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Looking beyond COVID-19 through the lens of the private sector and the labour market skills needs​

Nazrene Mannie, Executive Director, GAN Global Apprenticeship Network
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Closing the skills mismatch gap is more urgent than ever. To tackle this issue, we need to not only take an in-depth look at the skills people need to remain employable in this labour market – but how do we skill people effectively, especially during times of uncertainty and rapid digitalization? And where better to look for skilling needs and programmes, than to the private sector? The Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN Global) is a private sector led and government backed skilling and employment initiative born in 2013 amidst a labour market crisis, following financial uncertainty and economic shocks felt in several countries.  

Today, effects of the financial crisis still linger on in our labour markets and are even more so compounded due to increasingly fast-paced changes in the world of work since the beginning of the pandemic. In the current, different kind of crisis, the mission of GAN Global has been renewed and strengthened, while its original aim to lessen the skills gap through increased private sector engagement in work-based learning remains the same. Since taking the helm of GAN Global, as its Executive Director in 2019, I have witnessed major shifts in private sector needs for skilling and worked with industries to learn more about how they are coping and dealing with these changes, through various work-based learning techniques.

When I first joined GAN Global, we were still amid the aftermath of the financial crisis and rampant youth unemployment, underpinning the need to ensure smoother school to work transitions through a concerted effort of the private sector to provide more training opportunities. Over the past 20 months, I have seen our private sector partners training methods disrupted in unforeseeable ways, emphasising the necessity of agile workforces with adaptable skills that can respond to changes in the world of work. The main difference I see today, in comparison to a few short years ago, is that it is no longer youth and new entrants into the labour market that are disproportionately affected. Older, existing and mid-level employees now more than ever, need to rapidly upskill and reskill to maintain any status in the working world.

These challenges have prompted employers to rethink learning and development strategies to balance the needs of both an aging workforce and younger, prospective talent who are struggling to find a first employer.  Socio-economic developments, new and emerging technologies, and a pandemic have shown us that the world of work is in a state of constant flux and without the right skills, workers, especially those from disadvantaged groups (women, young, ethnic minorities, low-skilled workers), will find it increasingly difficult to find the work they need to earn a meaningful living.

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Even before the pandemic, one of the main concerns for business leaders was finding, keeping, and developing the talent needed for the modern world. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, many businesses will continue to lack the relevant skills needed to succeed in the new world of work. Seventy-two percent of CEOs current cite the availability of key skills as a core business concern[1].

At GAN Global, we were faced with issues on how to adapt work-based learning during pandemic times and came up with a few pointers for the private sector. These lessons span our unique perspectives from several industries, regions, countries and stakeholders:

  • Policy, advocacy and analysis to create and shape enabling policy frameworks at a global and local level must adapt to skills needs beyond the pandemic and respond to a world where COVID-19 and the related disruptions will be endemic.
  • Amplifying the private sector voice in the space of employment and education is critical to ensure that policy makers incorporate a demand-led skills planning approach where the private sector is engaged as a key stakeholder in shaping a future-proofed vocational education landscape.
  • Alongside policy makers, business has a responsibility to build and develop the skills of their workers and future talent, and an opportunity to positively transform people’s lives and contribute to society. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to reframe the employer-employee relationship and ensure that people-centred leadership thrives.
  • A multi-stakeholder approach to active project implementation and peer-to-peer learning from both the private and public sectors must thrive to ensure innovation and to close the jobs and skills mismatch across developed and developing economies.

If we want to close the skills gap, pervasive around the globe, across industries and economies, we need a common recognition that current systems need to be updated to respond effectively to fundamental shifts in the labour market, seek concerted efforts that create enabling environments, built on collaboration, and foster an openness to learning (even amongst business leaders and policy makers). In my two plus years as an Executive Director of such an association bringing together business leaders and policy makers, I remain optimistic of the power of leveraging such partnerships for the greater good. In our one and a half years adapting to a pandemic context, the shifts in mindset and adaptations to work-based learning programmes I have witnessed from some of the largest employers is testament to the fact that change is happening fast, and together, we are testing and adapting skilling solutions adapted to our current context.

[1] [1] Skills strategies for a sustainable world of work: A guide for Chief Human Resources Officers, WBCSD and GAN, 2021

Nazrene Mannie, Executive Director, GAN Global Apprenticeship Network
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