eastern Kentucky University’s career director, learned at a Richmond Chamber of Commerce meeting that 11 out of 12 industries needed welders. Also at a chamber event, a bank official indicated that if a student shows up on time every day, dresses appropriately, takes initiative, and is willing to learn, the bank official could make that person a vice president in four years.

So be creative in exploring career choices, advises Ridgeway. For instance, a student with a disability might channel the desire to be a dancer into training to become a choreographer. “Look at what you can do realistically and expand to what your creativity will allow you to do.”

Career Dreams

What do you want from a career? Earning power is certainly a consideration in selecting a career, but consider other factors too. “Computer science is big bucks, but it’s more important to do what you enjoy for a living,” Art Shindhelm, head of Ogden College of Science and Engineering at Western Kentucky University, tells freshmen.

He sees many students switching from computer science because they start out with an unrealistic idea of what the field requires. Your personality often determines whether you’ll enjoy a particular career. Computer programmers must enjoy solving problems, and be able to withstand a high frustration level as problems sometimes take a long time to solve.

Health service careers, another fast-growing area, can also come with unrealistic expectations. Nursing can mean long hours and always being on the clock, says Renee Beckum. As a full-time critical care nurse at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center who also teaches nurses, the difference between those who will stay in nursing is easily apparent. Those with a gift for nursing are more enthusiastic, hungry for knowledge, and ask a lot of questions. Sometimes a student with mediocre test scores will be a good hands-on learner and have a special way of relating to patients. “The nurses who are successful are the ones who see nursing as their calling and not just a job,” says Rita Gorley, interim chairperson of Midway College’s Nursing Program.

Beckum recalls one Christmas around 4 a.m. when one of her patients lay dying of cancer, with the patient’s husband sitting close by. Later that morning as the patient passed away, Beckum found herself comforting the husband who had just lost his wife. “I needed to be here at that time of day and at that point in my career.” It was a moment that reaffirmed her long-time career choice.

“It has to come from the heart,” says Gorley about the desire to be a nurse. Very true, but also true for any career if you’re going to make it your life’s work.


Two of the worst obstacles to career planning are not taking high school seriously and thinking you can wait until after high school to choose a career. With this in mind, the Kentucky Department of Education has initiated a career development continuum: career awareness (in elementary school), career exploration (in middle school), and career preparation (in high school).

In the mid-1990s, Kentucky had a career plan, but it wasn’t required and didn’t focus enough emphasis on academic achievement and how to improve students’ performance at school to be ready for postsecondary education and the workplace, points out Rodney Kelly, director of Kentucky’s Division of Career and Technical Education.

An Individual Graduation Plan is now a graduation requirement in Kentucky for every graduating public high school student. In completing a graduation plan, a student is asked to focus on one of 14 career clusters and choose a major within the chosen cluster:

  • Agriculture
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Business & Marketing
  • Communications
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Health Science
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Public Service
  • Science & Mathematics
  • Social Sciences
  • Transportation

This focus helps students schedule the types of high school courses needed as prerequisites for a job or future education. For instance, if you’re planning a career in computers, math courses are critical on a high school transcript. For the prospective nurse, science courses are critical.


Download statistics for the Top 25 Jobs Openings in Kentucky by clicking here; download statistics for the Top 25 Fastest Growing Jobs in Kentucky by clicking here. (Both files are PDF files: you will need Acrobat Reader to view them. To get a free copy of Acrobat Reader click here. Please note: you may also have to save the files to your hard drive by right clicking and then opening them.)

Comprehensive site to learn more about Kentucky high schools’ Individual Graduation Plan.

Detailed site with information on careers, majors, and colleges.

Site of the Kentucky Community & Technical College System with program offerings at its 25 colleges: everything from accounting & finance technology to wood manufacturing technology.

Online guide to Kentucky’s independent colleges and universities.

Online tool for discovering jobs in Kentucky and beyond.

Most recent information on Kentucky labor shortages and vacancies, and high-demand occupations, tabulated by region.

Kentucky Occupational Outlook to 2008
A publication of the Cabinet for Workforce Development, Kentucky Department for Employment Services (available in libraries).

What Color is Your Parachute?

by Richard Nelson Bolles,

Ten Speed Press, 2003 Edition

Getting the Job You Really Want

by J.M. Farr, JIST Works, 2002

Rewired, Rehired or Retired?

A Global Guide for the Experienced Worker

by Robert K. Critchley,

Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2002

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