Mark Creighton spoke with Training Journal. 

With rising unemployment across the UK and large numbers of workers still on furlough, there has never been a time when training and upskilling were more vital – or when such large numbers of people have enough time to participate.

The government has also recognised the crucial value of boosting skills to reinvigorate the job market and to provide those out of employment – especially the young – with opportunities, as reflected in the Chancellor’s budget announcement earlier this month.

Key to this is highlighting where we need to invest in young people, giving them relevant and applicable skills, that employers will value to support the recovery. Individuals are recognising that developing their skills could create new opportunities and give them an edge in a competitive job market.

We have witnessed a rise of 34% in learning funded by individuals as opposed to employers in April, with a 7% rise for 2020 as a whole so far. Perhaps the lockdown, for all its problems, has given many a chance to think about what they truly want to do, and who they would really like to be.

Skills are more than a point on a CV; when chosen well and taught properly, they can become a part of our identity and sense of self. Learning may help save our economy not only from an unemployment crisis but also from the mental health crisis that many experts fear will follow.

It’s important to remember that we were already facing problems before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The rise of automation already threatened thousands of jobs, whilst our workforce lacked the skills to take advantage of the new opportunities taking their place.

This crisis has only accelerated that process; now is the time to act to upskill our economy and move into the future, rather than trying to cling to an old system that no longer exists. To do so will take a huge effort from businesses and the government – but individuals have already shown themselves willing.

It is simply a question of providing them with the information, opportunities and funding to push through on what they already know is necessary.

This means access to Government schemes needs to be as frictionless as possible for both employers and learners, so that any initiatives launched are adopted quickly to stem the UK’s unemployment challenge.

This will not only advantage businesses by giving them resources to reignite their workforce with the requisite skills to develop a competitive edge but will also help to safeguard them for the future as technology transforms our every behaviour.

Only through staying ahead of the curve can we safeguard jobs and businesses. So, the real question is, what skills can we offer our learners now which will serve them well in the future? Technological skills seem like the obvious answer—and certainly, we need many more people ready to work in fields from programming to data analysis than we currently have.

Data literacy is becoming popular as it not only provides technical skills, but also allows departments from HR to marketing and advertising to make the best use of available information to improve their practice, making sure that data underpins everything they do.

But perhaps the lockdown has also taught us something about what technology absolutely cannot replace: human interaction, and the so-called ‘soft skills’ that make it so easy for us to distinguish a real person from a chatbot.

Only by upskilling in both these areas can we prepare our economy, and our people, for the future.