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15 Careers You Thought Were Extinct

October 12th, 2010

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Rumors of these careers' demise have been greatly exaggerated. The workforce exists in a constant state of flux, with technology and consumer demands rendering some positions obsolete — if not entirely extinct. However, some cling to life by catering to the needs of specific niches, rendering them largely invisible or ignored by anyone outside of them. All of the careers listed here fizzled and faded out of the general public's awareness, yet still exist in some fashion or another. Some flounder about as they spiral into irrelevancy; some are not likely to go anywhere after a few millennia and others…well…just keep reading.

  1. Blacksmiths: Yes, blacksmiths exist outside of "Renaissance" faires and World of Warcraft, they just don't enjoy the same prevalence and visibility as they did in the pre-Industrial era. These days, they keep the ancient craft alive through both functional and decorative arts — even taking on apprentices of their own to ensure the painstakingly detailed techniques do not permanently die out. Contemporary blacksmithing may seem a quaint little career choice in this age of heavy machinery, but the men and women behind the anvils create plenty of products just as durable and efficient as their mechanical "replacements." The City of Boston even called upon a team of blacksmiths to come repair damages to their public transportation system — in 2007! Although metalworking has become largely mechanized following the Industrial Revolution, handiwork still holds onto relevance. Without the blacksmiths and their apprentices, a corner of the knowledge needed to keep society moving would utterly die out. Never underestimate their value!

  2. Silversmiths and Goldsmiths: Anyone with the money to afford custom tableware and flatware, jewelry and other gifts or potential family heirlooms can turn to silver- and goldsmiths to meet their needs. Like blacksmiths, they carry on millennia-old functional traditions into contemporary times. Though comparatively scarcer than the times before mechanization, they still pull in regular business from customers in need of both usable and artistic products. Some even find work in museums and galleries analyzing the veracity and regional and temporal characteristics of any pieces that come to their attention and restoring them to their former glory. Others turn their attention towards crafting some unique pieces of fine jewelry and performing repairs on more intricate or heavily damaged examples. These processes cannot be automated, so silver and goldsmiths will always have jobs so long as consumers demand unique products and collectors need expert analyses.

  3. Cobblers: People need custom shoes for a variety of reasons, not just the need to stroke the ego over designer duds. Cobblers come in handy for those needing shoes and boots to fit unusual sizes not found in stores or meet specific orthopedic requirements. Every major city and many suburbs and rural areas play host to at least one shoemaker providing repair services for fancy footwear that cannot be so easily replaced. As with the aforementioned examples, what initially seems an outdated career path honestly maintains a necessary place in today's society. Machines cannot repair the soles of those Italian wingtips before the board meeting, nor can they craft a comfortable, custom pair of sneakers for someone with severe back problems.

  4. Tanners: Cowboys and -girls, hunters, anglers and many others can attest to the necessity of painstakingly tanned and cured leather. Strong, durable hides keep them protected while performing heavy labor in sweltering heat or forceful rain without compromising their flexibility. Untreated animal skins do not offer nearly as much safety, so tanners perform the arduous task as a means of keeping their customers as free of calluses and sunburns as possible. In spite of its necessity, the process attracts very few professionals. Tanning involves extensive toil, harsh chemicals, hair plucking and the boiling of internal organs such as the brain — not exactly ringing endorsements for many folks. But in spite of the stink, the heat and the intensive physicality, there are those brave and strong enough to go about their business day in and day out in order to create safe, strong, waterproof leather for boots, gloves, hats and other protective wear.

  5. Spinners: Run a search for handspun yarn and thousands of eager vendors pop up. Mohair and angora can be processed with only the minimum amount of human interference, but delicate spinning by hand better preserves the soft, ethereal structure that yarn-crafters love so much. Knitters and crocheters patronize spinners who work with natural fibers when they hope to create something unique and special. In addition to better preserving the texture and integrity of raw materials, they also possess an uneven (though not grossly so except in certain novelty varieties) tension and gauge that add an extra dimension of individuality to a project.

  6. Worm Grunters: Most people find the thought of rummaging through dirt and handling squirmy little compost tubes a rather grotesque undertaking, but for worm grunters it is an honest living that gives them a chance to enjoy the outdoors. Their job entails jamming wooden stakes into the ground and producing vibrations with a metal rod, which attracts a squirming mass of earthworms to the surface with its odd grunting noise. Particularly bountiful sessions may yield hundreds of dirt-crusted wigglers, which are then sold to local bait shops. It remains one of the best ways to dredge up wild bait, owing to the fact that the emitted sounds recall those of burrowing moles from which the worms want to escape.

  7. Foragers: In the wake of an unstable economy, many have turned to forging as a cost-effective way to eat cheaply, healthy and naturally. Even before that, however, experts in identifying and preparing wild edibles have been profiting off their skills. Some hunt for wild mushrooms or seaweed and sell them to local restaurants. Others produce jams from discovered fruits. Still others harvest and sell salt culled from ocean waters. The economic possibilities for foragers are limited by imagination, availability and safety restrictions, and many pull in a living wage with their wares. As with many of the other careers listed here, foraging dates back millennia yet still manages to maintain relevancy and value today.

  8. Data Entry Clerks: As of 2008, only 426,000 data and information entry jobs existed — a number estimated to decline significantly over time. The declining need for administrative assistants tasked with inputting data into computers comes with an increase in overall computer literacy. Rather than a career in and of itself, this skill set has now become a requirement in many positions — which also means one less employee for businesses to pay, too. Legitimate data entry openings pop up on occasion, leaving the job critically endangered rather than officially extinct.

  9. Falconers: Although falconry's roots lay largely in hunting, many have channeled their love of the practice through educational conduits. Working with zoos, museums, wildlife preserves and other institutions, they synchronize beautifully with their beloved birds and showcase their behaviors for an audience. Falcons hunt stuffed toys or treats, delighting audience by soaring overhead and dazzling them with their instinctual choreography and powerful bodies. Although the goals have changed, the artistic sport's tenets stayed largely the same.

  10. Milkmen: Contrary to popular assumption, not every milkman (or -woman) ditched his (or her) post to forge their own epic tales of adventure. Just most of them. Searching for the whereabouts of the elusive milkperson on the internet dredges up some truly frightening imagery unfit for even the eyes and brains of Lovecraftian abominations. But it also proves that they still come a-knockin' with dairy products and the occasional carton of eggs in tow. People in Pennsylvania, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, England and Ireland have all reported milkman sightings within the past year, though nobody has yet tested the veracity of such claims. But anyone who grew up watching Nickelodeon in the '90s probably pines for such wondrous news to be true.

  11. Icemen: Like the dwindling populations of milk people, fewer and fewer icemen and –women have been lurking about. Thanks to the advent of electric refrigerators, appliances in need of huge ice blocks have gone the way of the data entry clerk. Anyone who needs a few chunks for a glass of lemonade can either grab a handful from the freezer or pop down to the nearest gas station for a bag. In spite of this, however, both restaurants and rural areas do need their ice delivered in comparatively glacial proportions. Today's icepeople sometimes deliver massive slabs stretching yards wide and weighing hundreds of pounds — a far cry from yesteryear's blocks small enough to be slogged around with tongs. They may not roll door-to-door in urban and suburban neighborhoods so much anymore, but they still exist.

  12. Telephone Operators: The Bureau of Labor Statistics considers telephone operators one of the most endangered careers in the United States, with only around 21,960 filled positions as of 2009. Automation sounded this job's death knell, and many companies wanting a human voice to pick up their phones usually designate the responsibilities to receptionists and secretaries. Some universities and other massive institutions still employ telephone operators owing to the sheer volume of calls they receive on a daily basis, but overall the career path faces an even steeper decline in the future.

  13. Haberdasher: Haberdashery is a far more common career path than pretty much any of the other ones listed here. It just operates under the significantly less awesome moniker of "tailor" these days. In American parlance, haberdashers cater to the apparel needs of both men and women who enjoy wearing traditional men's clothing. Although most people cannot afford fully custom suits — opting instead to purchase ready-mades right off the rack — they do seek out these shops for alterations and repairs. Outside of the United States, though, haberdashery involves selling sewing supplies rather than designing, making and mending menswear.

  14. Slaves: Americans tend to think of slavery as it relates to the horrific practices prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, but in reality such dehumanization occurs every day in every nation except for Greenland, Iceland and the Svalbard region of Norway. Worldwide, an estimated 27 million slaves bring in upwards of $32 billion a year for their deplorable oppressors. When it comes to transnational trafficking, 50% of the persons kept in subjugation are children and 80% are female. Seventy percent of these women and girls find themselves forced into some type of sexual slavery. The most recent statistics posit that the United States hosts between 14,500 and 17,500 exploited foreign nationals shoved so far into the margins the citizenry oftentimes doesn't even notice their existence. Fortunately, organizations already exist to free the exploited from their cruel bonds. Americans wanting to uphold the virtues of individual freedom, dignity and other basic human rights both within the borders of their home country and beyond should get involved with The Salvation Army's Stop Human Trafficking campaign, Stop the Traffik, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Captive Daughters and many, many more.

  15. Print Journalists: Like headlines reading, "Zap! Bang! Pow! Comics aren't Just for Kids Anymore," those announcing that print media has yet to rattle off its dying breath clog up news sources with their face-palming obviousness. Only someone whose parents are siblings would argue that digital media has not negatively impacted its pulpy predecessor, with plenty of magazines and newspapers folding under in recent years. Print media may be phasing out, with job openings growing increasingly scarcer and layoffs increasingly more common, but it has yet to officially climb up the curtain and join the choir invisible. Many recent graduates with a degree in print journalism end up applying their training to websites, blogs and social media, though some do manage to squeeze into what few positions pop up in major newspapers, magazines, local interest guides and alternative weeklies. Anyone wishing to pursue a career in journalism is better off looking forward with digital media, however. Just because print has yet to die completely does not mean it's not fading away.

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