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Reporter only slightly better than grave robber

Went to the school career day this week.

Went to the school career day this week.

Thought I was there to talk about journalism, but it turned out they just wanted to use me as a bad example, the equivalent of one of those Scared Straight programs where muscle-bound prison inmates with shaved heads and swastikas on their teeth warn wide-eyed teens of the consequences of straying down the wrong path.

"Don't let this happen to you," a teacher barked through a megaphone, pointing an accusing finger at me as students streamed past.

Some of the kids flinched, then scurried away muttering "must study harder, must study harder." A few of the braver boys edged close, tried to look nonchalant, but you could see their Adam's apples bobbing like fishing floats. A couple of the girls fled, sobbing. "It's hideous," gasped one -- an indelicate sentiment to voice aloud, but undoubtedly reflective of the general sentiment.

For this is the ugly truth: Of the 200 jobs rated in an analysis of the best jobs in North America, newspaper reporter ranked 184th, sandwiched between stevedore and, I believe, grave robber. No, journalism doesn't score well on the 2010 Jobs Rated index, which measures careers in terms of stress, working environment, physical demands, income and hiring outlook. Dunno what they didn't like about reporting. Must have been all that heavy lifting of one-pint weights.

The best job? Actuary. An actuary is someone who calculates probabilities for the insurance industry and other financial institutions. Super. I have said this before: At a time in life when kids should be learning to take chances, should we really be telling them their best bet is a career dedicated to diminishing risk?

In truth, should a teen be pushed toward any particular career? It rankles to see young people being stuffed into a funnel, made to feel they must choose a path before they've even had a chance to look at a map.

We have been told for the past decade that Canada faces a critical skills shortage in just about every employment sector as baby boomers put down their tools and pick up their golf clubs. That message was muted by the economic meltdown of 2008, when A) the job market contracted and B) all those boomers on the edge of retirement suddenly found themselves working on the Freedom 85 plan, their savings having vanished like Tiger's endorsements. Still, the fundamentals point to a massive menu of opportunity for today's young people, if they get the right education. Making them choose one option at age 18 is like saying "eat whatever you want, as long as it's a hamburger."

Sure, there are those rare, lucky people who know what they want to do from an early age. Good for them. But there's a difference between knowing what you want and choosing something at random just to shut up the people who keep pestering you.

Here's the rest of the 10 Best Jobs list for 2010: software engineer, computer systems analyst, biologist, historian, mathematician, paralegal assistant, statistician, accountant, dental hygienist.

To which I reply: professional lawnmower racer, gigolo, ninja, pope and oil rig roustabout, the latter only making my list because it's dead last on the index of 200.

Or you could be a "coconut safety engineer," the title given to the employee at the Virgin Islands' Ritz-Carlton hotel whose job is to ensure guests don't get bonked on the noggin as they sleep. Or a "bite man" who rolls up his sleeve, sticks out his arm and waits to see if mosquitoes bite him often enough to warrant spraying with insecticide. England's Thorpe Park amusement park employs a "vomit collector" who, with mop and bucket, patrols under what is billed as the world's most terrifying rollercoaster. Dare to dream, kids, dare to dream. There's a Vancouver guy, Sean Aiken, who didn't know what to do after graduating from business school. So he tried 52 jobs in 52 weeks, an exercise documented in The One-Week Job Project, a book released a couple of days ago. Seems excessive, but you get the point. The possibilities are endless.

So this is what you want to tell them on career day: This is a time to expand, not narrow, your options. Education will broaden your choices. You can be whatever you want. Except a reporter.