Large fires were his area of expertise: American fireman Paul Adair fought more than 2,000 fires around the world, including a gas source in the Algerian Sahara which blazed for six months, and 117 oil wells which went up in flames during the first Gulf War. His missions were so spectacular that they even provided material for the 1968 film “Hellfighter”, in which John Wayne played the fearless firefighter. Back then, Adair had certainly contributed a lot to the positive perception of his profession. Yet firefighters remain highly respected to this day, and not only in the USA. In all corners of the world, people place a lot of trust in fire departments. And this positive image also applies to other caring professions.
They help us out in emergencies, save lives and care for others: In nearly all of the countries surveyed, firefighters and medical professions such as paramedics, doctors and nurses are awarded the best scores. These are the results of the “Trust in Professions 2015” study carried out by GfK Verein last fall, in which more than 29,000 consumers were surveyed. People from 27 countries around the world were interviewed with the aim of discovering the level of trust they have in 32 pre-determined occupations. So that the results of individual countries could be compared, the average trust values per country, worldwide and within Europe were recorded, weighted according to the respective population.
As was the case in the 2014 survey, firefighters top the global trust rankings. With the exception of Kenya and Nigeria – where firefighters arguably cannot achieve so much due to lacking equipment and infrastructure – at least 80% of the global population has either high or very high trust in them. In many countries, the value is even higher than 90%. Other caring professions are perceived favorably by citizens: Paramedics are rated highest in the UK, Japan and Switzerland; doctors in Iran and South Africa; and nurses in South Korea. Alongside the medical sector, education is also well-represented at the top of the rankings: Teachers are the most trusted profession in India, Indonesia and Turkey. In Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines, farmers place highly. In these countries, between 85% and 95% of the population has trust in farmers. In fact, agriculture is the most important economic sector in Kenya, providing a livelihood for many people. And while the most important economic sector in Nigeria is oil production, 60% of the population here is employed within the agricultural sector.
There is not so much agreement between countries in terms of overall trust as is the case with regard to trustworthy professions. The average values for all professions surveyed vary from 55% to 82%. The highest trust values were seen in India and Indonesia, with values around the 80% mark. However, Nigeria, Japan, Argentina and Brazil bring up at the rear with overall trust values between 55% and 56%. They therefore occupy the last positions in the ranking. However, in Germany, people are more trusting: the average trust value of 65% places the country mid-table.
Whether we trust somebody or not appears to largely depend on our life experience and impressions. These vary from country to country and across continents. A comparison between Europe and the rest of the world reveals that the financial crisis is Europeans’ main preoccupation. Bankers may well have a 67% trust value globally, placing them in the mid-range, but the equivalent value in Europe is just 42%. This places financial service providers among the least trusted professions overall. Financial matters reveal the starkest divergence between Europe and the rest of the world. Europeans also display a more reserved attitude towards other professions than the global average: Journalists, advertising executives, insurance brokers and businessmen fare significantly worse within European borders – the difference between these figures and the global average lies between 17% and 22%.
Europeans are not simply skeptical per se. They do have higher levels of trust for certain professions in comparison with respondents on other continents. The difference is most evident with regard to the police: 71% of Europeans trust law enforcement, while the global average is 63%. Aside from these divergences, there are many parallels to be drawn between the European and global ranking. In both the European and global rankings, firefighters and nurses occupy the top two places respectively. In fact, all of the professions in the global top 10 are highly placed in the European ranking, albeit in a slightly different order. This is also the case at the other end of the scale. For example, politicians are universally ranked bottom, with a worldwide trust value of 30% and a significantly lower corresponding figure of 19% for Europe.
How are individual professions perceived in Germany? Which occupations do Germans trust the most, and which perform poorly in comparison with other countries? Those representing the rule of law, order and safety enjoy the best trust values in Germany: lawyers, judges and police officers are rated significantly better than their European and worldwide counterparts. Public transport drivers, who are tasked with the responsibility of bringing thousands of people safely to their destination each day, are seen positively in the eyes of German respondents. And nearly everybody in the country places incredibly high trust in medical professions. When it comes to their reputation, paramedics are rated particularly highly. Nearly 96% of Germans trust them – and with this in mind, are on an equal footing with firefighters.
Germany’s service sector has been growing for years: according to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, the tertiary sector generates approximately 70% of GDP and three quarters of jobs (source: bmwi.de bzw. statista.com): these figures speak for themselves. However, when it comes to trust, certain professions need to catch up. Among those seen critically by Germans are retailers, advertising executives and insurance brokers. Others in the media and entertainment sector should not be so satisfied with their trust values yet: journalists, TV presenters and actors are seen more critically in Germany when compared with other countries. In this regard, the difference ranges between 10 and 27 percentage points. And while many Germans no doubt enjoy watching a soccer game or two, whether sitting in front of the TV or in the stands, trust in professional players is much lower than elsewhere. The financial sector also fares poorly when compared with other parts of the world. Although Germans consider bankers to be just as trustworthy as their European neighbors, Germany is far below the overall trust level in a global comparison. Last but not least, German citizens don’t know what to make of their armed forces. They display less trust for their soldiers than other nations. On the other hand, there is one positive exception in the service sector. IT specialists can take pride in their good trust levels: 59% of respondents have a high opinion of computer and software experts, 14% higher than their European counterparts and 9% higher than the global average.
But how do you go about gaining people’s trust? Can an average or even a negative image be improved at all? A simple recipe for success doesn’t exist. After all, each profession faces different challenges. However, it may help to seek inspiration from John F. Kennedy. He is claimed to have once said: “He who acts while others talk gets ahead in life.” These words will above all resonate with firefighters, paramedics and police officers alike.
Data source: GfK Verein, Study „Trust in Professions 2016“
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