Jobs that no longer exist

Are project managers a dying breed too?

Why do occupations die out? There may be many reasons, but two are definitely drivers: technological and social changes.

From school we know Hauptmann’s drama ‘The Weavers’, in which changes in technology forced people to work for starvation wages. The job title itself may still exist in part, but the job description looks completely different. In this context, mention should be made of telling the time and the illuminating cities at night, which are no longer done by night watchmen.

While researching this article, I also came across jobs under the heading of ‘extinct professions’ that have recently regained importance. The taster was widespread, whose task was to test food and drink, especially in the environment of tyrants, despots and other lunatics, i.e. to protect them from poisoning. In this context, it should be mentioned that this job existed until the 1950s in the course of papal liturgies in the Vatican and, just recently, Vladimir Putin is also said to have employed one. In this context the information that the administration of lead works more slowly makes the taster relatively redundant. Says Wikipedia.

The same goes for the rag-and-bone man, referring to ragpickers. They roamed the countryside collecting old clothes and scraps of cloth from the population. They then sold these so-called rags to paper mills, where they served as raw material for the production of paper, or to shoddy clothes makers. Bones went to glue factories. These days a few survive as scrap metal merchants. In some countries this was considered an honest, though lowly occupation; in Germany the term “Lump” refers to someone of inferior character or who acts without conscience.

Clearly more out of fashion is the portable privy provider. A person with buckets and a mobile screen who, in the absence of public toilets, offered this personal service to third parties instead. Could, however, on busy days such as start and end of school holidays, be revived on German motorway rest areas. This activity was closely related to the urine washer. Detergents were made from this substance. Combined with grease and tallow from dirty clothes, the urine stored for about ten days formed a strongly cleansing ammonia-based soap.

The exact opposite is the coffee sniffer. Their job was to find out whether bean coffee was being roasted illegally in Prussian municipalities. Frederick the Great had introduced corresponding taxes on coffee roasting and thus wanted to expose tax evaders.

Less pleasant, but not entirely harmless, was the job of the gas sniffer, which only became extinct about 100 years ago with the invention of leak detectors. His job was to look for leaks in the gas pipes underneath by means of small pipes drilled through the road surface.

The powder monkey also falls into the ‘not entirely harmless’ category. Children who were still too small or too weak for the job of a sailor lugged gunpowder from the hold to the guns during a battle.

Project managers don’t have to do any of the above – it’s not part of their job description, although I have encountered a few characters acting without conscience. Artificial intelligence and that agile approach means that everything is now done by teams, suggesting that they too can be dispensed with, or at least the possibility is not ruled out.

Strictly speaking, in my opinion, these predictions testify to a somewhat strange view of the tasks of a project manager. It’s as if the project management had been distributing tasks in a Putin-like, dictatorial manner in the sense of a commander-in-chief and the lower orders then had to carry them out. Those who think that projects work this way don’t think much else either. Projects have always been team efforts, even if de facto responsibility is not distributed equally among all members of a team and not everyone want to be a point of contact. “Servant leadership” is nothing new and was already a topic of discussion among the philosophers of antiquity. And whatever this role is called in immaterial in the end.

And artificial intelligence will not change this in the foreseeable future, because it is still a long way from being able to interpret human emotions or express them in all their facets. What it can do well, however, is sift through large amounts of data and find patterns – and that’s where it can be very helpful. And: there’s life in the old dog yet.

Original text: RGE
English translation: BC


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