How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the prospects for workers around the World?
This was the focus of the “The Future of Jobs Report” from the World Economic Forum which brings together the views of business leaders with the latest data to create an understanding of the current situation and the future outlook for jobs and skills.
A worrying trend for those in work is the finding that, in addition to some of the displacement in the labour market that the pandemic has created over the last eleven months, there are indications that any lost jobs will not be replaced as companies move to accelerate the adoption of automation.
For example, half of the businesses will be increasing the rate of automation of jobs, more than one-quarter of employers expect to temporarily reduce their workforce, and one in five expect to permanently lose employees. This raises the spectre of a jobless recovery that will be very different to previous recessions.
However, the good news is that despite the current economic downturn, most employers have continued to be supportive of investing in their workforce and, on average, will offer reskilling and upskilling to just over 70% of their employees by 2025.
In attempting to do this, some the biggest barriers they face (especially in the adoption of new technologies in their business) include skills gaps in the local labour market and an inability to attract the right talent. Another major challenge is engagement from the workers themselves with only 42% of employees taking up employer-supported reskilling and upskilling opportunities.
Whilst many firms were looking to increase digitisation within their operations, the pandemic has accelerated this trend with 84% of employers set to quickly digitalise their work processes with an increasing emphasis on remote working i.e. over four in ten of the workforce may be operating remotely in the future.
In terms of those jobs that are in-demand, it is not surprising given the increasing importance of digital and technology to business operations that roles such as Data Analysts and Scientists, AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Robotics Engineers, Software and Application developers and Digital Transformation Specialists are those wanted by the majority of employers.
The jobs that are likely to be made redundant between now and 2025 are also affected by technology (but this time in a negative way) and include data entry clerks, administrative secretaries, accounting and bookkeeping clerks, accountants and auditors, assembly and factory workers, and administrative managers, all of whose day to day tasks can be automated easily.
Given this, reskilling remains a key priority for many companies with estimates that around 40% of workers will require reskilling and this will take place alongside their current job.
For those providing this reskilling to businesses, it is worth noting that those skills that are in demand over the next five years will not be technical but in areas such as critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving and self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. Certainly, universities and colleges will need to integrate the teaching of such competences into their programmes if they are to meet the changing needs of industry over the next few years.
Not surprisingly, the numbers of those participating in online learning and training has increased significantly in 2020 with a four-fold increase in those individuals seeking out opportunities for learning online through their own initiative, a five-fold increase in employer provision of online learning opportunities to their workers and a nine-fold enrolment increase for learners accessing online learning through government programmes.
With many businesses facing financial challenges due to the pandemic, it is not surprising that there are calls for government to provide greater support for reskilling and upskilling, especially for those at risk from losing their jobs or being displaced through technology.
Unfortunately, it seems that only a fifth of businesses actually receive public funds to support their employees through reskilling and upskilling. Given the crisis that is inevitable after the withdrawal of labour market support mechanisms such as the furlough scheme, it is imperative that there are greater incentives for investments in skills, especially in retraining those workers that will be displaced by changes in key industries such as retail and hospitality.
Therefore, the Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected the labour market in 2020 but the consequences of the temporary shutdown of many businesses has forced companies to re-evaluate the way they work.
Whilst this may lead to increased automation and homeworking, current skill shortages suggest that businesses will need to retrain their workers for the jobs of the future rather than making them redundant.
If that is the case, then there are real opportunities for the higher and further education sector to move outside of their traditional market and support the reskilling agenda across the economy.