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‘In-Demand’ Occupations for the Self-Employed

July 31, 2012 by Luke Mason

In the current economic climate, it can be tempting to “go rogue.” Companies are reticent to acquire or keep some workers on, so it seems smart to cut ties and venture out on your own. But is self-employment really a good career choice?

As you might expect, there are a fair number of jobs that are “in-demand” in computer-related occupations—over 3 million for computer specialists—and careers in engineering and health services are showing plenty of new faces. It’s great to know that there are some industries that still have room for new growth. Here at EMSI, we’re always looking for a chance to show off our new data and tools, so we saw this as an opportunity. EMSI’s Analyst tool now provides the data to compare salaried workers (both QCEW and non-QCEW) with those who are self-employed. Let’s look at a breakdown of these 10 occupations in light of the new data.

First, here is a list of the occupations:

SOC CodeDescription2009 Jobs2012 JobsChange% ChangeMedian Hourly WageEducation Level
15-1000Computer Specialists2,956,6573,105,973149,3165%$35.34Associate's or higher degree
11-2021Marketing Managers180,363185,7555,3923%$51.26Bachelor's or higher degree, plus work experience
15-1071Network and Computer Systems Administrators339,682354,36014,6784%$32.77Bachelor's degree
11-9111Medical and Health Services Managers282,323293,00810,6854%$39.40Bachelor's or higher degree, plus work experience
17-2112Industrial Engineers200,049216,24316,1948%$36.21Bachelor's degree
29-1122Occupational Therapists104,717111,1626,4456%$33.84Master's degree
27-1026Merchandise Displayers and Window Trimmers64,98466,4771,4932%$12.44Moderate-term on-the-job training
19-1042Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists105,950116,32810,37810%$36.21Doctoral degree
31-2011Occupational Therapist Assistants28,90630,6741,7686%$24.39Associate's degree
31-2021Physical Therapist Assistants64,21969,2215,0028%$23.29Associate's degree
Source: QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2012.2 Class of Worker

From this list, a few things are worthy of note. Computer specialists is huge category, comprising nine 5-digit occupations, so the numbers are deceptively large. But that doesn’t mean the potential jobs aren’t real. They are, and someone looking for a decent wage and a reliable future might consider becoming a computer specialist.

Because the category is disproportionally large, we’ve removed computer specialists from the list of in-demand occupations considered in this article. This makes the evaluation more streamlined and, we hope, more useful.

Before we break it into salaried and self-employed workers, another thing to keep in mind is the fact that certain occupations just don’t lend themselves to self-employment. A medical or health services manager is probably going to be employed by someone else, as are occupational and physical therapist assistants. If there is an occupational therapist assistant, we can safely assume that he or she (95% of these assistants are female) is working for an occupational therapist.

Let’s organize these occupations based on percent change over the last four years. Basically, we’re looking at the increase in total workers employed in these occupations since 2009.


At the top of the list is medical scientists, except epidemiologists, with a 10% increase in the last four years. Industrial engineers has seen an 8% increase, and given the amount of job postings in that field, the market seems healthy. Notice that there are almost twice as many jobs in engineering as there are in medical science. It’s not surprising, given the fact that 61% of medical scientists hold a doctoral or some other professional degree. It’s not an easy field to break into.

Click for larger imageIn terms of wages (see graph), managerial positions tend to dominate the list. And the doctoral degree required for medical scientists means that their pay is higher. But the fourth highest wages go to industrial engineers, who are not required to have anything beyond a bachelor’s degree. That, combined with the number of jobs, means that it might be a good time to think about an engineering degree.

As a side note, what are the gender percentages of the top four occupations on this list?

  1. Marketing managers – 61% male, 39% female
  2. Medical and health services managers – 13% male, 87% female
  3. Medical scientists, except epidemiologists – 44% male, 56% female
  4. Industrial engineers – 89% male, 11% female

As you can see, industrial engineers tend to be predominantly male, but marketing managers and medical scientists are much more evenly distributed across genders.

Salaried vs. Self-Employed

When we break out the salaried and the self-employed workers, the data brings a twist to the story.

Separating out salaried and self-employed workers allows us to see growth more accurately. As far as salaried workers go, medical scientists are still at the top of the list, followed by industrial engineers. Given the number of jobs at the beginning of the year (351,816), network and computer system administration seems like it might be a good career option. Although the percent change is not as high as in some other fields, 4.4% is respectable increase. Also, 39% of these workers have a bachelor’s degree (mostly in the field) and 49% have received less education. For a median hourly wage of $32.76, this prospect is certainly tempting.

On the self-employment side, however, the fields are less sunny. The only occupations with self-employment growth are occupational therapists, medical and health services managers, and marketing managers. It’s important to remember just how low all these numbers are. For example, there were only 5,749 self-employed occupational therapists at the beginning of the year, and that is an 8% increase over 2009. In these nine occupations, self-employment accounts for a tiny fraction of the total job numbers.

It’s interesting to note how many self-employed workers are in managerial positions. Obviously, the numbers are miniscule compared to salaried positions, but 11,564 jobs in marketing and 10,461 jobs in medical and health services is no small matter. And both occupations have been growing steadily (5%) for the past four years. Other occupations seem to be diminishing, however, especially industrial engineers, whose occupation looks so promising from a salaried employees standpoint. Merchandise displayers, network and computer systems administrators, and medical scientists have all seen severe decline in the self-employed job market, and self-employed physical and occupational therapist assistants are essentially non-existent.

How do the wages compare in these occupations between the salaried and the self-employed? In six out of nine occupations, salaried workers have a higher median wage, with marketing managers at the top. In fact, marketing managers who work for a company make over twice as much as those who work on their own. Self-employed medical scientists, with a doctoral degree, earn the most on the self-employment side, but the market is slipping drastically. The growing field of self-employed occupational therapists earns a respectable $37.69 per hour, and merchandise display is at the bottom with a median hourly wage of $11.09. According to EMSI data, self-employed occupational and physical therapist assistants are non-existent, which explains why the median hourly wage for that category is flat zero.


The job market is still open, if you know where to look. For those who are considering self-employment, however, the prospect is a little more grim. Comparatively, the number of jobs in each occupation is so small that only a very determined self-employed worker will be able to make a living. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, is one self-employment field that has seen some growth over the last few years, and will probably continue to do so.

If you’d like to pursue your dream of self-employment, you might get by as an occupational therapist, but if you aren’t already planning to pursue a master’s in therapy, you might find that you’re a little behind the curve. Here is a list of 10 occupations that had over 2,000 self-employed workers in 2012 and don’t require anything beyond a bachelor’s degree. All of them pay more than $20 per hour. If you’re hoping to be self-employed, you might look into one of these:

SOC CodeDescription2009 Jobs2012 JobsChange% ChangeMedian Hourly WageEducation Level
47-4051Highway Maintenance Workers1,8052,15935420%$21.05Moderate-term on-the-job training
53-3021Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity4,2744,87059614%$24.93Moderate-term on-the-job training
27-4032Film and Video Editors6,4387,30486613%$23.55Bachelor's degree
53-5021Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels3,1243,54141713%$27.85Work experience in a related occupation
21-1021Child, Family, and School Social Workers4,6885,27458613%$24.34Bachelor's degree
27-3042Technical Writers4,6665,18652011%$33.42Bachelor's degree
21-1022Medical and Public Health Social Workers2,9563,26831211%$26.74Bachelor's degree
29-1129Therapists, All Other14,82916,3431,51410%$26.81Bachelor's degree
37-1012First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Landscaping, Lawn Service, and Groundskeeping Workers51,55056,5775,02710%$21.25Work experience in a related occupation
13-1071Employment, Recruitment, and Placement Specialists9,24710,0978509%$27.26Bachelor's degree
Source: Self-Employed - EMSI 2012.2 Class of Worker

Data and analysis from this report was created using Analyst, EMSI’s web-based labor market tool. Please contact Rob Sentz ([email protected]) if you have further questions. Follow us @desktopecon.

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