Saturday, September 26, 2009

About time...

The allure of Wall Street seems to be fading - about time...

Harvard's 2009 graduating class shows the shift in career directions. Those entering finance and consulting tumbled to 20% of graduates this year from nearly twice that in 2008 and 47% the year before, according to a survey by the university's newspaper, the Crimson. Fifteen percent this year planned to go into education -- up by half from last year -- and the proportion going into health care doubled to 12%.
Even a modest of shift of talent could have an effect on society. When smart people become entrepreneurs, "they improve technology in the line of business they pursue, and, as a result, productivity and income grow," said a study by economists Kevin M. Murphy, Robert W. Vishny and Andrei Schleifer in 1990. By contrast, they said, allocation of talent to professions such as finance and law -- where returns come from distribution of wealth from others rather than wealth creation -- leads to lower productivity growth, fewer technological opportunities and slower economic growth.
... It wasn't just the money. When Vivian Pan got her Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale in 1989, research funding was tight, and a job monitoring radiation for the U.S. Energy Department was "incredibly boring" to her. Looking for dynamism, she went to Wall Street, becoming president and chief investment officer of an investment advisory firm, Hamlin Capital Management.
Some of the people now losing these jobs use the occasion to re-evaluate their lives. "Something I've never seen before in 30 years is that this economy has made people really soul-search," says executive recruiter Jeanne Branthover, who heads global financial services for Boyden Global Executive Search. "They're saying, 'If I'm not going to make as much money as I did, I want to look for something that I really like this time.' "
Education is a beneficiary of the economic turmoil, and not for the first time. In the 1930s, according to Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard, when manufacturing jobs dried up amid the Depression, some of the men who would have dropped out of high school to work in factories and mills finished school instead. Others who might have taken white-collar jobs after high school went to teacher's colleges, helping staff the nation's schools for a generation.
In the current downturn, Ada Beth Cutler, dean of the College of Education at Montclair State University in New Jersey, is overseeing a program to train laid-off finance professionals to fill a longstanding shortage in U.S. education: high-school math teachers. Starting teacher salaries in the state are $45,000 to $55,000, she says, far under what many make in finance. Still, the college's Traders to Teachers program received 200 applications for its first class of 25 this fall. "There's nothing more rewarding than teaching," Ms. Cutler says. "But you're not going to earn a lot of money."

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