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Man, am I jealous!

I'm a journalist. We're a dime a dozen. It's tough to get a job as good as mine. Unlike engineers, journalists don't have to be licensed to practice our profession.

We don't even have to have a college degree to play the crucial role the nation's founding fathers envisioned for a free press: to enlighten the masses about their government's activities so citizens can influence the policies that affect their daily lives.

Until Watergate and “All the President's Men,” most people pictured journalists as schlumpy, cigar-chomping, middle-aged men hunched over greasy typewriters. But when Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered the activities that prompted former President Richard Nixon to resign rather than face impeachment, they transformed the profession's image overnight.

Suddenly, being a reporter was cool. Scores of wannabe Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernsteins flooded journalism schools across the country, looking forward to a future filled with clandestine meetings and appearances on weekly television news shows.

So, given our profession's excess capacity and no barriers to entry, we journalists have to practically kill an incumbent to get a decent job.

Not so my average reader. Two trends are converging to enable upwardly mobile infrastructure managers to command higher salaries and more control over the scope of their responsibilities:

There will soon be more infrastructure leadership positions to fill. Three-quarters of PUBLIC WORKS readers are 45 or older. The Rockefeller Foundation reports that 44% of the public sector workforce is 45 or older, compared to 30% in the private sector. A shortage of public works department leaders looms.

There will be fewer people to fill those positions. Students who once may have considered an engineering program are gravitating toward math and science to prepare for a more “hip” career in computers and other technology.

Cities are (slowly) resigning themselves to the fact that they must be more flexible about residency requirements and technical skills. If you're a licensed engineer, you're golden. But if you're not, don't sweat it. Cities want leaders with a reputation for defining and articulating an inspiring organizational vision, working well with other governmental agencies, and speaking persuasively to all stakeholders. An engineering degree isn't necessary to meet those expectations.

If you have all that, “your resume will rise to the top,” says Heidi Voorhees, president of recruiting firm The PAR Group and former manager of the village of Wilmette, a suburb just north of Chicago. “Salaries will rise out of desperation.”

So that's why I'm jealous. As an infrastructure professional, you have more opportunities than ever before to take your career in any direction. Carpe diem.

Stephanie Johnston
Editor in Chief