The health care and tech sectors are among the industries that are still actively hiring, an encouraging sign for individuals still seeking jobs.

The unemployment rate remained steady at 5.0% in December, a sign that the labor market is robust. The job outlook appears strong for many industries with the addition of 292,000 jobs, as the two best years for job growth since 1999 occurred in 2014 and 2015. While the amount of hourly wages remained flat in December, that figure has risen by 2.5% compared to the previous year, one marked sign of improvement in the labor market.

Of course, it's not all rosy: the job outlook for the manufacturing and energy sectors appears weaker as oil prices have reached 12-year lows and have continued to thrash profit margins.

As a result, for the nimble ones looking to tailor their job search toward sectors employing the most workers, workers should look toward industries that are not  "being threatened directly by global competition," said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Positions in the information technology, education and health care fields are being filled while the number of manufacturing jobs remain weak. The recent "spurt" in more construction jobs could be the result of pent up demand for housing and warm weather, he said.

"The higher salary jobs are available in sectors in which workers compete among each other and there is significant employer demand - primarily education, health care, finance and information technology, Chaison said. "In basic manufacturing, so much is dependent on new hiring or replacement hiring for workers who have been laid off."

Industries Who Need Employees

The industries that need a large number of employees to fill on-going positions include the health care sector, which is seeking technicians, nurses and biomedical technology professionals; the information technology sector, which needs database administrators, support jobs and software engineers; and both the civil engineering and accounting sectors, said Steven Lindner, executive partner of The WorkPlace Group, a Florham Park, N.J. recruitment firm. The non-professional industries are experiencing an “uptick in demand” for construction workers, truck drivers, customer service workers and retail associates, he said.

The government remains a mainstay employer and is now in a growth mode due to ever increasing security issues. Businesses working in the national security fields such as IT security and aerospace will be seeking more employees, said Lindner.

“The FBI, CIA and the industries which service them are growing,” he said. “They need people who can do advanced work.”

Demand for professional positions is experiencing an uptick compared to customer service and entry level positions. The demand for more experienced professional workers is “actually approaching pre-recession levels,” Lindner said. “This is the biggest 2016 trend – the need for seasoned workers across industries such as health, IT, government/security, manufacturing and production. For the past few years, it has been all about entry level hires and this has led to the need for management level people and senior professionals.”

Employers in trade, transportation and construction will also be on the lookout for additional employees, said Joanie Courtney, a senior vice president of global market insights at Monster, the Weston, Mass.-based employment website. “Demand remains critical within the tech market where programmers and related tech expert positions are desirable and revealed a significant labor shortage in specialized talent.”

"Attracting and retaining talent in these positions or people who possess a specialty certification role will remain difficult as top candidates are experiencing an increase of competitive job offers which can provide better salaries and opportunities,” she added.

Raises Are Scarce

With nearly 300,000 jobs being added in December, the final quarter of 2015 transformed into the best quarter of the year for employment. Despite the number of jobs which were added, the December average hourly earnings declined by $0.01 to $25.24, said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst for Bankrate, the North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company. Stagnant wage growth has remained an issue for employees despite gasoline prices continuing their descent as other costs such as health insurance have risen.

“Beneath the surface, the 70 consecutive months of jobs creation has nevertheless, coincided with less-than-satisfying wage growth,” he said. “Over the previous year, that same barometer of wage growth has risen just 2.5%.”

Wage growth has risen in only some dedicated industries such as IT tech support and customer service, where employees are performing a “very specialized skill or trade,” said Lindner. “Job candidates with specialized skills are the ones who can command greater salaries. We can now confirm that is a job candidate-driven market and is no longer an employer-driven market.”

Outlook for 2016

Selecting positions which can not be replaced by workers from abroad and those in well-established sectors such as consumer services, finance, insurance, real estate, health care and education will give employees greater job security, said Chaison.

“There are still plenty of good jobs out there for people who develop flexibility,” he said. “Always assume that you will be changing careers about every seven years and plan for change. The idea of spending one's life in a single career and with a single employer is outmoded.”

During the last quarter, the demand from companies has shifted to big data and analytics and outpaced project management, said Michael Stebbins, head of U.S. operations at Simplilearn, a Scotts Valley, Calif.-based provider of short-term certification courses. The top five areas for job growth and ones who will provide the largest raises include big data and analytics, front-end and back-end web application programmers, IT security, social media marketers and project managers for both IT and marketing functions.

“We are bullish for 2016,” he said. “We have a pretty unique vantage point that allows us to see where the demand is – both from students and employers that we work with. With affordable, accredited online courses, young professionals can jump into both online and virtual classroom training to quickly increase their skills for the jobs that are in most demand.”