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I often enjoy using settings in which civilized society as we know it has recently collapsed. I find this to be a particularly interesting way to explore the limits of human survival, especially when the characters are people who led normal lives before the collapse and now must reckon with a new type of existence. One of the things that always comes up, especially when trying to create a believable situation in which a person or group of people are able to survive for an extended period, is the skillset of an individual or the combined skills of a group.

We take an enormous number of basic life necessities for granted in our modern society. When those conveniences are removed we have to contend with the basics and complexities of survival. Obviously with a group of people it’s easier to pull together the specific skill sets required, but with a very small group it becomes a lot more challenging. As it happens I have just such a situation where I’m trying to justify two or three people being able to survive on their own for a multi-year period throughout a number of different environments. While their past careers are of no real importance to the story, those careers can play a significant part in justifying the characters’ survival. As a result, I’m curious about what profession would give someone the best fighting chance at long term survival after societal collapse.

To help shape a meaningful and effective answer to this question, I’ll provide the following clarifications:

  • I’m interested in professions in a Western culture located somewhere in North America.
  • We’ll use the following definition of profession: “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”
  • We’ll assume that the person had a minimum of 10 years experience in this profession.
  • The nature of the apocalypse is unimportant. All that matters is that society and its modern infrastructure have crumbled and daily survival has fallen to the individual.

And because I suspect a great many professions could qualify as a reasonable answer, I'll provide the following criteria that I'm specifically looking for from the ideal profession (in order of importance):

  • Creates the experience or knowledge to acquire food and potable water without the complex industrial farming and transportation system we have today
  • Grants at least basic expertise at medical care both with and without modern medications
  • Provides the experience, knowledge, and / or tools to defend oneself with minimal personal risk
  • Provides the experience or knowledge required to find or create a year-round dwelling
  • Provides at least basic cross-country navigational knowledge without modern technology
  • Geographically positions a person such that when society collapses, they are at less risk of death in the immediately ensuing chaos.

What profession would cover most, if not all, of those criteria?

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  • $\begingroup$ well, some profession could be usefull, even if they didn't mach any criteria. A priest could create a zealous comunity, and gather lot of skillfull people without having any of this skills $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jul 5 '18 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ You really need a group of people with varying professions - see "one second after" or "alas babylon" for ideas. $\endgroup$ – IronEagle Jul 5 '18 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ 5 close votes for off topic without a single comment explaining it? Is that really the culture this stack exchange is trying to foster? I would genuinely like to know how this question is not considered world building, because if this doesn’t qualify I’m not sure what does. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Jul 5 '18 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Not one of the close voters, but perhaps the reason why you didn't get any comments is because you've got enough rep to know better. Aside from other people thinking you've got a story based question, I think your question requirements are ill defined. The "nature" of an apocalypse is 100% important to the question because it limits the possible remaining professions. You've provided criteria, but some of it is still too broad (eg: what is "basic" expertise at medical care? Knowing how to put a band-aid on? Defend oneself from what? etc). I would have voted to close as POB or Too Broad. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 5 '18 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Aify I appreciate your response. The application of this site’s rules are often opinionated, and reputation does not convey mind reading capabilities (or, frankly, much experience given the unevenness with which questions are closed or allowed to stay open). A comment like yours goes miles towards actually providing useful feedback and can help other readers understand a question’s problems even if you have the perspective that the asker should “know better” (which, also frankly, seems like a rather toxic attitude to display on this site). Thank you for the feedback. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Jul 5 '18 at 17:17
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First and foremost: farming. Nothing, and I insist on this concept, nothing will be more important than food. Farming means also knowing how to manage waters, how to make best use of land in crop rotations, rasing cattle to have help in working the land. A good farmer is a tough guy who does more than sweating over the land, he knows the nocive plants, can tell which are sick, how to prevent and/or contain losses. Not to mention storing: a good farmer knows how to pile up the food without it getting spoiled or ruined by rats (in fact, Jews used to be accused of poisoning the food of their neighbors, instead they just used better methods of conservation)

With the farmer, comes the shepherd. Sheep are twice precious, they give you wool for clothing and meat and milk, they must be the first to be bred and cared for -and again, a good shepherd knows all the tricks to cure wounds, keep them reasonably clean. A flock can give susteinance and clothing for many.

Now enter the Architect. A professional will make the best use of everything available to help you build the best possible house, warehouse, etc. An architect must know the land, must understand what are the readily available materials, how housing can be maintained and improved with time...

EDIT: I confirm the architect choice because survival in post-apocalyptic world can't rest on te shoulders of the lone wolf, the solitary hero and his corageous mate. Communities must be rebuilt, only cooperation can do the difference on the long term.

Once a rural community can start growing around a farm, being it the primary source of available food, even as warehouse for freshly hunted meat, housing becomes a primary matter. Without electricity, the canons around whom a house must be built change drastically, as now you need ventilation and conditioning without air conditioners, a proper lighting without lightbulbs, a proper cooking area set as not to burn the whole house, even a proper sewage system to avoid various sickness...and all of this making sure that the house is solid and defendable.

A builder contractor doesn't have all the knowledge, while the community can provide the workforce to make the architect's idea a reality for their own good.

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  • $\begingroup$ You beat me to it! $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jul 5 '18 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, might be worth adding, if the entire world did collapse, there's a good chance that very rural farmers would probably be the last people to know about it, they often live fairly independently, even in the modern world. if they never watched TV and neither did their neighbors, then they might not know until they tried to take their goods to market. as often modern Western culture, very rural farms have bore holes for water and their own power generation $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith Jul 5 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Problem: farming implies to wait (and survive) several month. But most farmer also happen to be hunters $\endgroup$ – Madlozoz Jul 5 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Architect?? Architect (like other "high level" professionists) are quite useless without other workers, for istance: woodworkers, blacksmits, etc.. As useful as a oxigen picture for a drowning person. (cit.) $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jul 5 '18 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Another Problem: Most farmers have specialized in economic crops, or in crops that are, as a food source for humans, sub par. Additionally, the farming machines will need fuel, which will be scarce or even non-existend after some time. $\endgroup$ – DarthDonut Jul 5 '18 at 17:29
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A National Park Ranger!
S/He has alot of experience in the wild, can recognize edible plants and mushrooms, and has a pretty good chance of knowing some basic skills like lighting a fire without matches or a zippo.

Working in the wilderness all day will lead your character to learn a wide variety of skills, like tracking foodprints, knowing where water will be, what plants to avoid, moving in the wilderness, etc.

I am not sure if it is a requirement, but i think (atleast in Germany) every park ranger has to do an extended first aid course once a year (i might be wrong here, recalling it from a visit to a national park a few years back).

When the collapse will happen, a ranger will most likely be in his park, or near it at home. S/He may even live there!

Because of this reasons, a park ranger will be your best bet.

EDIT:
I completely forgot to mention the advantages in regard of defending himself and finding a dwelling:

  1. Defending oneself:
    Park rangers in the US and Canada may carry hunting rifles for self defence against big predators like bears and wolves, or to put a injured animal out of its misery. Even if a hunting rifle will not stand against military or police equipment, it is better than nothing. Furthermore, a ranger will know how to avoid a fight with the local wildlife, so the risk in that direction is minimal.
  2. Dwelling:
    Most national parks have some sort of emergency huts for lost or exhausted wanderers with a stash of useful stuff, e.g. first aid kits, canned food, water purifier, etc. This is another advantage for the ranger.
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    $\begingroup$ Not only you are in an environment where you could survive, but you are also far from cities. Humans can be much more dangerous than nature when they need to survive $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jul 5 '18 at 14:58
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Field Medic

Because people die and you have to go on

In any action movie, it is more or less taken for granted that people quickly recover sanity after 2 or 3 stranger die next to them.
I'm sure some people can take it, but a former emergency surgeon certainly take it better.

A military or policeman (or any random person, actually) may have seen his share of horror, but only medical professional are really used to it.

because he learned how to make emergency cares with almost nothing

The problem with war is that you sometime have plenty of people injured at a time with only 1 first aid kit on site.
That's why a combat medic have to know how to make tourniquet and such things with whatever he has at hand.

A field medic also must know how to have a badly wounded person to survive days without reaching the hospital. If the injury is not too bad, it means the patient can survive long enough to naturally recover.

because as a soldier, he was taught a few things

Such as acquire potable water, make a shelter, read a map, even in a less than friendly environment.

And yes, military are taught how to survive even when all their modern equipment are gone (at least in France).

shooting skills

And of course, a field medic can use a gun, even if he is not native from Texas.

He might not be the ultimate killing machine but he probably can hunt a few boars.

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Sorry but this does depend on the nature of the apocalypse.

For instance if animals are still thriving a poacher would be very good. However if guns are not available then likely a managerial role like project manager to organise hunting/trapping. If they are on their own without guns then a ranger makes sense.

If animals are rare then a crop farmer is probably best. If there are many hostiles then an engineer makes sense to build contraptions to defend against people. Etc. Etc.

You need to state the nature

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As others have pointed out, the nature of the apocalypse does matter. But more importantly there is a huge difference in short and long-term survival. The very strong division of labour in our society has led to very specialised professions. That means that a single profession will not cover all necessary skills. That is why humans are social animals. Survival in a group will always be better. Note also that a lot will depend on how a good a certain person at their profession is.

1. Special Forces soldier (army)

A special forces soldier belongs to the rare group of people who actually had survival training. They learn to survive in different terrain types in the wilderness and do know how to hunt in a wide variety of ways. They learn to treat their own injuries and, of course, they are the best trained fighters. Their occupation comes also with the necessary equipment for immediate survival. And they get psychological training, which is not to be underestimated.

Of course, they are only trained to live off the land. That means while short term survival is secure, for long term survival they might meed to acquire extra knowledge or team up with people who have this extra knowledge. Specifically agriculture, medicine (specifically disease diagnosis and treatment) and pharmacy are important areas of expertise the soldier will be lacking.

Similar professions: Rangers, hunters, rescue workers with a specialty in disaster relieve

2. Farmer

If you are looking for long-term survival, the (small business) farmer is the profession you want to look out for. Farmers know a lot about animals, plants, how to breed them, how to grow them - even without modern machinery. They also know how to treat injuries of their animals and most of them are used to hunting at least for pest control. But most importantly they can feed more than one person. Which allows them to gather a supporting group of people and thus diversify the available skill set at their disposal. Of course, they usually have also all the equipment and a place to live, not to mention the herd and fields.

3. Amish and similar gropus

While this is not a professional occupation Amish people (and similar groups like certain Inuit communities) have already the necessary skill to survive without moder infrastructure. They have lived their whole life in "survival mode" and thus might be the best equipped to survive long and short term.

All examples usually are geographically located outside of large population centres. Actually, the further away a person lives their life away from any urban centres the better they are trained in survival skills out of necessity.

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  • $\begingroup$ Amish aren't survivalist at all, they are just living a century ago rural life, with a relatively good shelter options, food availability and practically zero threats from the neighborhood. "post apocalyptic" lifestyle would be a little different... :) $\endgroup$ – theGarz Jul 5 '18 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @theGarz I beg to differ: Of the criteria mentioned by the OP they meet five out of six considering their independence from modern technology.: - food and potable water without industry: Yes. - basic medical care: That is at least a partial yes for medical care without modern medication with lots of Amish relying on natural herbs and medicines and home remedies. - defense: OK, there they are at huge disadvantage due to their pacifist nature. - build a year-round dwelling: Yes. - basic cross-country navigation: Yes. - advantageous position: Yes. $\endgroup$ – DerGreif Jul 5 '18 at 16:37
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Start by making two of the members of your group retired Green Berets with at least one of them, a field medic. One should own a survivalist training camp in an obscure off-grid location with plenty of weapons, ammo, seed-stock and a natural source of water. The other should own a store which specializes in supplies and equipment for survivalists.

The third member of your group should have been a combat-reporter assigned to the other members' squad, still working for a major news network, attached to the Washington political scene.

This third team member provides a source for knowledge of the impending apocalypse, prior to it's arrival. With this knowledge, the team can consolidate their resources at the survivalist camp, send all the weekend warriors home, and bunker down to survive

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