It Pays to Be Wanted

By Dan Morrell | Boston Magazine |

Breaking down the going rate for good help in the city’s 10 most in-demand occupations.

1. Biotech Factory Workers

It’s not just clipboard-toting researchers who are feeling the love from Governor Deval Patrick’s $1 billion pledge to boost the state’s biotech industry. Skilled biotech factory workers—the modern-day heirs to our region’s mill workers of yore—are a hot commodity, too, and they’ll only get hotter as the big Bristol-Myers Squibb plant planned for Devens moves forward. Performing extensive quality-control measures and complicated FDA-regulated procedures, these workers ensure that drugs and medical devices are produced up to the field’s necessarily high standards. “It’s not like putting in a widget,” says Annette Kranepool, strategic staffing manager at Genzyme.

Salary: $45,000–$55,000

2. Executive Assistants

A local financial-services surge means swarms of new managers and VPs are clamoring for a helper, someone to keep their schedules and remember the names of their clients’ kids. “In the old days, being a ‘secretary’ was almost something to be embarrassed about,” says Peter O’Connor, principal at placement firm Kennison & Associates. But with executive assistants who meet the requirements—a bachelor’s degree and “some polish”—drawing as much as $100,000 a year, any bouts of shame are likely silenced by the purr of a new Benz. “When the economy turns south,” O’Connor says, “we’ll get a lot of out-of-work attorneys saying, ‘Hey, can I be an executive assistant?’”

Salary: Up to $80,000–$100,000

3. Software Developers

A surfeit of tech startups in the region has made this a boom time for young Web developers—so long as they like working on low-glamour projects. What the new companies need are computer geniuses with knowledge of digital guts, particularly software and operating systems. Dustin Ingalls, general manager of Microsoft’s Boston-based SoftGrid, says every candidate his firm approaches is already juggling offers from the likes of VMWare and IBM, which often include incentive packages bursting with bonuses and stock options. All told, deals are well into the six figures, even for recent comp-sci master’s grads—allowing plenty of Geek Squadders to upgrade from Beetles to Bentleys.

Salary: $100,000+

4. Servers, Line Cooks, and Bussers

Good waiters always deserve a little extra. Especially when there’s a distinct lack of them, as is the case in Boston these days. Several recent restaurant openings—Rocca, Gaslight, and the Beehive, among others—have absorbed much of the city’s qualified waitstaff, an integral ingredient in any successful eatery. Skilled kitchen help is likewise scarce. Rocca co-owner Gary Sullivan says the high cost of living here has forced out many restaurant workers; others find they can’t rely on a public transportation system that shuts down before the late-night diners have finished their tiramisu.

Salary: Servers, $200–$300/night; line cooks, $10–$15/hour; bussers,  $5.50/hour plus tips

5. Advertising Account Managers

Wenham isn’t exactly Madison Avenue, but that hasn’t stopped its homegrown advertising shop, Mullen, from landing some big clients—including a $61 million Orbitz account and new business from Timberland and Boston firms such as Hill, Holliday (Toys ‘R’ Us, $88 million) and Small Army (Bugaboo Creek Steak House) also boast top-shelf clients, which has led to a surging need for reps to manage all these accounts. David Hayes, president of the Cambridge-based staffing company HireMinds, says that while there’s a particular buzz around online advertising managers, even those with print and broadcast experience are being courted.

Salary: $30,000–$35,000

6. White-Collar-Crime Defense Attorneys

Four years ago, Robert Ullman was the only white-collar-defense man at the Boston firm Nutter McClennen & Fish. Today his department has a dozen lawyers and no shortage of work. The same goes for firms all over the city, thanks to an increased focus on corporate malfeasance stemming from high-profile accounting fraud cases (think Enron) and investigations into options backdating (think Steve Jobs). The latter scandal has had local resonance, with tech giant Sycamore Networks of Chelmsford and mobile-billing company Boston Communications Group of Bedford undergoing internal investigations and federal inquiries. Which, of course, has meant good news for their outside legal teams.

Salary: $150,000+

7. Medical Technologists

With the calculus of medical insurance as screwy as ever and the cost of malpractice suits on the rise—Massachusetts courts hand down some of the nation’s priciest awards—M.D.s are ordering more and more tests to cover their expenses, and their asses. That’s been a boon for people who work in medical labs, examining slides of blood and checking tissue samples for malignancy. The heavier workload has combined with a lack of local education opportunities (Northeastern University has the only full-time program in eastern Massachusetts) to drive up demand for qualified lab techs. Mass General alone employs 230 of them, close to 100 at the entry level.

Salary: $45,000–$55,000

8. Dental Hygienists

“Dentists used to do everything themselves,” says Andrea Richman, president of the Massachusetts Dental Society. Today, though, hygienists play Okajima to the boss’s Papelbon. Graduates from the state’s eight accredited programs aren’t enough to meet demand, which is exacerbated by the field’s high turnover rate. (Many hygienists are initially attracted to the job’s flexible hours, but eventually seek out new careers.) Consequently, open positions are sitting unfilled: In the first six months of 2007, local job postings for dental assistants leaped 379 percent compared with the same period in 2006.

Salary: $50,000

9. Health Club Trainers

Massachusetts is either getting progressively fitter, or paying out the nose for unused gym memberships. The number of health clubs in the state has nearly doubled in the past decade, helping the state rank second in the nation last year in the share of the population belonging to a health club, at 22 percent. Thanks to the talent pinch, Gary Klencheski, president and CEO of Fitcorp, had eight openings for personal trainers in August. “We used to think a personal trainer was something that only people who were getting a decent salary could afford,” says Klencheski. No longer. Health—now for the working class, too!

Salary: $35,000–$45,000

10. Science Ph.D.s

While young Turks with M.B.A.s still have their place, whiz kids of a different stripe have become en vogue i
n the finance world as the industry rethinks the way money is made. Once, people bought stocks based on industry research (how quaint); now, it’s all computer models and quantitative analysis, making deep thinkers highly valuable, even if they’re not naturally money-minded. Robin Mount, an associate career-services director at Harvard, has seen a jump in financial-services firms’ recruiting of Ph.D. holders from fields like physics and astronomy. And you can see why those science docs would be interested: A six-figure salary sure beats spending a decade on an article for the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics.

Salary: $100,000+

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