With the vaccine rollout continuing and a steady return to normality after an extremely challenging year, we can begin to look to the future with cautious optimism.
However, the pandemic and resultant economic slump has brought huge challenges with it which will need to be addressed, with large scale unemployment being prominent among them.
Reskilling and upskilling the workforce is a top priority
Reskilling and upskilling the workforce is a top priority, with the pandemic having compounded existing issues regarding many workers lacking sought after skills as the UK and global jobs markets have transformed. For those who are currently out of work and may have been since the start of the pandemic last year, self-funding retraining may not be a viable option.
The government has already acknowledged this issue and taken steps to address it. In the 2020 Spending Review, £2.9 billion was allocated by the chancellor for the Restart Scheme, a retraining initiative which will offer support for jobseekers.
To qualify for the Restart Scheme applicants must have been out of work for between 12 to 18 months and have been receiving Universal Credit during this period. While this ensures that many people who are struggling will benefit from the scheme, it will exclude those who have been in slightly more fortunate circumstances, such as those who have been able to find short term work and therefore earning above the threshold to qualify for Universal Credit, or those who have been on furlough during this period and have thus been on reduced pay and inactive in the workforce. People in these circumstances may not have the means to fund their own retraining so we would like to see the scheme expanded.
The Restart Scheme is a hugely positive step to tackle the skills shortage
Despite these limitations, the Restart Scheme is a hugely positive step to tackle the skills shortage, and it is important that the Government approach acknowledges the need to tailor retraining opportunities across the regions of England and Wales where the scheme will be in effect.
By requiring bidders to demonstrate how they planned to tailor their offer to meet the demands of the local labour markets, the Government has ensured that the Restart Scheme will deliver valuable retraining to its recipients, reflecting the demands of growth sectors across the UK and helping those individuals into secure, sustainable employment.
By eschewing a “one size fits all” approach to addressing the challenge of reskilling and upskilling the country, the government have positioned Restart to be highly effective, and it will provide a path to employment for many people struggling with long term unemployment.
We are calling on the government to build on this, making the most of the current momentum to expand programmes like Restart to cover more people struggling to obtain secure employment in the wake of the pandemic, and beyond as the impact of Artificial Intelligence continues to radically reshape the skills needs in the workplace.
Government support will also need to include higher-skilled workers who have found themselves displaced
To be as effective as possible, government support will also need to include higher skilled workers who have found themselves displaced from the labour market and need to transition into new fields as the economic landscape of the UK changes. As we showed in our Building bridges towards future jobs report earlier this year, in many cases, workers possess transferable skills which would allow them to easily migrate into new, higher demand sectors with relatively low levels of financial investment.
Restart is a step in the right direction in addressing the challenges that face individuals as workers, and the economy as a whole, in the approaching post-pandemic landscape.
David Phillips, MD City & Guilds and ILM