What’s the deal with actuaries?
Whenever a new list of the best jobs is compiled—like the rankings by Career Cast—they are always near the top of the list. What could really be so great about interpreting statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness, and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters?
And why have I never actually met an actuary? Are their jobs so exceedingly awesome that they don’t take time to associate with non-actuaries?
Anyway, here are the top ten jobs for 2013 according to Career Cast. Notice any patterns?
2. Biomedical Engineer
3. Software Engineer
5. Financial Planner
6. Dental Hygienist
7. Occupational Therapist
9. Physical Therapist
10. Computer Systems Analyst
Now look at the ten worst jobs:
1. Newspaper Reporter
3. Enlisted Military Personnel
5. Oil Rig Worker
6. Dairy Farmer
7. Meter Reader
8. Mail Carrier
10. Flight Attendant
I can’t say from personal experience how the best and worst compare. While I’ve had four of the jobs on the worst list (reporter, enlisted military, oil rig worker, and roofer), the closet I’ve come to the top is #24 Web Developer (since college adjuncts don’t really qualify for the perks of #14, University Professor). It appears to me, though, that a key distinction between the “best” jobs and the “worst” are that the top ranked were all done indoors while the ones at the bottom of the list require working outdoors. Also, all of the top jobs require a college degree while none at the bottom of the list require any formal schooling. Even the vocational school trades fall in the middle of the list (53. Bricklayer, 59. Glazier, 66. Plumber, 76. Electrician, 158. Welder, etc.).
What does this say about America’s view of education and vocation that a college degree is perceived to be a prerequisite to getting a top-tier job? What message are we sending young people and older workers in dying industries?
A refreshingly alternative perspective is offered by Acton Institute’s favorite working-class philosopher, Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs. In a recent discussion with Glenn Beck, Rowe explained the problem with the college-as-only-path approach:
For decades, that formula has been: go to school, get your degree, and when you come out you will be offered a job with perks and benefits.
But Rowe said that while that path may work for some, we’ve been pushing it “at the expense of all the other educational opportunities that are out there.” What we should be emphasizing instead of a costly four-year-education for everybody, he said, is the benefit of having a solid work ethic.
“We get the behavior we encourage, and we ought to be rewarding the behavior we need to see more of,” he said simply.
Rowe said he recently spoke with the head of one of the biggest engineering firms in the world, and the two discussed how the company invested millions in workforce development in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The company “trained people like they were on steroids for about twelve weeks” in basic skills on how to rebuild and various safety protocols. But when the time came to deploy, immediately the workforce shrank, and the program “collapsed under its own weight.” When they spent more money determining the problem, the company found out that people stopped coming to work because it was too hot outside, and they didn’t want to work in such conditions.
Rowe said rather than train everyone with tools they may not use, it’s better to find the people who are willing to put in hard work, in rain or snow, and train them.