From education to employment

Returnerships – what skills do people need to re-enter the workforce?

Jo Roberts

Jo Roberts considers the implications of the recent announcement on “returnerships”, and looks at how businesses can support employees who are re-entering the workforce.

The pandemic impacted our lives in many ways, and the workplace has been at the centre of many of these changes. From the growth in hybrid working through to the number of people taking the decision to quit their jobs sooner than expected. Statistics show that working-age adults between 50 and 64 experienced the highest increase in economic inactivity since the pandemic compared with any other age group.

Around half a million have left the workforce without returning since March 2022 and, since then, economic inactivity among that sector of the population has increased from 37,000 to 318,000. There are a number of potential consequences of this onslaught of early retirement, including the strain on the workforce as well as the question of whether people will be able to save enough for their futures. The government therefore recently announced plans to encourage people to return to work in order to help drive economic recovery, with a programme of ‘returnerships’.

But as they consider a return to offices around the country, are there different skills that individuals need at their fingertips in order to be relevant in the future job market? Indeed, could the changes in technology and the new ways of working have been partly behind the exodus, and if so, how should businesses look to address this and support returning employees?

Today’s workplace is more reliant than ever before on technology

Businesses cannot escape the importance of harnessing new technology to drive efficiencies and remain competitive. Yet many companies struggle with the adoption of the latest technology because their teams lack the digital skills required to do so, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to find people with the knowledge that they need because of the digital skills gap that exists.

One solution to address this issue for businesses is to nurture and develop the technical abilities of those they already employ or who are looking to re-enter the job market. Workers need to feel supported to achieve their goals and progress their careers in their chosen profession, and should be encouraged to return to a workplace where they can develop new skills allowing them to work alongside and make use of the latest advances in technology.

If employees are given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and tools to use advanced and ever-changing technologies to support them in the workplace, their careers can be future-proofed and self-esteem boosted.

What are the skills that businesses need to be looking to train their teams up in?

So if upskilling could be the answer to retaining, or regaining, age-diverse talent, what are these skills that businesses need to be looking to train their teams up in? Two areas of technology that have seen the most significant development in recent years, and that are going to be fundamental to business success going forwards, are data and AI.

Businesses desperately need their employees to have the analytical skills required to effectively turn the increasing amount of information available to them into profit. At the root of this is the critical and rigorous evaluation of data, and understanding how to leverage it to build business cases and inform decisions. The more data expertise your team can acquire, the more future proof and attractive your skill set becomes.

We are living in a new age of AI and automation that may be quite alien to many older workers. The use of it will become increasingly common and ever more sophisticated, starting to really transform the way we do business. Businesses are increasingly adopting these technologies to aid and scale deep thinking and analysis.

With this comes a requirement for businesses that want to be at the forefront of innovation to furnish their team with a proper understanding of AI and new techniques such as machine learning, and the way it can support and empower a modern team. Colleagues need to be made aware of the possibilities that AI offers and its evolving changes, in order to understand potential AI applications in their business.

People can be guilty of thinking of upskilling as simply learning a new trade

But it is not just that – it’s about giving people the tools, insights and mentality they need to develop a huge range of skills applicable to different circumstances, and to allow themselves to remain relevant as we see further technological advances.

We aren’t talking about training legions of fully-fledged data scientists, for example, but are saying that we need to give everybody basic data skills so that they can apply this knowledge to their own professional circumstances. These individuals may go on to learn coding, marketing or IT skills that combine to make them a highly skilled worker in their field.

There are huge advantages to a program of upskilling for returning, or more mature workers, not just to the individual – whose skills become future-proofed, and whose self-esteem is boosted – but also to the business more widely. It takes businesses time to develop new staff into the culture and working of a sector, and returners will already have many of the necessary skills as well as previous experience that can cost a business their time when developing new recruits.

They have familiarity with workplace experience, and can bring with them an abundance of soft skills such as leadership, industry knowledge, communicating with empathy and strategic thinking, which all come with time and professional experience, and are vital to the success of any business.

The ‘returnerships’ scheme is a welcome announcement

The ‘returnerships’ scheme is a welcome announcement, but it will not work without the involvement and commitment of businesses. Government can of course provide the funding and crucially, promote the scheme to the wider public, but it needs to be a public-private partnership, and involve SMEs as well as larger corporations. Businesses are ideally placed both to outline the skills that are needed at any given time and also provide the bulk of the training.

At the moment, there simply aren’t enough people with the skills needed to enable British businesses to digitally transform and remain competitive on a global basis. Upskilling more mature workers, and those looking to return to the workforce, in areas such as data and AI, will not only be hugely beneficial to both the trajectory of the individual and the business, but can help to address the skills gap currently holding the country back.

By Jo Roberts, Director of Content Strategy at Circus Street

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