Portable-toilet cleaner. Sewer Inspector. Body-odor assessor. What do these jobs all have in common? Well, they’re not exactly apt to show up on little Jimmy’s “What I Want to Be” list, but they’re also, according to a recent poll, easier to fill than posts for teachers, nurses and IT staff.
Manpower Inc., a Fortune 500 company that deals in employment services, released the results of its annual “10 Hardest Jobs to Fill” survey at the end of May. The 10 jobs on the list were as follows: engineers, nurses, skilled traders, teachers, sales representatives, technicians, drivers, IT staff, laborers and machine operators. And every one of these jobs, Manpower reps noted, had made at least one cameo before.
I won’t speculate as to why all those jobs continually make the list, not only because titles like “laborers” and “technicians” seem almost incomprehensibly vague — you might as well say it’s hard to find “breadwinners” and “nine-to-fivers” — but because my family specializes in only three of those areas: the aforementioned teaching, nursing and IT-ing. Those jobs are also three crucial positions I imagine many would like to see filled and off the list.
I have three nurse-cousins, and my father spent lots of time around nurses during his decades as an emergency room doctor. When I asked him why he thought that job kept showing up on the list, he was quick to answer: “There are more nursing jobs than there are nurses. Next.”
The sheer number of positions for these jobs certainly has a lot to do with it. For example, according to the national estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 100 nurses for every septic tank cleaner in the U.S., and logistics will make a smaller total of positions, no matter how undesirable, easier to fill.
These three jobs also mesh well with modern times. While technological advances kill off positions for journalists and assembly-line workers, the teachers, nurses and IT personnel of the world become increasingly more in demand. (We are, after all, living in the era of the Internet and “Wii elbow.”)
This suitability to technological flux, coupled with a semi-imperviousness to economic depression, landed all three on Time magazine’s “10 Jobs for the Recession” list. In discussing the duties of nurses, the author noted this adaptability, saying, “Even when the economy suffers, people need medical treatment, and the number of older people who require care will grow rapidly as boomers age.”
So those jobs are hard to fill because volume and demand are strong, perhaps even overwhelming, but that doesn’t seem to tell the whole story. If you speak to current teachers, nurses and IT staff, you’ll find that all three, however rewarding, also have the potential to be pretty thankless endeavors.
I have yet to work at a business or attend a school where the IT guys (and gals), the lynch pins in every non-Mennonite empire, weren’t put in a basement or largely windowless, ignominious backroom, where they were made to stay until beckoned briefly out of their underworld. (My brother and his software-programming friends can well attest to this general truth of affairs.)
Though nurses are permitted to see daylight, they also put plenty of sweat into work for which they are sometimes under-appreciated. In a recent Newsweek article about the “nursing crisis," the writer explains that “the devaluation of nursing — both by overlooking nurses' contributions to positive outcomes for patients, and more subtly by emphasizing their devotion, compassion and self-sacrifice over their lifesaving skills — discourages students from the field and contributes to a critical nursing shortage.”
And I shudder to even remember the tales of fights, vitriolic parents and general black holes of intellectual enthusiasm that were daily encountered by my relatives and friends who officially or unofficially taught “for America.” They are, and always will be, more noble people than I.
Then, inevitably, come the numbers. Though money is certainly worse in other professions, the average salary range for these three isn’t quite knocking socks off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for teachers, nurses and IT staff are as follows: for secondary school teachers, $54,390; for registered nurses, $65,130; and for computer support specialists, $46,370.
That last piece of the puzzle also seems to be the answer. It would be hard to find quotidian positions more crucial than those three, and higher salaries (though obviously an unpopular solution in present economic climes) could get those jobs off the list — which, more importantly, would mean that medical care, education and the operations of countless companies were being improved. As my father said of the nursing shortage, the answer is on some level easy: “If you pay them, they will come.”
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.