If Being a History Professor Doesn’t Work Out…

I’m normally a pretty optimistic person, but when I go in the other direction, I can plot out nightmare scenarios with the best/worst of them. So while I’ve already gone on record as disdaining “sky is falling” pronouncements about the future of American higher education, some friends and I are nonetheless prone to a kind of gallows humor: We muse about what occupations we’d be good at if everything collapsed and we couldn’t be college professors anymore.

O*Net logoSo in that spirit… I was tremendously excited to be introduced to O*NET Online yesterday. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET bills itself as “the nation’s primary source of occupational information,” with a database “containing information on hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors… available to the public at no cost…” and “…continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation.” Not only does it provide data on wages/salaries and expected grow in job openings (nationally, and by state), but it seeks to describe which skills, interests, values, types of knowledge, etc. match up with every conceivable occupation.

So, typing in my profession (“history teacher, postsecondary,” in the O*NET taxonomy), I learn the following:

  • Needed skills include speaking, reading comprehension, active listening, critical thinking, instructing, active learning, writing, monitoring, and decision making.
  • I’m in “Job Zone Five” (out of five), meaning that my occupation requires “Extensive Preparation” — 54% of those responding to the survey in this field have a PhD.(only 54%?)
  • My profession matches with “Interest code” SIA: postsecondary history teachers are Social (“working with, communicating with, and teaching people… helping or providing service to others”), Investigative (“working with ideas… an extensive amount of thinking”), and Artistic (“working with forms, designs and patterns… often require self-expression… can be done without following a clear set of rules”).
  • And my occupation tends to stress the “Work Values” of Achievement (“results oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment”), Independence (“allow employees to work on their own and make decisions”), and Working Conditions (“job security and good working conditions”).
  • We postsecondary history teachers have a median salary of $65,860 (guess which side of the median I’m on!) and (as lumped in with all 1.8 million postsecondary teachers nationwide) should expect “Average” projected growth (10-19% between 2010 and 2020) as positions open up through growth or (more likely) attrition/replacement.

So what if higher education has collapsed and I need to find a new occupation? How canO*NET help me out?

First, it identifies how significant knowledge of “History and Archeology” is in other fields. Here are the non-academic occupations in which historical knowledge scores at least 50/100 on the O*NET scale:

  • Choreography
    Does watching every episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” count as job training? – Creative Commons (Jeff Medaugh)

    Archeologist (98/100)

  • Archivist (81/100)
  • Curator (77/100)
  • Tour guide or escort (63/100)
  • Park naturalist (62/100)
  • Museum technician or conservator (58/100)
  • Geographer (56/100 — one of the occupations flagged as having a “Bright Outlook”)
  • Urban or regional planner (51/100)
  • Choreographer (51/100)
  • Forest or conservation technician (51/100)

Those who know me well are still snickering about that second to last item, but let’s move on.

What if the experience of losing my ability to teach history has so traumatized me that I want to forget everything I’ve learned about the past and move in a very different direction. Where next, O*NET?

Behold, the non-academic occupations that have the same “Interest Code” as postsecondary history teacher (i.e., Social, Investigative, and Artistic), with median salary and expected job growth between now and 2020:

  • Special education secondary schoolteacher ($55,990 median salary; slower than average growth)
  • Counseling psychologist ($67,880; faster than average)
  • Genetic counselor ($44,950; average)
  • Mental health and substance abuse social worker ($39,230; much faster) or mental health counselor ($39,190; much faster)
  • Speech-language pathologist ($69,100; faster — and Kristyn Wong, if you’re reading this… yes, this is almost as funny as the idea of me being a choreographer)

Alas, all of these require graduate or professional training in the field. Special ed teacher is the only one where a majority of respondents — 68% — indicated that a bachelor’s degree was sufficient. But, of course, my baccalaureate training would be of little use there… And higher education as I know and love it having collapsed, I’m not sure I’d want to hang around the virtual campus of the future taking MOOC after MOOC with my tens of thousands of classmates in order to learn how to interact one-on-one with high school students with special needs.

Solar panels
Licensed by Creative Commons (Living Off Grid)

So, one last shot… Here are all the occupations that don’t require even a college degree in the field but match the “Work Values” of a postsecondary history teacher (i.e., Achievement, Independence, and Working Conditions), with the relevant salary and job growth information:

  • Craft artist — e.g., glass blower, furniture maker, custom shoemaker, cordwainer ($26,650; slower than average job growth)
  • Fashion designer ($64,690; little or no change)
  • Solar energy sales rep ($74,750; average growth)

If I were willing to go back to what will come to pass for college, I would also want to consider cartography, chemistry, fire prevention, IT, transportation planning, and set designing. But if I wanted to find a career that would simply take 6-24 months of on-the-job training and match my cherished work values of having a feeling of accomplishment, working on my own, and achieving job security…

Can I interest in you some solar panels?


3 thoughts on “If Being a History Professor Doesn’t Work Out…

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