The Jobs that No one Wants – and Why they Matter

There are some jobs that nobody seems to want. Often, there’s a good reason for that. If the job in question involved flying your starfighter into the jaws of a giant Death Star with a minimal chance of success and a 99.9% chance of being blown into tiny shiny pieces, you’d be crazy to take it – or at least you would unless you had some sort of divine protection – Not many of us have that kind of force to count on.

Or if the job called for someone to compete in a Hunger Game based around your ability to kill or be killed by a selection of your nation’s finest young athletes simply to satisfy the demands of a giant propaganda machine, then you might be forgiven for thinking that you could spend your time more safely and more comfortably by staying home instead. Who would want a job like that?

The weird thing is that, as often as not, it’s the jobs that no-one wants that deliver up the heroes of the piece. Time after time in the movies the plot revolves around a life-threatening conundrum that no-one is particularly keen to tackle, only for someone – a hobbit, a jedi, a samurai or a good, old-fashioned swordsman to step forward with the sort of unflinching, square chinned heroism that Hollywood puts so much faith in, to declare that they’ll ignore the overwhelming odds, they’ll put what they have on the line and that in the hour of greatest need THEY will tackle the job. HOORAY!

Cut forward to a few scenes later and we are all in no doubt that they made the right choice – of course they did. Those guys are heroes – that’s why those parts are the ones that all the actors are scratching each other’s eyes out for. When it comes to the movies, the jobs that nobody wants define precisely the sort of roles that every thespian worth his or her salt would – literally – die for (As a group, leading actors can be a little overdramatic sometimes).

But so much for the movies – in the real world the jobs that nobody wants are never quite so glamourous. They don’t come with an Oscar nomination, they don’t come with a fanfare of fame and they don’t tend to pay that much either. Only in the movies, it seems, does the glory go to the people who do the jobs that nobody else wants.

But there is a serious side to the real world side of this story – the ordinary hard-working people working as GPs, midwives, nurses and teachers are only ever held up as heroic when something unpleasant happens and they make the news as a crime victim. The rest of the time their quiet, low key service to the rest of us – their hum-drum heroism – goes unrecognised and unacknowledged. They may not merit the red carpet treatment, but they certainly deserve better than to be taken for granted in this way.

Jonathan Povey - one of the British medics helping an earthquake-hit hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal

by  DFID – UK Department for International Development.

These are the sort of jobs that allow the rest of us to go about our daily lives. These are the sort of unsung occupations that hold society together. If there aren’t enough doctors, midwives or teachers to go round, the results are pretty straightforward. And it can get a lot more serious than having to cope with a cold or pass a test on trigonometry. In the case of doctors the facts are pretty straightforward.

The people involved tend to be amongst the brightest and most able of their generation. Doctors are smart people. If they didn’t do medicine there are plenty of other things they could turn their lively minds towards. The trouble is that there is such a general downer on the public sector that those jobs have been increasingly overburdened, under-valued and (lest we forget) underpaid.

It takes some sort of a modern day saint to want to go into general medical practice when there are so many less chaotic, less compromised, less stressful and more rewarding alternatives available. The figures make stark reading.

Serious shortfalls

The Daily Telegraph reported this April that one in three trainee GP posts is vacant. That points to an alarming shortage of doctors in the years ahead. When you don’t have enough doctors, people get sick and they die. That’s pretty serious.

A generational issue

Adding weight to the Telegraph report, The Guardian noted that as many as a third of all GPs are planning to retire within the next five years. It takes around ten years to train as a GP. There is a real need for some of those square jawed Hollywood types to step in and turn this story around. And it’s not just the business of being a doctor that – seemingly – no-one wants to do. The Royal College of Nursing reacted furiously to claims earlier this year that there was an adequate number of nurses in the UK. In fact, the shortage of home produced nurses is now chronic. There is a pattern here, and it not one that only applies to the medical arena. There is a similar level of churn – with departures exceeding recruits – in the teaching industry and in social service. Even the Daily Mail – not normally a fan of public sector workers – has noticed. When you don’t have enough teachers, the quality of our children’s education suffers. That means people not being given the chance to lead fulfilling, productive and healthy lives. It means people learning less and earning less than they should. And it makes for an altogether less tolerant country to live in.

Letting kids down to the degree highlighted in the Daily Mail article – and others that were current in the news media at the same time – is not good. If ignorance came in the shape of a death star, then maybe people would sit up and take notice. General ignorance is really not as funny as Stephen Fry and his friends on QI make it seem.

More than just jobs

That alarming pattern is not one that is simply about the plot lines of people’s working lives. It goes deeper than that. You could even say that it is an issue that goes to a level of ideological appreciation that the British are famously reluctant to address. Ideology tends to be a word that we think of as something to do with the bad guys – but it’s not. Ideology is about everybody – that’s how we know there’s a dark side. Over the past decade or so we have allowed the notion of public service to become an almost dirty word. And this, again, is not a pattern that is specific to Britain – it is an ideology that has global reach and very real effects. The celebration of free enterprise and the systematic denigration of public sector workers as some sort of a national burden has undermined the entire notion of public service. Unless it comes with a tax break, doing something for the community is now routinely seen as the past-time of cranks and wishy washy liberals too kind-hearted to wake up and smell the Starbucks. In a world where profit is king, doing something for nothing is the act of a fool. That’s not a great ideology and it’s not a place where heroes come from.

Public Domain, American Flag, Old Glory, Red White Blue, Stars & Stripes, The Star Spangled Banner

by  Beverly & Pack 

But the tragedy is that this plays out in ways that go way beyond the wholesale recruitment of doctors, midwives, nurses and teachers. It runs into the fine-grained detail of our daily family lives. The jobs that no-one wants are not just the ones that are reported in media headlines or advertised in The Lancet.

A sporting chance

What holds good for the movies holds good elsewhere. Young people’s artistic and sporting lives are being blighted by a shortage of parents willing to give up their time to coach their local youngsters. Even fewer are willing or heroic enough to put themselves forwards as referees. In a world where there is no regard for the value of a public service, there can be no respect for volunteer officials.

It is easy to blame ‘football culture’, but the truth is that football’s loutish treatment of its volunteer officials is the symptom and not the cause of the problem. The same shortage of referees is blighting rugby union, rugby league, cricket and just about every amateur sport you could name anywhere in the western world. Australian amateur rugby league is in a state of crisis over the issue. In a world where everything has its price measured in pounds and pence, giving up your time and your energy so that other people can enjoy their sport is what losers do.


by  Seth Lemmons.

Rugby league is a perfect example. It is, in many parts of the world, a minority sport. A shortage of officials will do nothing to redress that. In many respects, the game leads a precarious existence. For rugby league to prosper, and for the elite end of the game to continue to thrive, to draw in the crowds, attract the TV fans and excite those willing punters it needs its grass roots to be in good order. That means the game depends on the good will and the public service of the men and women who devote their free time, their energy and their good will to its future. The very health of the sport as a whole rests on this core of public generosity. A mini universe of professional athletes, trainers, advertisers, bookmakers and caterers spins around that gravitational centre. And what is true of rugby league in Australia is no less true of the health and quality of our daily lives as public citizens – all of us. Whatever the setting, the ideological bottom line is a constant.  The notion of free public service is not the same thing as a career, but it fundamentally rests on the same commitment to making the world a better place, not – as a commercial logic would insist – for selfish gain, but for the benefit of  everyone together. It rests on an altogether different way of thinking. A different way of thinking This is not just a question of the jobs that people do on a day-to-day basis. It is a matter of the way they – which is to say we – think about those jobs in the first place. If there is no dignity in helping someone to cope with their difficulties then is it any wonder that people don’t what to do those jobs?  Hollywood tends to miss out this part of the story. When we talk about ideology the temptation is always to think that we are talking about someone else’s ideas. Like accents, it’s easy to imagine that it’s just everyone else who has one – we are all of us blind to the ideas, the ethics and the politics that shape our own common sense. But the truth is that any discussion of ideology is a discussion of what we all think and how we frame our ideas. We all share a common sense of right and wrong.

CCCP (Soviet) poster, 1963

by  Jorge Lascar 

And it seems that more and more of us are thinking in a way that puts the jobs that hold our society together on a lower tier than the ones that pay better. The jobs that no-one wants – nursing, serving the health needs of the public or even just refereeing a kids’ rugby game on a Saturday morning – are telling us far more about who we are and what sort of a society we are than any amount of political rhetoric.

The jobs that no-one wants may be unrewarding in terms of cold hard cash – and their kudos may have been diminished in the public eye but you have you stop and ask yourself who has let this happen. The National Health Service is an icon of British social values, our education system is the incubator a political tolerance that so many people in the rest of the world can only dream of. If you water down the ideas that gave us these things the alternatives are grim to say the least.

For the LGBT community this is not something we should take for granted. The state of rugby league refereeing in deepest Australia may be a million miles away from where you are right now physically, but ideologically there really is no distance to measure.

Education is the source of our political tolerance; it is the means by which young minds are taught to think and it is the institutional setting that determines how they are taught to think. Just as a national population cannot guarantee good health without sufficient good medics, a tolerant, liberal society needs a healthy educational sector if it is to retain its core values. Our freedom was hard won, but the dark side still lurks in the shadows.

It’s easy to see how a sport with a limited constituency might fold without the willing commitment of its volunteers to its deeper collective values – or you could say its way of life. The same thing is not so easy to see once you start to examine a bigger picture, but that is not the same as saying the same fundamentals do not apply. The jobs that no-one wants may not necessarily be popular right now, but they – and the ideology that are intrinsic to them – are vital to the way of life we all enjoy.

May the force be with you.

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