Beat the recession and upcoming job struggles with careers that will be around for longer then your life span.
- Undersea Welder
Wet welders work in offshore oil fields as deep as 400 feet, building and repairing undersea infrastructure. (Sorry, kids, you can’t buy this exclusive PM action figure, devised by Jeremy Madl at Mad Toy Design. It’s ours.)
Arc welding underwater with electrodes carrying 185 amps might seem unwise, but deep-diving wet welders do it every day. They build and repair pipelines and oil platforms—in January 2009 there were 313 new bids worth $484 million in the western Gulf of Mexico alone. Dusty Harrison, placement director for a Florida school called the Commercial Diving Academy, says, “There’s no telling how much work there is,” thanks to a decade of hurricanes and a boom in oil exploration. During the Gulf ’s hurricane season, some welders work in West Africa and Asia.
How to Do It: Oil companies hire dive outfits with welders certified by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators. Schools such as the Commercial Diving Academy and New Jersey’s Divers Academy International have four- to five-month certification courses. Swimming ability and a high school diploma are prerequisites; scuba diving isn’t.
Earning Potential: Right out of school, you’ll pull in $17 to $20 an hour. “After two and a half or three years, that typically doubles,” Harrison says.
- Zero-Energy Home Architect
Some houses now being built make as much energy as they consume. They rely on equipment such as solar cells to generate power, while using efficient design to keep consumption down. Michelle Kaufmann, an architect in Oakland, Calif., is bringing the zero-energy idea and other forms of sustainable design to prefab houses such as her mkLotus, a small, one-bedroom home. (Kaufmann worked for architecture legend Frank Gehry before founding her own firm in 2002.) Kermit Baker, an economist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), says, “Sustainability and architecture are now intertwined.” In a recent AIA survey, architects reported that 47 percent of their clients in 2008 used green building elements. Despite the housing slump, Kaufmann says her 15-person staff is swamped: “We have more projects than ever before.”
How to Do It: Earn a master’s from one of the 61 U.S. architecture programs that offer classes with a green bent. (Yale has a joint degree in architecture and environmental management.)
Earning Potential: Nationally, staff architects earn about $45,000 to $100,000. Architects who own their firms can make much more.
- Combined Heat and Power Mechanic
Jim Bondi is an old-school electrician who embraces new-school energy production. After eight years working on projects that included solar installations, he joined Pennsylvania-based E-Finity, designing combined heat and power (CHP) plants. A CHP unit saves energy by burning fuel to produce electricity and using the excess heat for climate control and producing hot water. “With the nation’s rising energy demand and the increase in environmental stewardship, CHP is an economic and environmental no-brainer,” Bondi says. The Department of Energy hopes the industry will grow enough to add a million workers by 2030.
How to Do It: CHP suppliers provide training. Electricians and mechanics with experience on jet and helicopter engines, which are similar to CHP turbines, find their skills are a natural fit.
Earning Potential: Salaries are $30,000 out of the gate; they top out at $75,000.
- Energy Engineer
When the Coronado naval base in San Diego wanted to shrink its energy consumption, it turned to the consulting firm Tetra Tech, whose energy-efficiency staff has grown sixtyfold in the past decade. “The naval base is like a small city, with office buildings, a supermarket, bowling alleys,” says Linda Hunter, a Tetra Tech energy engineer who was brought in to boost efficiency on the base and its two aircraft carriers. Energy engineers may recommend new air-conditioning equipment or solar-powered streetlights, or they may design entire renewable-energy systems, such as harnessing methane from a landfill to generate electricity.
How to Do It: Earn a degree in chemical, mechanical, electrical or civil engineering—or a newer specialty called energy resources engineering. A Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification is useful; it demands expertise in subjects like indoor air quality codes and standards, thermal energy storage systems and energy economics.
Earning Potential: Salaries start in the $50,000 range; with a master’s, you’ll get bumped up to around $70,000. Managers can pull in more than $100,000.
- Digital Detective
Red teamers focused on digital security are hired to hack into computer systems to uncover vulnerabilities. The Department of Homeland Security plans to quadruple its cyber-security staff this year. Mark Mateski, a red teamer and the managing editor of Red Team Journal, says, “You’ll find a lot of red teamers working in war gaming and cyber security in the government-contracting world.” Even bigger growth may be coming in the private sector: “If your business’s survival depends on cyber security, you’re going to start looking for unconventional answers,” he says.
How to Do It: Programming skills are a must; a degree in computer science is helpful in landing a job. The Center for Cyber Defenders Program at New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories offers specific red-team training.
Earning Potential: $60,000 to start on the government and government-contract side; six-figure salaries are common in the private sector.
- 3D Sports Tech
Many fans already say they get a better view of sports events watching TV than sitting near the action, but 3D cements the argument. At least, that’s the view of Steve Schklair, CEO of Burbank-based 3ality Digital Systems, a company specializing in 3D technology and production. “If you’ve got a camera down low next to the green and the golfer is putting uphill, you can actually see the roll of the green while he’s putting,” he says. Ray Hannisian, the company’s lead stereographer, uses software running complex sets of algorithms to fine-tune and synchronize the depth readings of as many as 10 cameras during events. The technology raised its profile during this year’s national college football championships, which 3ality shot and broadcast live to 63 movie theaters in January. Such broadcasts will soon be coming to a living room near you: American consumers have already bought 1.4 million 3D-compatible televisions, and every major electronics manufacturer is now producing such sets. Of course, the best-known 3D arena remains moviemaking. More than a dozen 3D movies are scheduled for release in 2009.
How to Do It: You can master 3D still photography on your own using a program like HumanEyes Capture 3D Software. Also, take classes in digital videography (art schools and university film programs offer them), then look for a job as a 2D cameraman. “With digital technology, you can learn a lot about 3D while you’re actually shooting,” Hannisian says.
Earning Potential: Salaries start at $50,000 and can go as high as $150,000 for television work. For the elite earners in 3D movie production, Schklair says, “There is no limit.”
- Wind Explorer
When civil and environmental engineer Mathias Craig arrived in Nicaragua in 2004, he found a stretch of Caribbean coastline where transportation consisted of horses and boats and there wasn’t a single light bulb. “It was like the Wild West 200 years ago,” he says. As founders of the nonprofit Blue Energy Group, Craig and his brother organized volunteers to build wind turbines to catch the Caribbean trade winds and supply several com-munities with electricity. Hugh Piggott, a Scotland-based wind-energy pioneer, has worked on similar projects in Zimbabwe, Peru and Sri Lanka. “One of the places wind energy is expanding most rapidly is the developing world,” he says. “The number of people in the world who don’t have utility power is actually increasing.” That’s because the population in many regions is growing faster than grid lines and new power plants can be constructed. Craig and his staff of 32 have already installed nine turbines in Nicaragua. They’ve also scouted sites in West Africa, and they’re in talks to expand into Honduras and Guatemala.
How to Do It: Texas Tech University’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center offers a summer internship for undergrads and has one of the country’s few Ph.D. programs in the field. However, it’s possible to jump in without an advanced degree. Piggott teaches turbine-building seminars worldwide; Blue Energy has an apprenticeship program in Nicaragua.
Earning Potential: Nonprofit firms based in developing countries pay from $1000 to $4000 per month. Annual salaries in the U.S. currently range from $35,000 to $55,000.
- Fabricator of Carbon-Fiber Spaceships and Planes
“We’re like the shipbuilders of the modern era,” Reuben Garcia says. As head composite fabricator at XCOR, an aerospace company in Mojave, Calif., Garcia is deeply engaged in the race to make ships capable of carrying tourists into space. Garcia and his team take the plans drawn by XCOR’s engineers and make them real, using lightweight carbon composites similar to the materials used everywhere from Formula One race cars to high-end fishing rods. Composite structures are built up layer by layer, and Garcia’s high-tech creations are shaped largely with such low-tech tools as squeegees filled with epoxy resin. XCOR, which plans to conduct test flights to space by 2011, is situated in a tiny town that has become a hotbed for spaceship and small-airplane construction. “You can walk into any of the 20 or so companies here and have a job in an hour,” says Jon Sharp, owner of Nemesis Air Racing, which builds racing planes.
How to Do It: Many companies will train newbies. However, community colleges can offer a head start with introductory courses in composite fabrication.
Earning Potential: Pay starts low but can climb to $20 per hour. Managers who go on to earn engineering degrees can make up to $100,000 a year.
- Battery Engineer
Will Gardner was a freshly minted college graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering when he was hired by Duracell. “I had no idea what a battery company could want with a mechanical engineer,” Gardner says, but he was drawn to the field, which combines elements of electrical engineering, chemistry, materials science and, yes, mechanical engineering. “You need to know something about each of them in order to succeed,” he says. Today, Gardner leads a team that designs, builds and tests batteries for hybrid electric cars at A123 Systems, a fast-growing firm based in Watertown, Mass. A123’s clients include Chrysler, GM and automotive upstarts Think and Better Place, and the company’s staff has jumped from 150 to 2000 in the past three years. Ann Marie Sastry, who directs the University of Michigan’s master’s program in energy systems engineering, says, “The DNA of the automobile is changing, which means the composition of the workforce has to change.” Sastry also runs her own battery company, called Sakti3. “We’re hiring,” she says. “It’s a great time to be a battery guy.”
How to Do It: A bachelor’s in math, materials science or engineering is essential. Sastry’s program is very highly regarded: “Students are getting jobs even before they finish their studies,” she says.
Earning Potential: To start, $50,000 to $60,000; at the senior level, $95,000.
- Independent Video-Game Designer
It took Kyle Gabler just four days to come up with the concept for his first video game, and, frankly, it didn’t seem like a blockbuster waiting to happen: The protagonists are gobs of goo. But in the growing world of independent game design, execution is key—and Gabler created a look that has drawn comparisons to filmmaker Tim Burton, supporting a story filled with intrigue and humor. The prototype became an indie hit, and in October 2008 Gabler launched the Nintendo Wii game World of Goo (above). In an era of sequels (a dozen Medal of Honor games, eight iterations of Grand Theft Auto), the industry needs fresh ideas—and supplying them has traditionally been a designer’s main job. But as Simon Carless, publisher of the industry website Gamasutra and a former lead designer, says, “Now designers also need practical skills. You need to be able to make the game.”
How to Do It: More than 200 schools offer game-design degrees, including the Art Institute of Portland, which graduates students with a B.S. in Visual and Game Programming. But consumer tech is so good now that you may be able to go it alone. “You can make stuff in your bedroom that’s as good as what people are making professionally,” Carless says. Art, music and coding skills are all critical.
Earning Potential: Staff designers start at an average of $62,000, according to a survey by gamecareerguide.com. On your own, it’s feast or famine. Gabler was incomeless while designing World of Goo. In January, it became the 10th-best-selling PC game on the market.