A new Money magazine survey purports to reveal the “Best Jobs in America.” Based on a survey of 40,000 workers, the survey ranks the Top 100 jobs according to factors such as pay, job growth, and quality of life. Aside from the puzzling fact that neither “university professor” nor “college dean” appear on the list — which I can only attribute to a sampling method that did not include the education sector — the report surely gives we academics plenty to chew on.
More than a quarter of the top 100 jobs — based on median income and projected growth — are in health care, and another 25% are in the information technology, dwarfing all other sectors. The top seven jobs in terms of median pay all are in health care. If we consider the reality that students rate “being well-off financially” as a very important objective (78% according to one recent UCLA survey) and that a higher percentage of students now than ever cite the prospect of getting a good job as a “very important” factor in choosing a college (from the same UCLA survey), the direction for higher education seems clear. Certainly enrollment growths here at Missouri State, particularly in health professions, bear this out.
And yet, there is more to be learned from this survey of top jobs. First, money and job security aren’t everything. The highest percentages of employees who think their job “makes the world a better place” are in health fields, the top nine, in fact. (Full disclosure: Only one health sector job is among the 10 rated as least stressful — optometrist.) Second, the report also comments on what employers are looking for in applicants, and in even the most technical fields those qualifications extend far beyond technical expertise. A few examples from among the top 10 “booming jobs“:
- Biomedical Engineer: “The people who have stood out are the people who are motivated to help patients … There are candidates who have looked for opportunities to volunteer in hospitals or developing parts of the world … That kind of experience builds your credibility and it builds your skills more than something you can read in a book.”
- Physician Assistant: “We’re looking for people with good interpersonal skills because they’ll be taking care of sick people.”
- Software Architect: “More than 50% of our employees are also musicians. One of our [interview] questions is ‘What is the band you hate the most?’”
- Environmental Engineer: “‘We want people with personalities. Someone who isn’t a total nerd.’ A second language, extracurriculars and especially a good batting average will all help. ‘We just hired someone with great field experience and he also played minor league ball.’”
- Environmental Health & Safety Specialist: “For our company, we’re looking more at soft skills, like leadership and emotional intelligence.”
- Occupational Therapist: “Erin Wright, senior recruiter for Lakeland HealthCare, pays just as much attention to a job candidate’s social cues as she does their resume.”
- Construction Estimator: “‘Solid leadership and integrity goes a long way.’ As does out-of-the-box thinking, since there are great opportunities to make a positive impact on the environment, like building a bridge in a way that does not disturb the surrounding wetlands.”
To those who worry that the increasing emphasis on and need for professional training in universities will crowd out the traditional liberal arts, I say the evidence suggests just the opposite. Wired magazine recently published the “7 Essential Skills You Didn’t Learn in College,” or what the authors cleverly nickname, “the neoliberal arts.” A quick rundown of the list and “what you’ll learn”:
- Statistical Literacy: “How to parse polls, play the odds, and embrace uncertainty.”
- Post-state Diplomacy: “How to practice statecraft without states.”
- Remix Culture: “How to analyze — and create — artworks made out of other artworks.”
- Applied Cognition: “How the mind works and how you can make it work for you.”
- Writing for New Forms: “How to adapt your message to multiple formats and audiences — human and machine.”
- Waste Studies: “How to become a smarter consumer, investor, and conserver.”
- Domestic Tech: “How to apply hard science and engineering to everyday life.”
The Association of American Colleges & Universities observes that, “once you get over the uber-hip format of the whole thing,” the “essential skills” Wired points to are actually pretty similar to the essential learning outcomes identified in AAC&U’s LEAP initiative and consistent with what national employer surveys show. According to a 2009 AAC&U survey, employers want universities to place more emphasis on:
- knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
- intellectual and practical skills
- personal and social responsibility
- integrative and applied learning
In other words, it takes a university to raise an anesthesiologist.
Now, I still can’t figure out where all the teachers, artists, NGO workers, dancers, filmmakers, writers and social entrepreneurs figure into this Money survey. By and large they didn’t hit the top 100 for anything, which I can only take to mean that they were too busy doing meaningful, creative, rewarding work to take time out to complete a survey.
post script: I just noticed in the CNNMoney.com archives that in the 2006 survey “college professor” ranked number two among the top jobs in America. Hmmmm.