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In 2012, creativity and adaptability will be key to landing and keeping a job for many workers, as staff levels remain lean and employees are expected to respond to a wide variety of demands, experts say.
Economists don't expect loads of job growth, but there could be opportunities in areas such as health care, professional services, retail and some manufacturing, says Harry Holzer, a public-policy professor at Georgetown University. Also, continuing churn in the labor market means that even in areas with few new jobs, there will still be openings when workers move around.
Technical knowledge and experience will be required for certain spots. "For professional services you usually need a professional degree. In health you usually need some training," Mr. Holzer says. "Manufacturing needs some occupational training. Retail is different. It doesn't require specific occupational training, but it does often require some interpersonal skills."
In addition to the standard prerequisites, employers will be looking for workers who are able to quickly adapt to new responsibilities as companies respond to changing economic and industry trends. So workers should highlight their creative skills to differentiate themselves, says Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University.
"Firms have so many job seekers per opening. They are going to want candidates with clear credentials, but also a little extra shine in interactive skills and creativity," Mr. Katz says. "They are less willing in a weak labor market to take chances."
Here are other skills experts recommend workers should pick up and enhance.
Technical literacy. It's important for workers at a variety of levels to be familiar with some of the technical, if mundane, processes that keep organizations running smoothly.
Take the health-care industry. Providers are bringing on more technology when it comes to record keeping and billing.
"A knowledge of electronic data handling is just a really big plus. That goes...