There's a saying that goes around from time to time, about there being no such thing as an indispensible man. I first heard it in a company that I worked for many years ago, then later heard it in the military. Yet the same people who say that with all seriousness also say that the department, unit or company couldn't do without such-and-such a person, because they were the only one who understood some aspect of the business or its products.
As I look back over time, I find that history itself refutes the idea that there are no indispensable people. Many of the great events of history were accomplished by such people. They had the right set of skills, the right character, the right motivation and the right ideas to get something done, at just the right time.
Can you imagine someone else taking Columbus' place, and sailing to seek the westward passage? It took him years to find someone who would finance his trip. Who else would have invested that time, especially considering that most people believed the world was flat?
Or how about George Washington? Can you see any modern day politician really being able to take his place? Maybe someone else could have been the general and defeated the British army, but who else had the character and integrity to be the first president and put our country on the path it has traveled?
Then there's the guy who invented the Xerox machine. He started development in his garage, then when he ran out of money, went to IBM to try and get them to buy into it. Their accountants punched their numbers and came up with an answer... no way. So Chester Carlson went back to his garage and hammered out the problems, ultimately producing the first copier. IBM lost out on that one, big time.
The point is, there are always indispensible people. In the Old West, there were certain people that outlaws wouldn't touch, even if they found themselves on the wrong end of a gunfight. They knew that the risk of touching those people, let alone shooting them, was too great, so they left them alone.
If a major disaster strikes, it would be good to be one of those indispensible people. Many preppers talk about a breakdown of society, widespread violence and gangs roaming the streets. If such a thing were to happen, you and I would instantly become targets, especially if anyone suspected that our basements were full of food and other essential supplies.
But what if we could change that? What if we could put ourselves in a position, where these people wouldn't want to kill us? Where they would see us as assets which are too valuable to kill, is that possible? I think it is, but it requires taking a different look at things.
Of course, there is no guarantee that anyone will value your life or withhold their hand from killing you. The world is full of sick people, and in the aftermath of a crisis, you can be sure they will be coming out of the woodwork. Some of those people will kill indiscriminant, regardless of how bad they might need the skills of the person they killed. Others won't kill, but will torture, mistreat and rape people who could provide them with services which would guarantee their survival. But chances are better with these sorts of skills, than they are without them.
What Will People Need?
The key to becoming indispensible is to have something that people need; specifically to have a skill they need. That gives them an incentive to keep you around, even if they don't need that skill right away. Most people have a high enough regard for their own self-preservation, that they will not do something that has the potential of reducing their lifespan.
However, the reason I focus on skills here is that if all you have that they need is goods, all they have to do is kill you, and then take your supplies. So that stockpile of food you have in the basement isn't a guarantee of your safety, even if you do decide to share it. Actually, sharing it just guarantees that they will come back looking for more. They'll come back over and over again, and when you run out, they won't believe you.
On the other hand, skills aren't something that will run out. Nor are they something that someone else can steal. Oh, they can learn them for themselves, but if they were willing to do that, they probably wouldn't be in trouble in the first place.
So the trick is to figure out what kinds of skills people will need, after the crisis. Of course, you're going to have to make some assumptions to do that, such as assuming what type of crisis you'll be living through. Since none of us know what that will be, it would be best to pick two or three different types of crisis to base your thinking upon, ones that would be serious enough to cause a general collapse of society, and seek skills which would be useful in as many of those scenarios as possible.
As part of that, I think it would be safe to assume that there won't be any electricity, running water or mass communication available. That will mean that our supply chains will be out as well, because there won't be fuel for the trucks or any other way of getting goods to the stores. If there's anything which will cause people to panic, it's when they start getting hungry and there's no food to be found.
Based on that, the skills which people will need, will be those that will help them stay alive. Whether that's through making sure they can eat, fixing something that is broken or mending a broken arm, the skills have to have a real world survival application; otherwise, they won't mean a thing.
These Skills Open Doors Too
The other thing to consider, as you're building up your skills, is that you don't necessarily have to make it on your own. While your skills may make you valuable to the community at large, they will also make you valuable to a survival team. You can use those skills as your ticket to join such a group, trading your knowledge for that of others.
That's not to say that your skills can't be offered to others outside the group as well. A doctor would be welcome in pretty much any survival group, but the group wouldn't need their skills all the time. So the doctor could offer their skills to the community at large, in addition to their team.
Such an arrangement would benefit the individual, the team and the community. The team would gain esteem in the community, gaining some of the same protection that the doctor would have on their own. At the same time, the team could protect the doctor, so that nobody could come along and kidnap them to serve just their gang.
Ultimately, the idea is to use your skills as a guarantee of your safety. While that might not seem like much payment for the work you'll be doing, you will actually end up being one of the few who has that guarantee. So it's actually worth quite a bit. Before anything else you've got to survive; and part of that is keeping other people from killing you outright.
Let's Look at Some Skills
As I indicated already, the key is finding skills which will be valuable to others and which others will be willing to protect you for. That means that the skills must be usable in a survival situation, as well as being sufficiently rare that people aren't likely to have them themselves. Nor, I might add, would they be likely to find others who have the same skills.
The first category of skills we should consider is medical skills. All through history, doctors and other medical personnel have been prized in any society. That's not to say that they have always been protected or even treated well. But for the most part, medical professionals have been protected as a valuable member of the community.
Even if you're not a school-trained medical professional, there's a chance you could fit into this area, if you're willing to invest the time and effort into learning medical skills. There is a wealth of information available online, especially on YouTube, teaching how to take care of everything from snakebite to gunshot wounds. There are also books you can buy, such as "Where There Is No Doctor," which will teach you enough to deal with a wide variety of injuries and illnesses.
Doctors - Of course, doctors top our list of medical skills that will be needed. But learning to be a doctor is a long, drawn out process. Unless you are already a doctor or studying to be one, chances are that this is beyond what you can do in your spare time. However, there's nothing to say that you can't learn something about medicine, so that you will have enough knowledge to act as a medic in an emergency.
There are places in the world where doctors are so rare, that knowing how to clean a wound and put on a bandage qualifies one to be a doctor. While I don't ever expect the United States to reach that point, we could find ourselves in a position where it is impossible to get to a real doctor. In that case, just being able to provide minimal medical help would be almost as valuable as being a doctor. That's something you can study on your own, without the need to go to medical school.
Nurses - There are times when a nurse is more valuable than a doctor. I remember back when I was in the Army it was commonly said that the career sergeants were really the ones who ran the Army. Well, in a hospital, the nurses are the sergeants. They're the ones who take care of the patients and get things done. While they might not be ready to perform surgery, they are well-trained medical professionals, who have a lot of useful knowledge.
Midwives - Midwifery is probably the oldest of the medical professions. Women trained in childbirth have been a part of every ancient society, long before anyone came up with the idea of doctors specializing in gynecology and obstetrics.
Regardless of what happens in the world, there will be babies born. We may very well find ourselves returning to a society in which midwives become the norm once again. Even without it becoming formal, any breakdown in society will create an immediate need for women to fulfill this role.
Dentists - While dentists are doctors, they are a very specialized type of doctor, with knowledge that other doctors don't have. With the reduction in personal hygiene that is likely to attend such an event, there will probably be a huge need for dentists to pull teeth, even if that's all they can do without electricity.
Pharmacists - We tend to look at pharmacists as little more than clerks in the pharmacy; but that's an unfair stereotype. The amount of medical training that pharmacists have to undergo, in order to get their degree is extensive. While they may not be allowed to write prescriptions here in the United States, they often know more about the medicines they dispense, than the doctors who do write the scripts.
In some other countries, pharmacists are allowed to prescribe medicines, based upon nothing more than a patient telling them what's wrong with them. In a sense, this is self-diagnosis on the part of the patient; so it is a bit unreliable. Nevertheless, the pharmacist is trained and able to give advice on what medicine to take, based upon that diagnosis.
Pharmacists also have an understanding of how the medicines work, how they interact with each other and what can be used as a replacement. So in a time of crisis, where medicines are in short supply, they are the ones who can help people find something that they can use, when they can't find the medicine that they are supposed to be using.
Those who have knowledge of herbal medicine can fit into this category as well. Modern medicine started with herbal medicine. In a time where pharmaceutical medicines are no longer available, that may be the only medicine available; and that's something you can study on your own.
Food and Water
Regardless of what happens, people will need food and water. Considering that most people today have no idea of where their food actually comes from or how it is grown, there would be a great opportunity, in the face of any disaster, to provide food for people outside your own survival group. That is, assuming you are able to produce enough food to provide for others.
There is a risk inherent in this, in that some short-sighted people might decide to kill whoever has food and take what they have. So care must be taken to protect the food and anyone in your team that is involved in food production, distribution or barter. But with the right safeguards in place, it could be very profitable.
Gardening - There was a time when everyone knew how to grow food in their garden. During World War II, the government encouraged that, telling people to plant "victory gardens" to help feed themselves, so that more of the food from farms could be sent to the troops fighting overseas. Sadly, that has been lost.
But even those who have gardening skills may not be able to grow their own food, simply because they don't have seed and the necessary tools. Being able to help them get started could guarantee their friendship and support, without having to go through all the work of growing food for them.
Animal Husbandry - As with gardening, this is another mostly lost art. Few people have any idea of how to raise chickens, rabbits, goats or cattle, even less than those who know about gardening. So this is another great way of providing food, if you have enough room to raise these animals.
Butchering - This one has to go hand-in-hand with animal husbandry. Butchering an animal, especially a large animal, isn't a skill you can pick up overnight. Most hunters don't know how to butcher properly either, as they merely clean the animal and then turn it over to a butcher's shop for processing.
Along with butchering, you have to include skills like smoking meat, dehydrating meat and making sausage. Anything that will turn those animals into edible meat products for the table will be valuable.
Making Fermented Beverages - If there's one thing that people will want in the aftermath of a crisis, it's alcohol. Liquor stores will be raided, as people go on a lengthy binge until it's all used up. If you can make beer, wine or moonshine, you'll most likely have a good market; one that will be willing to pay just about anything for your wares.
Water Purification - Clean, potable water is the second most important need for survival. Whatever water filtration or purification means you decide to use, make sure that you have enough capability to purify much more than you need. Simply supplying purified water could work into a healthy business, especially if other local water sources are contaminated.
One thing we all have to be ready to count on, in the wake of any disaster, is that we will have to make do with what we have. While the local hardware store and sporting goods stores may still have inventory on their shelves, we can't really count on it. We'll have to get the most life we can out of the things we have and then figure out how to repair them to get more.
Of course, there are people who know how to repair just about anything, but like people who know how to garden, they are becoming rarer by the day. The local "fix-it shop" is no longer part of our society, due to a combination of the complexity of the things we use and manufacturers designing their wares to be disposable.
However, even many those disposable items can be repaired, although not easily. Nor will they usually look as good as they did before they were repaired. If something is made in a case that's glued together, rather than screwed together, it's hard to pack it back up nice and neat, once you get it repaired.
Considering that most people don't have the ability to repair things themselves, and the scarcity of parts to repair them, anyone who can repair things will have a good market open to them. Not only that, but they won't have anything for anyone to steal. So, compared to food production, it would be more secure. That's not saying there won't be dangers, because there will, but it will be better.
General Mechanics (especially small engine) - Until we're faced with a crisis, we won't really know if cars will still be on the road or not. But there are a number of different scenarios where cars would still be used, especially in the wake of a financial collapse. People won't be buying new cars though, they'll be keeping their old ones, providing a boon for mechanics.
What is more likely to happen is an open door for small engine repair. Many tools, such as generators and chain saws have small engines, which are notoriously bad when it comes to maintenance. In a post-disaster world, these tools would probably be getting quite a workout, creating a lot of work for those who know how to repair them.
Blacksmithing - Once upon a time, the blacksmith was the village repair man. His skills in making and remaking anything and everything out of metal were a valuable aid to the rest of the residents. While we don't generally have blacksmiths working in our modern society today, there are still blacksmiths in other parts of the world.
In the event of a major enough disaster, such as the loss of the electric grid, the services of a blacksmith could become highly desirable. In most cases, other means of working with metal will be unavailable, so the blacksmith will be the only one who can make or fix things made of metal.
The Building Trades - Carpenters, plumbers and maybe even electricians will be an important part of rebuilding society after any disaster. These building tradesmen tend to work overtime after any natural disaster, making repairs so that people can move back into their homes.
That wouldn't go away in a large-scale disaster and may in fact become even more necessary. If any infrastructure will be put back together, allowing society to be put back together, it will be largely through the efforts of these people, not computer programmers and geeks.
Gunsmithing - Many people are expect mass violence after disasters. There's plenty of reason for that, as we see it happen even after fairly small natural disasters. The criminal element of society and those who are teetering on the edge try to take advantage of the situation, looting and committing many other crimes.
In most cases, law enforcement can't keep up with these criminals, so it is necessary for people to be ready to protect themselves. If that's the case, then it only stands to reason that some guns will fail and need repair work. Considering that this is a very specialized area, with few practitioners, those who understand gunsmithing will be in high demand.
General Repair - Then there's all the other things that people will need repaired, just because they won't be able to replace them. Someone who is handy at repairing things in general, from small appliances to broken furniture, will have plenty to keep them busy.
Don't Forget to Prepare
Your ability to do any of these things could become your ticket to safety, prosperity and importance in any new society that emerges after a disaster. But you're going to need more than knowledge. In order to perform that work, you're going to need the necessary tools and supplies. You can't assume that they will be readily available, even if they are now.
Take pharmaceuticals, as an example. Pharmacies will be one of the first places looted after a crisis, with people looking for drugs to get high on. They will spill or destroy ten to twenty times as many drugs as they steal, perhaps indirectly ending other people's lives, by destroying the very medicines that they will need in order to survive.
A pharmacist who survives a crisis should immediately start salvaging what they can, moving it to a secure place. Better yet, if they have the capability, they should start a stockpile of the most important drugs, so that they will have them available, after the crisis.
Likewise, a plumber, carpenter or small engine mechanic will need to stockpile the parts they will need to practice their trade in the aftermath of the disaster. There is no way that any of us will be able to count on those parts and materials being available in the wake of that disaster. Even our local building materials centers might be destroyed, leaving us without the ability to glean whatever they had in inventory.So it's clear to see, that making use of those skill will require making the proper preparation as well. But that's really no different than anything else we stockpile and prepare. It's just an expansion on what we're already doing. But it's an expansion that could take you from mere survival, and step you up to living well in the post-disaster world.