In Ars Magica, the typical student of magic takes fifteen years to graduate into the wizardly order. When I was in the army, we took a whole day to learn how to use grenades. Of course, as usual in the army, most of the day was waiting for other people to throw grenades before we got to try it ourselves.
Why this comparison? Seems strange. Well, not actually. The wizard has a quite specific role in most groups: they kill lots of things with one blow. In our world, grenades can serve a very similar purpose, as do assault rifles and machine guns, both of which I have training in. Most of the training was about how to take care of the gun. Actual shooting training took about a day, although an hour at a time during a longer period. Using fifteen years to be able to cast a fireball and perhaps some other spells doing pretty much the same thing seems pretty redundant after all that.
Obviously, the whole fifteen years isn’t spent on spells. It includes many of the things we learn in school anyway. Reading is important and so forth. So, maybe that fifteen years isn’t actually that far from what we do. I started school in 1984 and graduated with an MSc in Software Engineering in 2005. Officially I’m still enrolled in a postgraduate program, although that has been on ice for years. However, what fun would this be if I don’t just discount that. Also, the number of illiterate child soldiers in the world tells us that all of this education is not important for that occupation.
Of course it could be argued that these people can be dangerous because they can bring their magic to places you can’t get guns into. This would mean they have to be very secretive. Otherwise they would be on all sorts of watchlists. On the other hand, that fifteen year period when they are not part of the society, but rather trying to learn magic, will be a big problem for them too.
So, basically these magicians can’t do what they used to do in the adventuring parties. That doesn’t mean they can’t find employment elsewhere. I mean those Continuous Light spells can come in handy when you’re trying to save on energy bills… but that doesn’t sound like something you’d want to spend fifteen years learning to do, although if you can make a couple of objects emitting light each day and just hang around for the rest of the day, that might entice plenty of people, but of course, you have to know early enough that this is what you want.
There’s plenty of other stuff they can do. Maybe corporate law is something they might want to look into. I mean there’s a spell called Protection from Law, Communal in PathFinder. I bet Enron wished they had someone like that on their side back in the day. I recently watched Bones pretty regularly, so I know the value of Restore Corpse and Decompose Corpse. Interrogation is another that might be useful, although probably immoral. Then again, would it be considered immoral? After all, its better than torture, because you’ll only hurt them if they actually lie, or refuse to answer questions.
There would be plenty of things for the wizard to do, but I feel like they would have lost their luster. Instead of being the extremely powerful upper echelon of society, although very secretive, they would be stylists or investigators. Basically not secretive, just not very interesting anymore. They can do things others can’t, but the things they can do are even more specialized then they used to be as technology can take care of most of the stuff they used to do.
The best they can hope for is a position in some celebrity’s entourage as the person who casts regular Youthful Appearances on their boss.