The cold, cruel world will be a little less so for 2012 college graduates, who will leave school with improving job prospects.


Employers expect to hire about 9.5 percent more graduates from the Class of 2012 as they hired from the Class of 2011, according to Job Outlook, an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a nonprofit association that links college career services professionals and employers.


The NACE survey results jibe with the results of a similar survey by the Career Services Office of Arizona State University in Tempe, which, with more than 72,000 students, is the largest university in the nation. Nearly two-thirds of employers participating in a February job fair anticipated hiring needs greater, or far greater, than last year, says Scott Berren, program manager for research and marketing with the Career Services Office. Just 5 percent of employers planned to hire fewer workers than last year.


But, according to the NACE, the anticipated increase in hiring appears to be driven largely by attrition. 


“In general, many employers say they are focusing on replacement hires — individuals who are being brought in to fill the positions of exiting employees,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. 


More 60 percent of the 54.8 million total job openings that are expected through 2020 will come from the need to replace retiring workers, according to a report issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Students best prepared for the workforce are those who have had some on-the-job training before graduation. Berren says employers are most likely to hire students who have had an internship in a related field. Leadership skills — demonstrated by involvement in extracurricular activities — are also atop employers’ wish lists, Berren says.


Employer surveys show that a high GPA is clumped at the bottom of qualities sought by recruiters, Berren says.


The top five personal qualities/skills employers seek, according to NACE's Job Outlook 2012 survey, are ability to work in a team, verbal communication skills, ability to make decisions and problem solve, ability to obtain and process information, and ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work.


Employment in healthcare is expected to grow most rapidly over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is, for example, expected to be a need for 712,00 registered nurses by the end of the decade.


The increasing globalization of manufacturing has also boosted demand for students majoring in supply chain management, Berren says.


Author Laurence Shatkin, president of the Association of Computer-based Systems for Career Information, spotlights the top jobs for the coming decades in "Best Jobs for the 21st Century, Sixth Edition," published in December. The book looks at 400 jobs ranked by the best combination of pay, growth and openings.


Shatkin’s best jobs for 2012 are:

Software developers, applications

Annual earnings: $87,790

Percent growth: 34

Annual openings: 21,840

Physicians and surgeons

Annual earnings: $165,279

Percent growth: 21.8

Annual openings: 26,050

Software developers, systems software

Annual earnings: $94,180

Percent growth: 30.4

Annual openings: 15,340

Management analysts

Annual earnings: $78,160

Percent growth: 23.9

Annual openings: 30,650

Computer systems analysts

Annual earnings: $77,740

Percent growth: 20.3

Annual openings: 22,280

Registered nurses

Annual earnings: $64,690

Percent growth: 22.2

Annual openings: 103,900

Civil engineers

Annual earnings: $77,560

Percent growth: 24.3

Annual openings: 11,460

Medical scientists (except epidemiologists)

Annual earnings: $76,700

Percent growth: 40.4

Annual openings: 6,620

Physical therapists

Annual earnings: $76,310

Percent growth: 30.3

Annual openings: 7,860

Dental hygienists

Annual earnings: $68,250

Percent growth: 36.1

Annual openings: 9,840


Know of other areas for the best jobs of 2012? Leave us a note in the comments below.


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Best jobs for 2012
Students best prepared for the workforce are those who have had some on-the-job training before graduation. Berren says employers are most likely to hire studen