Dion Chang: No really, that's my job

2017-10-01 06:02
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Flush twentysomethings in New York are apparently turning to Instagram consultants to up their social-media game. Yes, you read correctly – an “Instagram consultant”. It’s a thing and, more importantly, it’s an actual job. I say, “flush twentysomethings” because the service is not cheap.

According to the New York Post, Instagram consultant Louisa Wells, who works at a photo studio, charges $150 (R2 900) for an initial consultation.

On the surface, this phenomenon might sound like millennials gone mad, but dig deeper and a different story emerges. American millennials are now being referred to as “the new urban poor”. They are burdened with the debt of their student loans, can’t get a job – despite the degree they are paying off – and, as a result, are living with their parents longer because they can’t afford to move out, let alone dream of ever owning their own property.

Hiring an Instagram consultant might seem ludicrous, but in a hypervisual era, where one’s personal brand is key, an influential Instagram account could open doors to new connections, opportunities and perhaps even a job offer.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Last month, Stats SA released unemployment figures for the second quarter of 2017, which showed that the unemployment rate remained stagnant at 27.7%. Youth unemployment is dire, nudging the 60% mark.

The acronym Neets – a youth demographic that is “not in education, employment or training” – is surfacing globally. In South Africa it is a harsh reality and a socioeconomic, ticking time bomb.

But there are some people with ingenuity, like Thomas, my neighbourhood dog walker. Thomas spotted an opportunity with busy suburbanites who don’t have time to walk their dogs. It’s a service that’s common in cities around the world, but not in South Africa.

Every week, I stop and chat to Thomas when he’s walking his motley packs. Usually it’s a familiar group of seven dogs, but once I saw him walking a single dog. When I asked where his pack was, he explained that it was a new client and he was assessing the sociability of his new charge. It’s this kind of insight and care that would make me sign up Thomas’ services – except I don’t have dogs.

Inspired by Thomas’ ingenuity, I decided to delve into the world of unusual jobs, and specifically jobs that didn’t require much, or any, training – just the initiative to find them.

Here are six of my favourites:

  • Professional sleeper: A hotel in Finland has a position for someone to test the comfort of their beds. The person is required to sleep in a different hotel bed each night and then write a review about his/her sleeping experience;
  • Odour judge: To test the effectiveness of new products, some personal goods companies hire “odour judges” who are employed to smell volunteers’ breath, feet, or armpits. The odour judges, in turn, have their sense of smell retested regularly;
  • Full-time TV watcher: A company like Netflix hires someone to watch all their content before releasing it to the public. The watcher’s responsibility is to review each programme and assign it its correct tag, which ensures viewers find exactly what they’re after, by category;
  • Human pet food tasters: Ever wondered how they get to describe the taste for the pet food you buy? Pet food companies hire people to test the quality and taste of their products. Human pet food samplers also evaluate the nutritional value of the food, but I’m not sure how they do that, as they spit out the food once they’ve tasted it;
  • Friend for rent: In Japan, Ryuichi Ichinokawa is a professional stand-in for a variety of roles, including fake spouse, best man, family relative, friend, work colleague and even boyfriend, to spare his clients embarrassment at social or work functions. In the US, Samantha Hess is a “professional cuddler” and will cuddle you – platonically – for $60 (R800) per hour; and
  • Professional mourner: This one seems tailor-made for South Africa, although it is already a service provided in the UK and in southeast Asia, where it is believed that a loud funeral will help the dead as they travel to the afterlife. Professional mourners are therefore hired to weep loudly throughout the funeral.

If none of these jobs inspire you and you’re thinking, “I’d rather watch paint dry”, then your prayers have been answered. A man in the UK actually earns a living doing just that. He spends his days painting sheets of cardboard to test how long new paint mixes take to dry and watches for changes in colour and texture. Who knew?

We say we need more entrepreneurs in South Africa, but not everyone has the skill, the means or appetite for risk. However, we can encourage and support initiative and, as Thomas has discovered, you might just find work in the unlikeliest of places.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com

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