What you’ll need to start out in three of the nation’s fastest-growing careers:
* HVAC: Most technicians will take technical classes at trade schools or community colleges or learn through hands-on training in a range of armed forces jobs. Industry accreditation is available. Business ownership takes all of these, along with entrepreneurial know-how.
* Software engineer: Applicants will have at least a bachelor’s degree and familiarity with computer systems. In addition to technical skills, it helps to have some expertise in business.
* Home health: Caregivers train on the job. Supervisors and small-business owners should have some background in health care along with basic business skills.
George Unsinger's job isn't glamorous: He's got a big vacuum that sucks the muck out of air ducts.
That's about it.
But Unsinger, who retired as an Air Force major in 2008, isn't complaining.
As owner of a DUCTZ franchise in Charleston, S.C., he employs three people, makes a tidy living and — best of all — he's on the crest of a rising wave.
"The consumer base is getting more knowledgeable about the need for better indoor air quality. When they see a possible solution to those issues, that drives the phone call right to a company like ours," he said.
It's not just wishful thinking: HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) is projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries from now through 2018.
For statistical purposes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups HVAC with plumbing.
Together, these fields are on track to grow 29 percent from 2008 to 2018, when the two industries' U.S. employment will top 1.26 million people.
For those with a more technical inclination, software engineering is expected to grow 21 percent in the same period.
It's a great choice for former troops, said Dan Kasun, Microsoft senior director for U.S. public sector development.
Service members "have a strong handle on structure and process, and that is something you need to be a good developer," Kasun said. "There's also a tremendous amount of domain expertise in the military: understanding how procurement happens, how to find resources, how to build solutions for different needs."
People don't realize software design these days is as much about furthering business needs as it is about typing in code, he said.
"Whether it is in a business function or a field function, whether it is working in a medical scenario or a communications scenario, those are all experiences military people can leverage and bring to the market."
Not interested in duct work or programming? The BLS also predicts sweeping growth across the health care industry. Medical office jobs, diagnostics labs, personal care and services to the elderly — all rank as fast-growth fields.
In fact, 10 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are related to health care.
Among the most robust is home health care, expected to grow a whopping 46 percent.
It has proved a good fit for Stephanie Weems, a former airman first class. She left the service in 1997 and went on to buy the Columbus, Ohio, franchise of Age Advantage Home Care Services.
"There is always going to be a need for it," Weems said. "Nobody wants to go into a nursing home, and our goal is to keep people at home where they are comfortable, to get them a good quality of life."
The outlook for this field is rosy. The cost of nursing home care, the aging population and the availability of improved medical technologies all should drive increasing demand for these kinds of services.
Still, the business presents its share of challenges.
Labor can be hard to come by, and an owner still has to do the legwork to find potential clientele.
"It's not like buying a McDonald's franchise where you know there is going to be a steady income. It takes a lot of work to take care of clients, and if you go in just thinking you are going to make a lot of money at it right away, that's probably not going to happen," Weems said.
"It has great potential if you do it right and you go into it for the right reasons."