COVID-19 has taught us a lot about what the word ‘essential' really means. Flour, eggs, pasta, alcohol, loo paper... we are all too well aware of the shopping essentials. We also learned about our essential relationships, our essential work needs, even about our essential selves. Life has been stripped back and, although we are starting to get some of it back, we are now much clearer about what really is essential in life. The question is, are we up it?
There have been many comparisons of the COVID outbreak with World War II and, whilst I think some of the comparisons are overblown, there is a link between the two. In the war, people (particularly, but not exclusively, women) had to step up and learn new skills. The Land Army, munitions factories, the Ministry of Information, SOE, Bletchley Park... the list is long. People who thought they would live an ordinary life, within the limitations of their class, gender and education, were suddenly thrust into completely unfamiliar roles. And they stepped up to them.
And let's not forget all the men who suddenly had to become soldiers, sailors and airmen. Men who were bank clerks or actors or welders or any number of normal peacetime professions were put into uniform, given basic training and sent off to fight. Young men left school and went straight to war, coming back fully adult have never worked in peacetime conditions.
Even after the war was over, things did not go back to normal at once. Indeed, there was a degree of tension over both the financing of a peacetime country and the role of women versus the returning men. The country had faced enormous hardship but there were more challenges ahead and things would never be the same again.
And in 2020? We need a land army again. We need technology. We need new ways to do old things and replacements for other things. So the question is, do we have the skills? Can we learn the skills? Can we get our hands dirty and turn to jobs we never thought we would do in order to pull our economy back together? Can we develop new industries or revive old ones to generate jobs and funds?
I'm convinced that we all need to reset our expectations and look at what needs doing, rather than what we thought we would do. We need to learn or collaborate on the methods of new things which will take us forward. We need to identify how training and development can help our own careers and help young people entering the jobs market for the first time. Let's reset our expectations, roll up our sleeves and enter the unknown, ready to adapt and ready to get things on the move again.