Planning for the future?

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, March 12, 2009

Even as most of the country’s major industries are facing hiring freezes and layoffs, there are several careers that are still in high demand even in this down economy — including engineering, pharmacy and veterinary medicine.

Tig Gilliam, chief executive of the human resources firm Adecco Group North America, told Associated Press reporter Christopher Rugaber that engineers face a nation-wide jobless rate of 3 percent, compared to the overall unemployment rate of more than 8 percent.

Chase Cotton, a project engineer at DMD Engineers in Andalusia, said he was not surprised to hear that there are so many engineering jobs available.

“We specialize in civil engineering, which encompasses a lot of infrastructure work,” Cotton said. “All governments need infrastructure improvements to serve the local residents; if there’s a need for water service or sewer service, there’s a need for an engineer to design it.”

As the baby boomer generation grows older, there becomes more of a need for pharmacists and other health care professionals, local pharmacist Laura Darby said.

“There’s definitely a real shortage right now,” she said. “With new Medicare plans going into effect, a lot more people are getting more prescriptions. There will always be a need for health care professionals as technology improves and people live longer.”

The need for health care workers does not stop only with humans, however. Dr. Toby Atkinson, a veterinarian at Andalusia Animal Clinic, said there will always be a need for those who take care of sick animals as well. In fact, the U.S. Labor Department estimates that the number of veterinary jobs needed will grow by 35 percent by 2016.

“Whether a person has a job or not, they probably have a pet who has certain demands and needs a certain level of care,” Atkinson said. “I think pets have become more and more like a part of a family, rather than just a commodity or property, so as a result they tend to be cared for more.”

Of course, not all of these occupations are open to just any applicant. Cotton said engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from an accredited institution, and then have to pass an eight-hour fundamentals of learning test.

Graduates who pass the test usually work for four years under a professional engineer and then take another test to become professional engineers, themselves.

“Obviously you need to be good at math and numbers,” Cotton said. “But if you’re in consulting engineering, you also need to have people skills. You may have to be a good public speaker to relay information to the public and to city officials.”

Darby said pharmacy students usually require at least six years in college, but the typical program is eight years — four years of undergraduate education and four years working toward a doctor of pharmacy degree.

“You’ve got to be smart but you’ve also got to enjoy working with people and have patience,” she said.

Atkinson also said people skills are important to any aspiring veterinarian, in addition to the more obvious love of animals.

“You have to get along with people,” he said. “A lot of kids say they want to be a vet when they grow up because they love animals. That’s all well and good, but the reality of it is that it’s people who pay the bills.

“You have to have a passion for what you’re doing, but you also have to be able to communicate and have a ‘bedside manner’ with the owner to get the best care for the pet.”

Atkinson said veterinary students take their pre-requisite classes in undergraduate school and then have a four-year program at veterinary school, before taking boards to receive state and federal certification.