We have all gotten a harsh lesson in exactly what “essential” means from an invisible enemy that does not care about degrees or bank balances. Those of us who remember the gear industry of old were taught the same lesson by an equally harsh instructor — the marketplace. Our trade was once far more regional and local. Customers were usually within a few hundred miles of the shop, so products were designed for the industries in your region. A few companies enjoyed truly national distribution; an even smaller number had international recognition. Much like cars and trucks back then, service life was fairly short so the key to repeat business was customer service. The sales team had to know and understand what was going on in those lumber mills, cement mills, paper mills, and steel mills. Inventory levels were minimal, so you had to “sell ahead” for plant expansions and service shutdowns. Modern gear products last much longer, and so we have fewer processing plants. Our customers expect everything to be on the shelf so they can order it online with limited need for human interaction. It is pointless to whine about how much “better” things were in the “good old days.” Those days will never come back and we do real harm to our legacy if we keep complaining. The question we should be asking is how do we strengthen the future prospects of our companies? As demonstrated by the COVID-19 crisis, the way to ensure your individual livelihood is to have essential skills; essential as in necessary and unique enough that society cannot do without them and it is very difficult to expand the amount available. What does your outfit do that is “essential?” If you are not “essential” to your customers, how can you expect to hold on to them during market fluctuations? On an individual basis, what makes you “essential” to your employer? Gear Technology provides a great deal of high-level “expert” content. AGMA goes to great lengths to educate gear industry employees. Ultimately, the customers decide what skills and attributes make someone or some firm “essential.” Times are tough and they will stay tough for a long time. No better opportunity will come along to improve your long term prospects than right now.