By Jay Fitzgerald
Boston Globe
Published on May 19, 2013

Ana Costagliola learned more than a year ago that her employer planned to move its Boston operations — including her job as a computer database assistant — to New York.

Determined to stay in the Boston area, the 47-year-old mother of two entered Boston University’s graduate certificate program in database management to hone and expand her skills — and it paid off. A few weeks ago, she landed a better, higher-paying job as database analyst with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“It really opened doors,” Costagliola said of program at BU’s Metropolitan College. “It gave me a little extra edge to advance my career.”

Costagliola is among the many people taking advanced, post-college courses to build skills sought by Massachusetts’ fastest growing industries and open doors to new jobs and careers. As Costagliola’s experience shows, many of the high-demand fields are in technology, but health care, biopharamaceuticals, and other industries also have demand for workers with special skills.

The programs to help gain these skills can cost anywhere from $12,000 for a graduate certificate to $70,000 for a master’s degree. Here’s a look at some of the fields that are in high demand by employers and programs offered by local universities that might help you break in.

Health informatics and management

As one of the largest industries in Massachusetts, health care has an almost insatiable demand for workers, especially those with information technology and health care management expertise.

One of the more popular graduate fields at Northeastern University is the master’s degree program in health informatics — information technology applied to health care. Health informatics is basically the IT guts of health care, from electronic medical records to digital files of drugs administered to patients.

The health care informatics degree program provides courses on emerging medical technologies, legal and privacy issues, and introductions to areas, such as genomics, that require extensive IT services.

“What we developed is in direct response to what Boston area [health care] employers told us they needed,” said Sean Gallagher, senior strategist and market development officer at Northeastern University.

At Simmons College in Boston, the high demand for health care employees prompted the school in January to launch its health care MBA program, with a heavy emphasis on information technology courses, said Cathy Minehan, dean of the Simmons School of Management. The program aims to combine elements of a general MBA program with a master’s degree in health administration.

Initially, Simmons hoped to enroll eight students in the program, but ended up with 18, said Minehan, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “It’s a natural for Boston with all the health care institutions here,” she said.

Sean Cunniffe, 26, a registered nurse, enrolled in the Simmons health MBA program in the hope of one day making the transition from practitioner to administrator.

“It’s going to make me more appealing to a lot more organizations,” said Cunniffe, who is getting the advanced Simmons degree while working part-time jobs at Boston Medical Center and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Cyber security and ‘big data’

The technology industry has played a major role in the state’s economic recovery as companies scramble to hire workers with computer skills of all types. Local university officials say companies from banks to tech firms are specifically looking for workers with skills in cyber security and database management.

In recent years, government, corporations, and other institutions have become increasingly alarmed at widespread cyber attacks and thefts of sensitive data. They’ve also become nearly overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information their computer systems must process, store, and manage.

At Northeastern University, a master’s degree program in “information assurance,” also known as cyber security, is “growing dramatically,” said Gallagher. The information assurance program teaches the basics of cyber sleuthing with courses that include cryptography, network security practices, and information-system forensics.

Master’s degree programs in computer science and computer information systems at BU’s Metropolitan College are also highly popular, due largely to the demand for workers who can work with complex databases, said Tanya Zlateva, interim dean of BU’s Metropolitan College.

A fast-growing specialty is known as “big data,” or the analysis of massive amounts of digital data collected from Internet clicks and other sources that might be used to improve operations, expand services, and market new products.

Students can concentrate in big data within two computer-science graduate programs at BU, said Zlateva. Boston University is even considering a new management degree program with a heavy focus on big data tech courses, she said.

Regulatory compliance

Due to the Boston area’s large number of biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies seeking approval for products from the US Food and Drug Administration, there’s a need for employees who understand the regulatory process.

Getting new drug and medical device approvals has become a high-stakes priority for many companies — and a number of prestigious schools, from John Hopkins in Baltimore to the Harvard Extension School, offer degree programs or introductory courses in regulatory affairs, with some specifically aimed at how to deal with the FDA.

Northeastern offers a master of science in regulatory affairs in drugs, biologics, and medical devices. It’s not a law-degree program, but rather a nuts-and-bolts review of what’s required when complex medical products have to go through extensive clinical trials before they can be sold to the public.

The program includes courses on drug and medical device regulation, the legal intricacies of human medical experiments, and the process of clinic trials.

“Companies need specialists who understand the regulatory process and can implement what’s required by regulators,” said Gallagher.

Computer gaming

Digital games are all the rage on mobile devices and laptops — and they’ve become a multibillion-dollar industry on par with Hollywood. But it’s not all about developing programs in which evil zombies or medieval dark knights can be digitally zapped by game players.

Game design also entails developing digital training simulators for police, firefighters, military personnel, physicians, helicopter pilots, and other professionals who need to fine-tune skills before using them in the real world.

MIT’s Game Lab offers game-design courses and degree programs. Northeastern University also offers a master of science in game science and design.

Project management

Across many industries, companies need people who can analyze, plan, implement, and complete projects that achieve corporate goals. As a result, project management is becoming an increasingly popular post-college field of study.

Northeastern offers a master’s degree in project management, which can take 18 months to three years to complete on a part-time basis. The program, which focuses on such topics as project scheduling and monitoring, cost and risk management, and budget and personnel management, is attracting students working in technology, finance, construction, and health care.

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