HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) New employment figures show the number of health care jobs in Connecticut grew in 2008, a bright spot amid sharp losses in other industries.

The state Department of Labor says employers cut 29,300 jobs statewide in 2008, but the health care sector added 4,100 jobs to reach 240,000.

The picture is similar across the nation.

While manufacturing, transportation and retail industries shed millions of jobs, the health care sector added 372,000 new positions nationwide. Health care is now the nation's largest sector with 14 million workers, and is projected to add 3 million more jobs over the next eight years.

"No industry is recession-proof, but health care certainly doesn't suffer the severe ups and downs of some other industries," said Carl Ochnio, director of career services at Manchester Community College.

Career counselors and researchers say the trend is driven by the aging of the nation's baby boomers, who are starting to need more intensive medical treatment and related care. Many of the nation's medical professionals also are reaching retirement age, leaving open spots for newcomers to fill.

By 2030, nearly 72 million Americans almost one in five people will be age 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census. Connecticut is expected to reach the 1-in-5 ratio by 2025.

The trends have not gone unnoticed among young people planning their careers.

Several nursing schools have said demand for seats in their classes outpaces supply, while colleges and universities have stepped up their curriculum in related fields such as training for home health aides.

However, no one claims the jobs are easy.

Sara Pintaldi, 23, of Manchester, who graduated in 2007 from a radiation therapy training program at Hartford Hospital, said its course work and schedule were more rigorous than college. She now works in the hospital's radiation department.

"It's like a job. You punch a time card. You have to be here at 7 a.m.," Pintaldi said. "No more being able to wake up at 9 o'clock. When I started the program there were seven people. Four people dropped out."

Once they're done, the pay, hours and job prospects are good.

"Over half of our staff are graduates of the program," said Susan A. O'Connell, who founded Hartford Hospital's radiation therapy program in 1988 and is operations manager of the radiation oncology department.

Still, treating cancer patients is not for everyone, O'Connell said.

"You're involved with people at a very traumatic time in their lives," O'Connell said. "You have to be emotionally mature. You have to keep your act together."

Information from: The Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.