A few things are certain in the post-COVID world. And no, it will not be all dark and doom, but there will be a huge mismatch between the skill-sets needed and the skill-sets available, as I gather from conversations with friends spread across a wide spectrum of professions. In fact, calling it a ‘recession’ is probably incorrect, mismatch would be a better term to use.
So, what are the upsides, if any? Apart from the healthcare/ medical sector, which is likely to be busy for a while, here are some indicators.
1) For a bulk of the real estate transactions, such as renting, rebuilding and leasing, the day is well and truly over for the next few years. Nobody wants that surplus house or office or mall or shop for a long, long time now, whether as rental, resale or ready-to-move-in. The skill-set of making dry incomes, thanks to urban real estate praxis, are over for sure.
2) Despite low oil prices, renewable energy will now be cheaper and more reliable, especially when calamities strike. Mini-micro power generation, mostly solar but also bio-fuel and some amount of turbine (water as well as wind) is going to be in big demand all over the country. Installation and servicing, as well as looking after storage in cases where wheeling back to the grid is not going to happen for whatever reason, will see a bright future. Be ready to supply, install, service and upgrade. This can happen regardless of governance or mis-governance. However, such demand may drop in case this business later moves into an easy-to-install plug-and-play phase.
3) Healthy low-cost food, preferably vegetarian, packaged or fresh or a combination thereof. This will especially be applicable to street food or the eat-on-site as well as the home delivery sort, where a combination of one (cooked) with the other (packaged) will emerge as a big option for the vast numbers of people suddenly without the services of domestic servants. This cannot happen without strong implementation downstream right from the Union government to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to state government to municipality to local governance. Local low-cost hawker centres are much overdue. This business will last forever, unless replaced by something not imagined as yet.
4) Scrap business in all its variants. Procuring, segregating, storing, reviving, melting, selling, re-using, cannibalising, and more. Experience teaches people that after any calamity, scrap is always big business, and that's how it will be this time too. Added to everything about scrap is the realisation that we as human beings can do with so much less than what we end up buying or possessing. This business will have local to global scope and will also generate strong arm tactics, as brawn often supersedes brain in this domain.
5) Preventive health-care training, including psychological care. Before COVID-19, the first was in over-supply but was hardly utilised and the second was in short-supply and over-used. The two will probably need to exchange some empty spaces against the backdrop of the upcoming work-from-home culture. Due to a serious lack of certification and regulators in these two fields, one can expect a profusion of fly-by-night operators and charlatans to emerge too. But it shall last for a long time. To this we must add childcare for all categories of parents, including those who work from home, and want the brats out.
6) The justice delivery system, top-down, will move into more electronic and more video, and will generally be more open and accessible. Totally unpredictable streams of work-from-home or from facilitation centres will emerge which will change the way justice is administered and probably reduce the cost and stress to litigants too in a good measure. Younger persons with better computer skills as well as drafting skills will emerge as the motive forces here. Add Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IOT) and you have winners all the way. This is most exciting because it will also make or break the future of countries.
7) Farming as well as value added processes for farm produce of all sorts will see better days in the coming years in India. From small patches on the roofs of huts and apartment blocks, to kitchen gardens and lawns, to aquaponics both vertical and horizontal, to small land holdings to large plantations and estates, the entire range will see a transformation in India. Along with that there will be suppliers of specialised services like veterinarians, livestock specialists, climate change experts, crop predictions for both weather and profits, and much more. Another limitless field, not restricted only to those who inherited land.
8) A huge amount of the work hitherto done by on-ground police services and para-military forces will end up in the literal arms of robotics. However, for quite some time into the future, the robots will have to be controlled by human beings sitting in remote locations. Again, another work-from-home opportunity. Will this extend to the armed forces working on the national borders? Probably not, for multiple reasons. For one thing, armed forces will need to be maintained for other exigencies, natural and man-made, for a long, long time. All said and done, uniformed services and forces will continue to provide opportunities, but in ways different from what they are now—with a lot more technology thrown in.
9) And finally, my favourite. You will always need people like me to make you laugh and see the sunrise after every dark night, though I have no idea how such people will make money. That's if money does continue to exist! For money to continue to exist, we shall continue to need elected and selected representatives.
Many things on the face of this Earth will change after COVID-19. Maybe even the colour of the sea will change, as the song says, but the sea will never change. Seafarers will remain the same. We will always need ships and human beings on them. And one big thing we will always need is good music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3DhXcQepbY
(Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life)