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10 of the Best Jobs for the Future

Even as many Americans struggle to find work, certain fields are booming — and will continue to boom well into the future. You could boost your odds of career success by targeting one of these expanding job fields.

We took a deep dive into employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify fields that promise to add the greatest number of positions at the fastest rates through 2020. We also looked for occupations that pay top dollar and have been increasing wages of late. Salary ranges reflect annual paychecks from the 25th to the 75th percentiles, which weeds out the lowest and highest earners.

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Finally, we took into account the level of education typically required to land a job. While higher degrees can lead to higher salaries, some fields offer good pay and plenty of openings to those with less schooling. Take a look at 10 hot jobs of tomorrow.

1. Registered Nurse
Total number of U.S. workers (most recent data): 2,737,400
10-year growth projection: 26.0% (all occupations: 14.3%)
Annual salary range: $53,770 to $80,390 (all occupations: $22,380-$55,470)
Typical education: associate's degree

The outlook for RNs is healthy. The field is expected to add more than 711,000 positions in this decade, the most of any occupation. Advancing technology, greater focus on preventive care and an aging population will mean a growing number of patients requiring care — in hospitals, doctors' offices, long-term-care facilities and even private homes.

Becoming a registered nurse requires a bachelor's of science in nursing (generally a four-year program), an associate's degree in nursing (two to three years) or a diploma from an accredited nursing program (two to three years). An advanced nursing position, such as a nurse practitioner, calls for a master's degree. You'll also need a license to practice, not to mention reserves of compassion and patience.

2. Systems Software Developer
Total number of U.S. workers: 392,300
10-year growth projection: 32.4%
Annual salary range: $77,720 to $120,500
Typical education: bachelor's degree

This is a nerd's world, and we're all benefiting from it. With the computerization of everything from cell phones to cars to coffee makers, the development of new systems software has become an essential part of our lives. Demand for more sophisticated cybersecurity and digital health records should also provide new jobs for techies. Then there is rising demand for applications software developers, who create everything from word-processing programs to apps for tablets and smart phones.

A college degree in computer science or software engineering is the entry point for most software-development jobs. Employers may even look for someone with a master's degree to fill certain positions. Either way, you must have a strong background in programming and be able to keep up with changes in the field, such as the introduction of new tools and computer languages. Systems software developers enjoy the highest pay of anyone on our list and have a shot at a six-figure salary.

3. Plumber
Total number of U.S. workers: 419,900
10-year growth projection: 25.6%
Annual salary range: $36,050 to $64,790
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Demand for plumbing services is expected to grow with new building construction and the need to increase water efficiency by installing low-flow faucets and toilets. Even in less-prosperous economic times, plumbing maintenance and repairs remain a necessity — adding more job security to the occupation.

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Most plumbers get started with a paid four- or five-year apprenticeship, which usually requires you to be at least 18 years old and drug-free, to have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and to possess basic math and computer skills. Find registered apprenticeships in your area through the U.S. Department of Labor. You might also need to be licensed, depending on your state's requirements.

4. Construction Equipment Operator
Total number of U.S. workers: 349,100
10-year growth projection: 23.5%
Annual salary range: $32,550 to $56,040
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

The nation's crumbling infrastructure is building up demand for construction workers. And equipment operators, who run everything from bulldozers to piledrivers, are expected to be in greater demand than supervisors while pulling in higher pay than laborers and helpers. The gritty duties can usually be learned on the job, but you might also seek out apprenticeships or private trade school programs.

Note: The sequestration could put a bump in the road for this career path. Budget cuts this fiscal year include about $2 billion from the Department of Transportation and $503 million specifically from national infrastructure investments. But Congress may act to ease these automatic spending reductions.

5. Electrician
Total number of U.S. workers: 577,000
10-year growth projection: 23.2%
Annual salary range: $37,570 to $65,260
Typical education: high school diploma or equivalent

Demand for increased connectivity at home and at the office means more work for electricians. So does the growing use of alternative energy, including solar and wind power. Housing renovation and new construction will also drive growth.

Most electricians get started with a paid four-year apprenticeship. Entering one of these programs usually requires that you be at least 18 years old, and have a high school diploma or the equivalent, one year of algebra, a qualifying aptitude score and drug-free clearance. You can find registered apprenticeships in your area through the U.S. Department of Labor. Most states also require you to be licensed.

6. Personal Financial Advisor
Total number of U.S. workers: 206,800
10-year growth projection: 32.1%
Annual salary range: $43,160 to $111,880
Typical education: bachelor's degree

More money problems, more money help needed. As Americans age and pensions become a thing of the past, good investment advice will only grow in value. Baby-boomers, especially, could increasingly need professional help as they plan for and enter retirement. Financial expertise can lead to big bucks for you as well as your clients: Personal financial advisors are one of only two professions on this list whose wage range reaches six digits.

You usually have to be a college grad to get on this career path. A bachelor's degree in finance, economics, accounting or a similar field would best prepare you for dealing with money matters, but most employers don't specify a required major. Certification from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards — which requires a bachelor's degree, at least three years of relevant work experience and passing a rigorous exam on a wide range of financial issues — adds to your credibility. Licensing is required to sell certain types of insurance and investment products.

7. Physical Therapist's Assistant
Total number of U.S. workers: 67,400
10-year growth projection: 45.7%
Annual salary range: $41,320 to $60,250
Typical education: associate's degree

Aging baby-boomers are a boon for those working in physical therapy. Many more workers in this field will be needed to care for victims of heart attacks and strokes and to lead them through cardiac and physical rehabilitation. And with ongoing advances in medicine, more people will survive such traumas and need rehabilitative services.

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Therapist assistants fall between full-fledged physical therapists and lower-skilled therapist aides in terms of pay and training required. The field will see robust demand. Because an assistant is able to provide some therapy services directly, median pay is more than double that of an aide. And while assistants typically earn about $27,000 less a year than physical therapists, they just need an associate's degree, as opposed to a therapist's doctoral degree, to get started. You can find an accredited program through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

8. Computer Network Administrator

Total number of U.S. workers: 347,200
10-year growth projection: 27.8%
Annual salary range: $55,150 to $90,160
Typical education: bachelor's degree

Thank the hackers for this thriving career opportunity. Increasing digital dangers are pushing Uncle Sam, state and local governments, and companies of all stripes to protect their technology and beef up information security. Hospitals and doctors' offices, in particular, will need help managing their expanding networks as they begin to keep more digital records, as firms invest in newer and faster systems.

To get started as a network administrator, who runs the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computer network, you'll likely need a sheepskin in computer or information science. A degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering may work, too. Some companies may also want you to get certified to use certain products, usually by Microsoft, Red Hat or Cisco.

9. Painter
Total number of U.S. workers: 390,500
10-year growth projection: 18.5%
Annual salary range: $28,120 to $46,280
Typical education: Less than high school

Sorry, would-be-Picassos, but this call for painters is more blue-collar than blue period. In an attempt to lengthen the lives of industrial structures, such as bridges, tall buildings and oil rigs, painters will be increasingly in demand to brush them with protective coatings. House painters should also find no shortage of walls to work on. More people are renting, and landlords need a new coat of primer and paint applied each time a new tenant moves in.

Little experience is necessary; just pick up a brush and learn as you go. But you might benefit from a formal paid apprenticeship. You'll receive technical instruction, including lessons on color matching, application technique and safety practices. You can find registered apprenticeship opportunities in your area through the U.S. Department of Labor. To become an industrial painter, you may need certifications for certain jobs, which can take one day to several weeks to obtain. Find out more from the National Association of Corrosion Engineers.

10. Dental Hygienist
Total number of U.S. workers: 181,800
10-year growth projection: 37.7%
Annual salary range: $56,950 to $83,310
Typical education: associate's degree

Those in the oral health field have a great deal to smile about. In addition to growing demand for dental hygienists, the numbers of dentist and dental assistant jobs also are expected to increase by 20.7% and 30.8%, respectively.

Median pay for a dental hygienist, who typically cleans teeth, takes x-rays and educates patients on proper care, is more than double that of an assistant. (A dental assistant’s duties may include prepping patients for treatment, assisting the dentist and sterilizing equipment.) And the path to get started as a hygienist is much less costly than that of a dentist. You usually need a two-year associate's degree in dental hygiene, which requires you to study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography and periodontology. You also have to get a license to practice. Requirements vary by state. You can find more information about programs and licensure from the American Dental Hygienists' Association.