Planning for the Recovery - Supporting People back to Work

By Gerard Walker, Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights



As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 32% of the labour force are currently in receipt of state support payments including 530,000 on COVID-19 pandemic support, 210,000 on the normal unemployed benefit, and 27,000 on COVID-19 illness benefit. Some 42,000 workers are being subsidised under the Temporary Covid-19 Subsidy Scheme. Recent forecasts by the International Monetary Fund are that Ireland's economy will decline by 6.8% this year, as a result of the impact of the pandemic. The IMF expect that the Irish economy will return to growth in 2021 and advise policy makers to plan for this recovery. They forecast that the unemployment rate in Ireland will average 12.1% this year and 7.9% in 2021- compared to 4.8% in early 2020. 


Although the timelines for the re-opening of the economy are uncertain, it can be expected that many of those on COVID-19 support payments will gradually return to work as restrictions are eased. However, within sectors such as hospitality, tourism, retail and personal services many jobs may not come back due to depressed demand. New graduates and school leavers will find it harder to enter a more uncertain jobs market.


Individuals can improve their employability prospects for jobs in the sector they were working in or elsewhere  by improving their skills proficiency and knowledge. At a basic level, literacy, numeracy and digital skills are required. Transferable social skills and competences across occupations include entrepreneurship, customer service, adaptability, teamworking, communications, self-directed learning, ethics, problem solving, and creative skills. These key competencies can be developed through practical work experience in either paid or voluntary work or by participation in extra curricula activities. The development of core business, digital and technical skills and foreign languages proficiency can form a platform upon which specialism skills can be built.


Personal achievements can be recorded within a Portable Skills Portfolio. This may include information on qualifications attained, formal and informal learning, work experiences, and testimonials from employers. Skills profiling tools empower jobseekers by giving them the knowledge of those skills that will enable them to move between jobs, occupations, and sectors. There are already existing good examples of these such as the creation of Dublin City University of a “living portfolio” for its students to showcase their academic, professional and personal achievements to prospective employers.


Universities and Colleges Career and Advisory services will be a valuable resource for new graduates entering the labour market this year. As well as career and job search advise they can offer a network of mentor supports from past graduates in business.


Developing a Personal Skills Portfolio 

As in previous economic downturns the role of INTERO and Education and Training Boards (then different named entities) will be central for providing job search, mentoring and education and training supports for the reintegration of persons into work. Previous research has indicated that the longer a person remains unemployed the lower the possibility of them exiting unemployment. Skills-profiling can assist INTERO counsellor assessment of an individual client’ ‘needs’ and their relative ‘fit’  to available job opportunities and for the targeting mentoring, education and training support services. 


The IITD supports an increased allocation of National Training Fund resources towards the training of the unemployed, apprenticeship training and workplace-based training. The IITD membership of over 2,500 individuals and organisations include those charged with the skills agenda in industry, providers and other stakeholders including those involved in Further Education and Training.


The IITD can draw upon a deep well of talent to help identify best practice learning for policy makers responsible for the developing actions to support the reintegration of new graduates and unemployed back into the workforce. This includes the use of new learning technologies and the delivery of flexible online modular learning based on identified enterprise skills needs. It is essential for enterprises and education and training providers to collaborate on the ongoing development and delivery of such programmes. Enterprise-led Skillnet networks play an important role in the upskilling and reskilling of job seekers to fill available jobs. 


The Further Education and Training system overseen by SOLAS and comprising 16 Education and Training Boards nationwide will experience increased demands to support the reintegration of increasing numbers of unemployed. It is timely that a recent report by CEDEFOP on Vocational Education and Training (VET) Trends in Europe highlights future trends in the direction of VET that can usefully be strengthened within the Irish system. These is an increasing emphasis on VET qualifications based on learning outcomes; the strengthening of apprenticeships and work-based elements in curricula; increased VET provision at higher qualification levels; and increasing the responsiveness of VET to labour market needs.


To establish further insights into how VET might develop in the future, three basic ideal scenarios were developed. These are (a) VET with lifelong learning at its core; (b) distinctive VET with occupational and professional competence; (c) special-purpose VET with job-oriented training at its core. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive as countries might contain elements of all three. 


Main Takeaways 
In this period of economic uncertainty, it is essential to consider the potential role continual professional development can play in enhancing the employability prospects of new graduates, increased numbers of unemployed and those at work. An increased investment in skills formation will support Ireland's economic recovery following the severe disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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