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Why we need to upskill our economy in the aftermath of COVID-19

17th August 2020

Our Chief Executive Officer, Mark Creighton, spoke with Education Technology about the importance of upskilling our economy.

The huge job losses already occurring and predicted to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic make for sobering reading, concentrated as they are amongst our youngest, lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers. However, analysis from consultancy McKinsey indicates that these jobs were already at risk before the pandemic – from automation.

Until now, we have all been aware of this looming threat, but very few companies have done much about it. For some, working from home has provided more time to consider and address the root of this problem: the lack of skills for workers at risk of job losses due to automation which would enable them to find a new, less vulnerable position. It’s unclear, however, whether businesses have been taking advantage of this technology.

Investing in learning

The same can’t be said for individuals. At Avado, we saw a 34% increase in April for individually funded learning compared to last year, and a 29% increase in May, whilst for 2020 as a whole, the rise has been 7% compared to 2019. This motivation to further personal skills and abilities shows people are passionate about learning and upskilling, and appreciate the need to future-proof their career. While it’s impossible to know exactly which skills will be necessary in the future, we can look at where the existing gaps are now and extrapolate a little: we desperately need tech-literate, data-minded workers for us to increase productivity and to reach our full potential.

The impact of VR and AR

There has been some interesting discussion recently around the potential of using virtual reality or augmented reality (VR and AR respectively) to enhance the remote working environment, and even to provide training for remote workers. Perhaps we can begin to see why these skills are so vital: how can a business set up such a programme if they don’t already have the tech skills on their team to do so? And if you don’t already have someone with those skills, how are they going to gain them without the tech?

Online learning can, of course, plug many of the gaps here, although a certain degree of tech literacy is needed even for that. Luckily, the lockdown has meant that even the most tech-resistant among us are now being forced to learn new skills in order to communicate with family and friends. And many in the workforce already have at least a certain degree of technological know-how: the ‘digital natives’ – young people who have grown up using it.

Supporting tech-savvy workers

Upskilling our economy is going to require a huge amount of coordination and effort from all involved, and it makes sense to use every resource at our disposal. Businesses need to be asking themselves: what are the most useful skills for my workforce? And how can I make sure that, once we have those skills, they can be put to good use? There is no sense in having a whole team of newly upskilled, tech-savvy workers, only for them to be hampered by outdated systems and poor IT.

We have now seen first-hand how preparing for the future and investing in training and technology can benefit companies when hard times hit. We should take this lesson forward and look to be prepared not just as individuals or businesses, but as a whole economy, for whatever may be around the corner