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What is a key worker profession?

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Published: 18 May 2020

Social distancing, self-isolation, key worker…outside of the year 2020 these phrases are unfamiliar, yet now they are very much in our shared vernacular. The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, from the way we view hygiene practices, to our (even stronger) reliance on technology to communicate, to the way we’ve come to appreciate the smaller joys in life – being outside in the fresh air, anyone?

One of the major changes in our modern world is the way we now view some professions. The last couple of decades have seen an even bigger rise in celebrity culture, no doubt due to the increase of reality TV and by extension its ‘stars’. We value not just celebrities but the industries they work in: sport, music, fashion, film and TV – the list goes on. As a society though we’ve overlooked the people who make our world go round – the key workers. 

Who is a key worker?

Taking our present situation into account, put simply, a key worker is a person whose work is critical to the Covid-19 response

We’re talking about critical sectors which are made up of workers such as (but not limited to):

  • Healthcare Professionals: Nurses and doctors caring for our families and friends, and saving lives; biomedical scientists running tests in pathology labs; porters transporting patients around hospitals; care-home workers supporting our elderly – the list goes on
  • Emergency services: Paramedics, police officers, fire fighters, and the coastguard who protect us when we need it most
  • School and nursery staff: Teachers and teaching assistants who spend their time planning for and teaching our children; learning support staff, who are essential for the education of more vulnerable pupils; nursery staff who care for our young children and help shape their early education
  • Utilities: Workers from the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage) who keep our homes running
  • Postal workers and delivery drivers: Workers who bring us food, post and other necessary goods
  • Waste disposal: Workers who take our recycling away and dispose of our waste on a bi-weekly basis
  • Transport workers: Bus, train and taxi drivers, keeping us moving
  • The Media: Journalists keeping us informed by reporting on events and bringing us the latest news
  • Volunteers: People who give their time and energy to causes to help other people, for example at food banks, charities (including charity shops), St John’s Ambulance and the RNLI

We’re coming to realise how much we rely on these people day-to-day and how we may have come to take them for granted. How often do we pause to think about what would happen if our bins weren’t emptied for weeks? If our teachers suddenly disappeared and our children had no education and no way of socialising with other children? When we turn on the taps to wash our hands or have a drink of water, we rarely stop to think about the people who are working at water treatment plants, making sure the water is safe for us to use.

There is hope that the coronavirus pandemic will highlight just how vital these professionals are to our lives and that post-lockdown we will continue to appreciate just how much they do for us.

Teacher in classroom sitting at desk with primary school children

The life of a key worker during the coronavirus pandemic

Here at the University of Sunderland, many of our staff and students have joined the forces of key workers who are responding to the coronavirus pandemic:

We’re incredibly proud of all these individuals and of the commitment they have shown to help others. We pride ourselves on being the ‘friendly university’ and these stories certainly demonstrate this. 

Key workers: the next generation

As we look to a post-coronavirus future, unsure of what that world is going to look like, no doubt future cohorts of students will be making decisions about their careers based on what they are learning now. Some may be inspired by the work of the NHS and our scientists and choose to enter a healthcare profession or vital research; budding journalists might be following the news with interest, keen to find out more about the story; future educators might see how varied and rewarding the role of a teacher is, encouraged by their own teacher’s lockdown methods; others might choose to enter the engineering and manufacturing sector after seeing the important work done recently to produce PPE and create the NHS Nightingale temporary critical care hospitals.

At Sunderland, many of the courses we offer lead into key worker professions, making us a key educator for the next generation. To find out more, see our courses.

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