Only one thing is certain about the jobs of the future—the best ones will require more than just a high school diploma. Nationally and locally, the workers of tomorrow likely will need an associate’s degree or higher to get a good wage.

Nationally, jobs requiring an associate’s degree are expected to grow by 32 percent, the fastest rate of growth at any educational level. All but two of the 50 highest-paying occupations require a four-year college degree—only air traffic controllers and nuclear power reactor operators can get entry level jobs with less education.

The following snapshots offer a glimpse into projected local demand for the workforce of the future:

Fastest-growing jobs

Ten years from now, eight of the top 10 projected fastest-growing occupations in Cook County will require expertise in computers, from desktop publishing applications to engineering software. Entry level candidates will be required to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Two job categories—social and human service assistants and medical assistants—call for only a high school diploma, combined with training.

Highest paying occupations

Today, a college degree and often graduate studies are necessary to earn top dollars in Cook County. The jobs that paid the highest wages in Cook County in 2002 included chief executives, whose median salary is the equivalent of $71 an hour; pediatricians at $63; lawyers at $55; and psychiatrists at $49. Wage projections for Cook County for the next 10 years are not available.

Largest number of jobs

Most of the occupations that are expected to produce the largest number of jobs in Cook County in 2010 may not require a high school diploma, much less a college degree. Service-sector jobs such as retail sales, cashiers and maids comprise half the top 10 jobs. Only two—registered nurses and operations managers—require a college degree.

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