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Where the jobs are: Health and tech are in high demand

If you are preparing to venture into the workforce for the first time or looking for a new job, take some comfort in the fact that hiring has picked up across most sectors of the economy.

If you've got certain skills, your job prospects are even brighter these days. Not surprisingly, workers with technical skills are in high demand. The digital revolution is still transforming many industries, and that has resulted in robust demand for computer programmers, data scientists, software engineers and other types of tech-savvy workers.

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Workers with certain creative skills, such as graphic designers, technical writers and social media specialists, are also in high demand in the digital age, said Paul D'Arcy, a senior vice president at job-search website Indeed.com.

In August the number of job listings grew for all sectors tracked by Indeed's U.S. Industry Employment Trends index. The increase marked the third month in a row of year-over-year growth in all sectors of the index, which is based on Indeed listings for a broad group of industries.

While wages and labor-force participation remain depressed, the U.S. unemployment rate dipped below 6 percent last year for the first time since 2008. In August of this year, it stood at 5.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet the recovery in the job market is still somewhat lopsided. In many industries, hiring is strongest for low-pay, low-skill positions — think retail clerk and hotel housekeeper — and for jobs that require technical skills, according to D'Arcy of Indeed. For many tech-related jobs, there aren't enough qualified candidates to fill the growing number of positions.

Computer- and math-related occupations, such as computer scientist and software-developer jobs, represented nearly 8.5 percent of Indeed's listings in 2014, but they generated only about 5.5 percent of job-seeker interest (as measured by clicks on the site) last year.

Sectors whose performance is highly correlated with the economic cycle have seen some of the strongest levels of job growth over the past year.

In August — the most recent month for which data is available — Indeed listings in the construction, retail, hospitality and real estate sectors rose by 18 percent, 28 percent, 34 percent and 37 percent, respectively, on a year-over-year basis.

"People have more choices in terms of jobs than they did five years ago. So you have attrition creating open positions that are increasingly difficult to fill." -Paul D'Arcy, senior vice president at Indeed.com

Hiring has also been strong in the education and health-care sectors, but that is only partially due to the rebounding economy, said D'Arcy. The health-care sector is growing for several reasons, including an aging population and stronger demand tied to expanded insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In 2014, employers added an average of 26,000 jobs per month in the health-care field, according to an Indeed report that cites data from the BLS. There is especially high demand for health-care administrators, managers and technicians, according to the report.

Most in-demand health-care jobs*

  1. Registered nurses
  2. Nursing aides, orderlies, attendants
  3. Licensed practical/vocational nurses
  4. Medical assistants
  5. Physical therapists
  6. Medical records/health information technicians
  7. Pharmacy technicians
  8. Physician assistants
  9. Radiologic technologists/technicians
  10. Occupational therapists

*As measured by number of job postings, August 2015.
Source: Indeed.com

The education sector has also enjoyed solid job growth, but that, according to D'Arcy, has been driven by a demand for workers with technical skills rather than strong growth in the number of teaching jobs. The number of Indeed listings in the education sector rose 18 percent in August on a year-over-year basis.

"Most people think of teaching when they think of education jobs," D'Arcy said, but increasingly, education, like nearly every other sector, is being transformed by technology, he explained, adding, "Whether you are an information-technology person for a school or a bank, that very often requires similar skills."

In both health care and education, the competition for talent has intensified as the job market has improved. "People have more choices in terms of jobs than they did five years ago," he said. "So you have attrition creating open positions that are increasingly difficult to fill."

The fierce competition for tech talent is having a profound influence on where companies — and not just tech companies — choose to invest and thus create new jobs. Increasingly, companies are following talent to markets that D'Arcy calls "thriving hubs of tech workers."

Top cities for technology jobs*

  1. San Francisco
  2. San Jose, California
  3. Seattle
  4. Boston
  5. Austin
  6. San Diego
  7. Arlington, Virginia
  8. New York
  9. Atlanta
  10. Chicago

*For one-year period ending August 2015.
Source: Indeed.com

These tech hubs include the usual suspects — namely, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle — as well as a handful of other cities that have become magnets for millennials, including Austin and Minneapolis.

"Companies are going wherever the talent is, and that brings more talent to those locations," said D'Arcy.

Given the surge in tech-related jobs and the severity of the last recession, many of today's college-bound students are eager to pursue highly specialized fields of study, such as computer programming and engineering, in an effort to put themselves on a solid career path, said Todd Weaver, a senior director at Strategies for College, a college admissions and financial-aid consulting firm.

But Weaver says many college-bound students and their families have been too quick to dismiss the idea of pursuing a liberal arts degree. Many employers, he said, complain that students who graduate from college with highly specialized degrees often fall short when it comes to speaking well, writing well and managing other people.

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What's more, the job market continues to change rapidly, and many of today's college students will end up changing careers multiple times during their lives, he said. That's harder to do, added Weaver, when you have a highly specialized skill set.

With a background in liberal arts, "you can change course more quickly than, say, an electrical engineer who needs to be retrained and maybe go back to college," added Weaver.

By Anna Robaton, special to CNBC.com