Bridging the skills gap amid a global pandemic

With unemployment rates in the UK soaring, and the global pandemic having exposed some of the fundamental inequalities in our society, it’s no surprise that the Government has placed so much emphasis on the skills agenda in order to help rebuild our country and economy.

But the question for so many is will this come quickly enough to support businesses with the skills divide that they are facing in their organisation right now?

A recent report "The skillful corporation" by McKinsey states that 87% of companies said that they have skill gaps, or expect to within a few years. In the same article, 53% of executives stated that they believed that re-skilling existing employees is the best way to close these gaps. But as we see light at the end of this dark tunnel with the hope of vaccinations for all by Autumn, what can businesses do to survive in the short-term, whilst planning to thrive in the long?

Placing skills at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery plan 

Like many, I welcomed the Government’s announcement last Autumn which placed skills at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery plan.

£2.5 billion has been pledged through the National Skills Fund to help get people working again after COVID, as well as helping those already employed to up-skill or re-train. With this also came a commitment to invest £8 million for digital skills boot camps and a plan to expand these into areas such as construction and engineering from next year.

All of this sounds very positive indeed, but does it go far enough?

As an employer who, across our organisation, employs around 120 people, we have had many conversations around the skills requirements of our business both today and in the future. There’s no denying that for an employer, this is a challenge.

As reported by McKinsey, retraining is our first choice, but this cannot always happen at the pace that is required by a business. Like so many other businesses out there, our Group evolved our digital capabilities within a matter of weeks during the first lockdown last year; but we know that there is much more to be done in this area.

And in all this, we cannot forget that our national skills gaps go way beyond digital technologies. We have heard about the shortages in the public sector, struggles with attracting young talent into health and social care, and the boom in green energy initiatives to help meet the Government's Net Zero target. So, at a time of great challenge for many, I also see great opportunity, if we all plan now for the next normal.  

So, what is the solution that will enable us to achieve our plans?

Long-term, perhaps it lies with the likes of T-Levels, which were launched last year as a next step after GCSEs. These offer a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience, with these qualifications having been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses to meet the demand of industry. But in the short-term, we need a solution that provides flexibility, agility, and sustainability for individuals and business.

That’s where I believe that through further investment and flex in the Adult Education Budget, and greater development of initiatives such as Kickstart and apprenticeships, we can meet the short terms needs of industry and individuals.

Whether it is re-skilling or up-skilling that’s needed by businesses, by creating flexible and accessible pathways into sustainable employment and training, will enable individuals and industry to meet the skills demands of today, whilst planning for the future.

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