By Stephan Manning.
If the latest report of the US Department of Labor is right then three of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020 are nursing (30% growth), event planning (44% growth) and public relations (23% growth). But will increasing demand also result in decent pay? Today’s salary statistics suggest otherwise. According to CNNMoney and other sources, all three jobs yield around $50k annual pay on average, which seems fairly low if there is such a high demand. Not even to mention the long hours and physical, social and emotional stress nursing, event and public relations management often involves. But why is there such a gap between importance and attractiveness of these professional domains? What makes these dream jobs on paper often ‘sweat jobs’ in reality?
Reasons for increasing demand in these areas are relatively easy to identify. As for nursing, an ageing population in the U.S. and many advanced economies generates a growing need for various healthcare professions. Some of them are among the highest paid, such as anesthesiologists (around $300k average) and surgeons (around $260k average). Without a growing number of nurses, however, the healthcare system would soon collapse. Event planning and public relations become increasingly important as firms, government and professional organizations globalize, coordinate across borders, and manage often complex stakeholder relations. And clearly, salaries of many top managers, consultants, and government representatives are $150k and above, and likely to increase. Yet, their work could not be done in the future without professional support from PR and event planning.
So how can this pay differential be explained? Certainly not by the differences in stress, responsibilities or skills needed. My own experience in event management and PR tells me how difficult it is to be really good at it, and how easy it is to be blamed for bad PR or events that fail to meet expectations. And whoever has worked as a nurse at a busy hospital knows about the stress and intensity, as well as the technical and social skills required for this profession.
Critical scholars and observers would argue that the pay gap has a lot to do with, typically gendered, status differentials, and the lack of appreciation of generalists in supportive roles vs. specialists in leading roles. For example, whereas highly specialized and highly paid surgeons are often male, nurses who typically perform various supportive tasks are often female. (Notably, the number of male nurses has increased in recent years, in response to the decline of traditional male industrial jobs. Interestingly, male nurses are often higher paid than female nurses.) Similarly, event management and PR are often performed by women, and require generalists with various skills. However, whereas (often male) top managers need to be similarly versatile, their higher status arguably comes from their position as ‘leaders’ compared to PR managers and event planners as ‘supporters’.
More generally, one could argue, in line with Saskia Sassen’s work, that professional service jobs like nursing, event management and PR, serve the changing needs of the professional and increasingly cosmopolitan elite in business and society, who live and work in global cities around the world. And this is not necessarily a bad thing according to Sassen. While it is certainly true that salaries of high-status jobs, e.g. of top managers, are often inflated while support service jobs are often underpaid, the growing sector in support services can also be a seed of emancipation and innovation. This is not just because it provides income and entrepreneurial opportunities, but because it provides a space for the development of new expertise, educational programs and businesses. This may include innovative forms of care services, new event planning methods and techniques, and new forms of PR involving social media, which may also diversify the scope and status of these professions.
So, is the growth of nursing, event planning and PR good news or bad news? What does it mean for our high school and college students? Should we warn them that these growth figures obscure potentially low pay, or should we interpret them as opportunities for new types of jobs and careers?
Please participate in this debate. Your comments are welcome.
Picture: Open Space Meeting at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (from: Wikipedia – Open Space Technology)