Job skills for the apocalypse

A Redditor asks the critical question, "What professions would be the most valuable in an apocalyptic world?", resulting in an entertaining thread. The tl;dr is "learn to fish, hunt and make tools"; Keytarists and SQL administrators concerned about the end of the world might consider night classes.


  1. Hunh.  I’d think “teacher” would rank right up there, unless you think “apocalypse” means “humans as a race go extinct”.  If we’re not extinct then we’re having babies who need to learn stuff.  And unless you want to live as a hunter-gatherer forever then ‘stuff’ ought to include reading, writing, and math to say the least.  More strategically, being able to remember history, including whatever it was that brought about the apocalypse, seems awfully important.

    1.  I guess it depends on just how bad things collapse? Supporting a dedicated teacher requires a semblance of a working social system, so in a complete dog-eats-dog clusterfuck you’d be better off with skills you can live on without support.

    2.  Not really. Kids’ time is better spent farming and learning the traits necessary for survival through apprenticeship. Schooling is the sort of thing reserved for winter time when there’s nothing to do for children but huddle for warmth.

  2. The real question is, what kind of apocalypse are you talking about? If it’s something as simple as governmental and financial systems collapsing, then in addition to the above-named skills, you’d better have some defense systems set up against raiders and slavers.

    If it’s a situation like The Stand where most of the world’s population dies but most of the infrastructure is still intact (and food supplies with them), you could get by for a while on canned goods, but you’d still have to eventually be able to produce your own food, although you’d have the advantage of perennial food plants, and probably some others growing wild if they didn’t depend on big-scale agribusiness practices (such as fertilizer and Round-up-type chemicals) to grow; also, the superflu in The Stand left the deer alive, which is very fortunate for meat purposes (although you’d eventually have far less deer around as the alpha predators came back and there were less food crops around for them to eat). Plus, of course, eventually needing those defense skills and systems as people started to coalesce into communities of survivors; even without a supervillain like Randall Flagg around, you could still have some pretty ugly types of government around.

    If it were a situation like The Road… well, unless you’d previously prepared a Biosphere-like contained environment that had an impressive geothermal-fueled power supply to make up for the lack of sunlight to grow crops, you’d better develop a taste for long pork and have your method of suicide handy for when you ran into one of the few organized bands of reavers.

    And, please, let’s not talk about zombies this one fucking time. I’m so thoroughly sick of them.

  3.  Thank you! I was just thinking this same thing. People toss around the word apocalypse, but it is just a big catch-all phrase that could mean a number of different scenarios!

  4. I think this is an easy one – I’d prefer to be a trained soldier.  Or more specifically, SAS soldier.  They are rigorously trained in survival tactics and pushed to their physical limits in order to make the grade.  Don’t fancy my odds of making the cut though…

  5. no one can agree whether engineers or farmers are the most important, but the general consensus is that there’s always going to be work for Medics and Hookers.

  6. I always think about all the technical books everywhere. Its not too late to teach others to read, and start scribing to save knowledge for the next golden age.

  7. Some basic survival skills, the ability to maintain a garden, some blacksmithing skill, and the ability to make gunpowder. That seems like a decent skill set to start with. 

    I guess carpentry would be useful for building shelter that doesn’t leak, but I think most people could hammer stuff together well enough to get by without prior training.To my mind, medical knowledge is towards the bottom of the list. If you get seriously hurt or sick you’re pretty much screwed, so investing a bunch of energy into it seems like a waste. Know enough to clean bumps and scrapes and maybe set a bone, but much more than that is a losing bet.

    1. Yeah, those seem a lot more useful than hunting or fishing, certainly.  In the parts of the US where most of the population is, there will be so many people hunting and fishing in areas that are environmentally stressed to begin with, that there very quickly wouldn’t be anything left to catch.

  8. Judging by the films and TV shows I’ve seen, skills aren’t that important if you’re (a) ruggedly handsome, or (b) smokin’ hawt. Good looks seem to improve your chances of survival disproportionately. There’s some mileage in being a Lovable Fat Guy or the Comic Relief, but you can only push that so far. At some point, the writers will turn on you, at which point you’re zombie/dinosaur chow.

  9. People who claim you need to learn tool making are not properly appreciating the coming tool glut. If 99% of the population dies (a good sized apocalypse) then there will be 9900% more tools per person. Why learn to make an axe when there would be so many of them laying around?

  10. Wandering bard for me.  Grow my hair, wear sandals, persuade the survivors I’m jesus. Someone will give me some nosh.

  11. So, what about graphic designers?

    * crickets *

    “Come on guys, I could whip up a fancy logo for our little survival band.”

  12. Knitters, crocheters, weavers and spinners could become pretty popular folks once the crap pret-a-porter from China, et al, wears out about a year into the calamity. 

      1. My SO is an industrial carpenter.  He cycles through an entire wardrobe of clothing in less than a year.  The only thing that lasts any significant period of time are the heavy duty cotton tshirts and socks made in the US.  Face it, office drones don’t cycle through clothes the way people who build stuff for a living do.  

  13. Enter the advantage of hanging out with a lot of Pagans and SCA types:  Off the top of my head, I know a dozen organic farmers, 4 blacksmiths, at least 10 people who know herbal medicine, a half dozen leatherworkers, a handful of spinners and weavers who raise their own wool…

  14. You know that saying you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food?  So I would prioritize (disregarding air) a. Defense and housing: soldier, builder, bricklayer, palisade builder, etc. Also leather tanner, wool spinner, someone who has the slightest idea what to do with flax, seamstress, etc.  Clothing is part of shelter.  b. Water collector, water filtration, aqueduct maker, pottery (water storage and potentially filtration.)  c. Hunter, farmer, cook, baker, oven builder, fuel gatherer. d. Everything else.  I never understand in post-apocalyptic shows why the absolute first move isn’t finding defensible space, and building a nice big fort.  In Lost, for instance, why build tents on the beach when they were attacked by rabid polar bears?

  15. Horologist. (I am a horologist- a watchmaker. The term applies to clockmakers as well, and technically anyone that studies timekeeping and timekeepers)

    I consistently tell people one of the reasons what I do, as a watchmaker, is important is that if there were a nuclear war (a very real possibility), where EMPs (electro magnetic pulse) wipe out instantly all unshielded circuitry, the only people who will be able to rebuild the basic structure of organized society are the few like me, horologists, watch & clockmakers. Because the only timepieces that will still function are mechanical ones unaffected by EMP, or the few rare quartz watches that have Faraday shielding on them.

    Without a system of timekeeping, you will never have an organized society again. Without timekeeping, people would truly run amok. Timekeeping is one of the things that allows a truly civilized and organized society. Take that away, and good luck making progress.

    Laugh at the idea if you want, but I’m dead serious. Really, think about it. Society, without timekeeping? Not impossible, but very difficult.

    When the apocalypse comes, think about befriending a watchmaker. Or a machinist. I’m both. Really, anyone who works as some sort of maker, with physical stuff, not circuitry, would be immensely more useful than normal people. It would be those who can fix and make things with physical parts who would save the rest of us.

    1. That big shiny thing in the sky seems to tell time just fine for most every purpose that doesn’t involve science or payroll.

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