Emily Jones is Head of Research at Learning and Work Institute

While the coronavirus pandemic is primarily a public health crisis, it has also resulted in economic challenges, including a spike in unemployment. Now that the economy has reopened, there are signs that the labour market is recovering, with employment on the rise and the number of online vacancies above pre-crisis levels.

The economic impacts of the pandemic haven’t been equally distributed, with differences by geography and sector, exacerbating inequalities that pre-date the pandemic. And in the early stages of recovery, sectoral and geographical variations remain. Some employers are finding it hard to recruit staff despite increased unemployment, more than one million people are working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs, and there has been a sharp rise in the number of people in temporary work involuntarily.

As the economy recovers, many people will need employment support and to retrain into different careers to ensure they can make the most of the opportunities ahead. This was one of the key themes at Learning and Work Institute’s Employment and Skills Convention last month, including in the keynotes from Kate Green MP and Mims Davies MP.

Addressing these challenges requires local partnerships

Addressing these challenges requires local partnerships. We recently launched Learning and Work Institute’s flagship programme, New Futures. New Futures is funded by the Covid-19 Support Fund and will support workers affected by the pandemic to retrain for new jobs. Five place-based pilots (two in England and one each in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) will be tailored to reflect the needs of local labour markets and the skills of local populations.

While the evidence on what works in helping people to retrain into new jobs and sectors is currently limited, three themes can be identified from the evidence:

  • Awareness and engagement: People may not be aware of the other career options available or that they might have transferable skills that would apply. Changing jobs or sector comes with risk, particularly to those in work, so the case for change needs to be made in terms that appeal to individuals
  • Learning and training: Learning and training needs to take account of people’s work history and transferable skills. It needs to be delivered flexibly to ensure adults can balance learning with their work and home life. To support career transitions, it is crucial that provision is tailored to employer needs and local jobs and vacancies
  • Job search and wraparound support: Job search, including work experience during learning where appropriate, should form part of retraining. People may also require financial support to help address barriers such as course fees or where their household income is affected, for example if they need to take a step down in seniority or salary to switch careers.

New Futures is an opportunity to help build the evidence base on what works in supporting adults to retrain and change careers.

Working with a range of local partners, including local government, employers, training providers and community organisations, the programme will: 

  • Provide targeted outreach activity to engage those disproportionately affected by the pandemic, working with housing associations and community groups
  • Deliver high quality careers advice, based on local labour market information, future skills needs and local skills profiles. This will also include personalised career coaching and employment support
  • Create local sector-based partnerships to identify and/or develop training for specific career pathways and jobs, including for sustainable construction and retrofit to help meet net zero targets
  • Establish flexible models of training delivery to fit with adults’ wider work and family commitments 
  • Provide financial support for career changers to ensure affordability and reduce cost barriers to reskilling
  • Invest in, and build the capacity of, local voluntary and community sector organisations to provide sustainable career change support throughout and beyond the lifetime of this project. 

We are working with local partners to design the pilots and delivery will commence later this year. The pilots and evaluation will run until the end of 2023.

Emily Jones is Head of Research at Learning and Work Institute

Find out more about the New Futures programme here.


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