The UK economy is undergoing a profound period of disruption. The COVID-19 pandemic has created the conditions for rapidly rising unemployment and declining GDP. Even before the pandemic, our national productivity was flatlining, and key industries reported significant skills gaps.
The promise of a vaccine for COVID-19 could represent the faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We all hope that before too long, things return to some measure of normality. Even still, the scale of the disruption caused by the pandemic will have long-lasting effects. The unemployment rate is predicted to rise into 2021, and there is a distinct possibility that the events of the last year could lead to long-term economic scarring.
These are a daunting set of challenges, but it is our contention that to achieve a fair and sustainable economic recovery, investment in skills will be critically important.
The Government mantra to “build, back better” can only be realised by investing in people’s ability to, retrain and acquire new skills. Crucially, we believe that there is a significant and underappreciated role for sales skills to power the industries that will be at the heart of a reconstituted modern British economy. Salespeople will lead the way in promoting the benefits of new technologies to enhance connectivity and improve the efficiency and efficacy of decision making. Or, when we consider the immensity of the environmental challenges we face, salespeople will have a hand in advocating for the kinds of solutions that will usher in a green transformation of production and consumption across the UK.
Yet, if we recognise the value of salespeople in helping to boost critical sectors of the economy, there remains a question about the best mechanism to achieve this. Where will a pipeline of forward-thinking, dynamic salespeople come from? Here, we see apprenticeships as playing a critical role. Some sectors, like retail, hospitality, and tourism, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and there is a clear rationale to use apprenticeships as a mechanism to point people towards a career in sales. There is not a “one size fits all” approach to retraining, so a variety of mechanisms are needed: from short courses and modular provision to more intensive programmes of study. But apprenticeships will undoubtedly form a central pillar of retraining interventions to help get people back into work.
It does, however, go without saying that the pandemic has massively impacted apprenticeship starts. The apprenticeship system was facing challenges before 2020, but multiple stay at home orders and business closures have had a devastating impact. However, our eyes should remain on the future as we consider how we can start to lay the groundwork for a revitalisation of apprenticeships as a key pillar of our national economic recovery. A positive aspect of the Government’s economic response to the pandemic has been the introduction of new incentive payments for employers who take on a new apprentice. The incentives are currently scheduled to run until 31st January 2021, but with so much uncertainty and disruption that is sure to persist well beyond the new year, we think that there is a strong case to extend these incentives up until the middle of next year.
Both Collab Group and the APS are committed to the transformative potential of apprenticeships to boost our economic recovery. What we have witnessed over the last year could represent nothing short of a re-wiring of the UK economy. Even before 2020, the large-scale trends of automation and artificial intelligence were disrupting industries rapidly—now, the pandemic has accelerated this disruption at an unprecedented scale. Ultimately, things may not go back to how they were before, but by investing in the skills and capabilities of sales professionals, we stand a good chance of achieving a fair and equitable economic recovery.
Andrew Hough, Founder and CEO- Association of Professional Sales
To find out more, check out the Collab Group and APS check out the links below: