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Dec. 7, 2023

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A look at fast-growing jobs in Clark County

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
C.J. Barton lends a hand with construction of the new Quad Industrial Park in October. Construction jobs, and many other labor professions, are among the fastest-growing jobs in Clark County heading into the new year.
C.J. Barton lends a hand with construction of the new Quad Industrial Park in October. Construction jobs, and many other labor professions, are among the fastest-growing jobs in Clark County heading into the new year. Amanda Cowan/Columbian files Photo Gallery

Unemployment in Clark County has been below 5 percent for the last seven months, according to the state Employment Security Department.

And many new jobs are arriving to Clark County. The job growth rate here outstrips the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area, as well as Washington, Oregon and the U.S. average.

So if you’re one of the job hunters out there, know that it’s a booming market with many options now and in the future. But what are some of the most promising careers?

Here are a few lines of work poised to grow in the coming years, according to data provided by the Employment Security Department. The data uses growth from 2015-17 to project how employment in 2020 and 2025 might shape up.

• Tool time: Roofer, mason, electrician, plumber:

Red-hot demand for housing in Clark County, and the offices and shopping centers around them, have put a premium on construction trades and laborers.

Construction firms everywhere say they are looking for people who can hammer, plumb, weld, inspect — and much more. A shortfall of able bodies has wages rising, too.

“There’s a labor shortage and it’s not something that is going to be alleviated in 2018,” said Andrea Smith of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association. “This region is becoming an economic hotbed. It’s a developer’s playground. They’re seeing opportunity in an up-and-coming city that’s close to the Portland metro area, and that’s a pretty attractive quality.”

Roofers, masons, painters, welders, mechanics and inspectors jobs are all expected to grow between now and 2020, according to state data. People in these jobs can earn close to $40,000 a year. These jobs are also available to people without college degrees.

“General labor only takes a few classes and someone to give you the opportunity to work for them,” Smith said.

Skilled trades, such as plumber and electrician, require workers to serve apprenticeships and acquire formal training. These skilled workers are especially prized. Clark County is projected to add 600 carpenters between 2015-2020 at an average annual wage of $48,243. Electricians are among the highest earners at $59,141 on average.

Companies are in big need of these workers. “Across the board, it’s pretty dire. I would say the more skilled, the more in-demand that (profession) is,” Smith said.

• Careers in care: Registered nurse, dental assistant, teacher:

Nobody’s getting younger, and that’s both good and bad in the world of nursing.

While the aging population in Clark County drives demand for nurses and care professionals, nurses themselves are bracing for a wave of retirements.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people in Clark County aged 65 and older grew by nearly 40 percent between 2010 and 2016. That amounts to about 20,000 people.

Exacerbating that is the fact that nurses are 50 years old on average, said Victoria King, chief nursing officer for Vancouver-based PeaceHealth.

“Depending on who you ask or which study you look at, there’s going to be a tsunami of nurses retiring over the next few years,” she said. “There will always be the demand for (RNs).”

Registered nurses locally could grow by more than 400 jobs by 2020, according to the data. PeaceHealth, which operates hospitals and clinics, currently has about 60 openings in Southwest Washington, King said. Driving that growth, besides age, are nurses’ expanding roles in health care and the rise of outpatient care, she said.

Registered nurses earn an average of $77,271 in Clark County, but even entry-level jobs require formal education and a license. More than 80 percent of registered nurses have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree.

This is a field for people driven by compassion, King said. Some nursing jobs require standing for 12 hours a day and can be emotionally demanding.

“You have to be intelligent, diligent and caring. There are days when it’s heartbreaking, and there are days when it’s the best day of your life,” she said. “You have to be able to swing that. It’s a work for the heart.”

Dental assistants are another fast-growing occupation, expected to add about 100 jobs by 2020. The job requires training but not a bachelor’s degree. It pays $38,274 on average.

Schoolteachers are expected to increase, too. In Clark County, teachers may average close to $60,000. Like nursing, teaching requires a college education and a license. A large share of teachers have earned advanced degrees, as well.

• Keyboards, mice and opportunity: Software developer, computer systems analyst:

Harnessing data is quickly becoming a must for every industry. No wonder then every firm from grocery chains to clothing manufacturers is looking to hire workers who know how to work with data.

Web developers and computer systems analysts are two of the fastest-growing jobs in Clark County, according to the state. The former make $66,130 on average, while the latter earn $87,220.

Software developers, a marquee job in the tech sector, are poised to grow in Clark County. These creators of programs and applications are expected to grow by 150 professionals by 2020. The job pays an average $104,783.

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While software developers often hold at least a bachelor’s degree, some tech jobs can be attained with associate’s degrees or high school diplomas. Computer operators, user support specialists and web developers all make more than $40,000 a year and mostly are held by people without a college degree.

According to projections, computer and mathematical occupations as a whole are expected to have a big decade. Between 2015 and 2025, local employment is projected to increase by 38 percent, from 5,332 to 7,379 jobs. That’s the fastest of all the major categories.


The data presented here rely on estimates from the state Employment Security Department. While helpful, it is not without limitations.

For one, the figures are estimates and not an official head count of employees. It is gathered locally and used by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the methodology asks employers to report their own breakdown of occupations. There is some margin for error.

Regional labor economist Scott Bailey, who tracks the economies of Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties, said that the data should be not treated as gospel. Career advisers, offered by both Clark College and Lower Columbia College, should be consulted by anyone who is considering setting out on a career path, he said.

Furthermore, the statistics are limited to Clark County, while residents here will surely benefit from job growth in Oregon. For example, employment of architects has not grown much in Clark County, but the field is growing rapidly in Portland.

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Columbian staff writer