What's That?

By Linda Pescatore

May 1, 2009 5 min read


Three great careers that you may have never heard of

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

Despite childhood aspirations, most of us didn't grow up to become astronauts and ballerinas. And that's actually a wonderful thing, because the working world offers so much more than we can dream of, even as adults.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008-09, which details hundreds of career possibilities in 288 broad categories, acknowledges that it represents just 89 percent of all jobs in the economy.

So whether you're planning your first career or considering a midlife change, there's no need to feel limited. Each of these obscure careers offers a unique combination of pay, job satisfaction, educational requirements and prospects for growth, along with an intriguing title that draws quizzical looks and others dying to know more.

And none requires wearing a spacesuit or a tutu.


Bruce Schobel isn't troubled if you don't know what an actuary is. As the president-elect of the American Academy of Actuaries and past president of the Society of Actuaries, he noted that, with 25,000 actuaries employed in the United States, there's only about one for every 100,000 people. Chances that you know one are pretty slim.

Schobel's off-the-cuff calculation demonstrated why he is so well-suited for the profession: Statistics and probability are his stock in trade. Actuaries examine data to help companies -- usually insurers and employee benefit companies -- to put a price on risk.

"We actuaries do cool stuff," Schobel joked. "James Bond has nothing on us."

Kidding aside, Schobel loves what he does, and recommended it to anyone who loves numbers. "There aren't that many careers where math aficionados get to have fun and get paid for it," he said.

As for negatives, he noted that office work could be confining.

"There's not a lot of contact with the general public, which I actually like," he said, although his involvement in professional organizations helps him overcome that.

Actuaries earned a median income of $82,800 in 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost all hold college degrees. For more information, visit the Society of Actuaries at soa.org.


It may sound like industrial design involves planning the layout for a factory floor, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Industrial designers dream up how the manufactured products you use every day look and function, from the alarm clock that woke you to the car you drove to work, or the lamp you'll switch off at bedtime.

Industrial designers "combine artistic talent with research on product use, marketing and materials to create the most functional and appealing product design," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best are like rock stars, designing on the cultural cutting edge.

Industrial designers earned a median income of $54,560 in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just over half hold bachelor's degrees or higher. For more information, visit Industrial Designers Society of America at idsa.org.


Pronounced either LOOT-ee-er or LOO-tee-ay, "luthier" designates craftspeople who make and repair stringed instruments, most commonly guitars or the violin family, but the word could also be applied to makers of mandolins, ukuleles, banjos and ancient instruments such as the lute -- where the word derives from.

Like many craftsmen, Christopher Reuning, president of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, finds the hand workmanship gratifying, but the fact that he's making something that must not only look like fine art, but function as a musical instrument, brings his job satisfaction to another level.

Most luthiers also appreciate working with musicians. "Because they're artists themselves, there's a relationship a craftsman develops [with clients] that is gratifying to most luthiers," Reuning said. The downside is that being able to afford fine instruments is increasingly challenging for those musicians.

Although they are comparatively rare in the U.S., Reuning, who runs a shop of about 35 total employees, noted that the best should always find work. "It's easy to find good ones. It's hard to find great ones," he said.

The government doesn't provide data specifically for luthiers, but musical instrument repairers in general earned a median income of $29,200 in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most hold bachelor's or technical degrees. For more information, visit the Guild of American Luthiers at luth.org.

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