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Entering the job market? Your education matters more than ever.

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Similarly, the supply of workers is relatively tight for engineers, scientists, and health-care practitioners, all fields with high average pay. By contrast, lower-paying fields including food service, personal care, factory production, and transportation all have a high ratio of jobless workers to job openings.

And Ms. Smith says the long-term outlook is clear: The jobs of the future will demand more know-how than the ones of the past.

The pattern has implications for workers of all types. For people who don't attend college, Smith recommends being licensed or certified for some trade, for example.

There is some good news in a new Labor Department forecast, which predicts job gains in virtually all broad occupational categories. The department's "Employment Projections" says job openings in the coming decade will include many for less-skilled workers: 2 million in retail sales, 5 million in cooking and food service, and growth in numerous smaller occupations as well – bicycle repairers, the nation will need about 6,000 more of you.

The labor forecast covers some 750 occupations, from ones poised to shrink in size (Postal Service workers, telephone operators) to ones with faster than average growth. By 2020, jobs are expected to open up for 49,000 pest control workers, 232,000 preschool teachers, 59,000 architects, 93,000 musicians or composers, 40,000 translators, 315,000 social workers, and 25,000 masons or tile setters.

But labor experts still see the problem of a "skills mismatch" as a big one.

"Many employers are saying they can't find workers with the right skill sets," says Julian Alssid, executive director of a consulting group called the Workforce Strategy Center, in Barrington, Rhode Island.

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