Reskilling Revolution to Support the Recovery

By Gerard Walker

Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights

The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in unemployment across the world. In Ireland, the unemployment rate has risen to 16% with young people (15-25 years) hardest hit with 38% unemployed. The importance of investing in skills to combat unemployment and support recovery is a central message of several recent international reports by the World Economic Forum, OECD, and European Commission. The European Skills Agenda 2020   highlights the need for a paradigm-shift on skills to strengthen sustainable competitiveness, provide access to additional up-skilling opportunities for all people; and having enough skilled workers to run health, social and educational services.


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. They expect that the Irish economy will return to growth in 2021 and advise policy makers to plan now for this recovery. This article outlines recent international analysis recommendations on active labour market actions that can support recovery.


Five-year Investment Plan in Upskilling and Reskilling

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digitisation and automation across a range of sectors. Other drivers impacting on labour markets include demographic change, shifting consumer preferences, changing work practices and the move towards a low carbon economy. In Ireland’s case we can also include the effect of Brexit. These drivers necessitate a long-term plan with governments proactively building provisions around upskilling and reskilling into their fiscal stimulus and with employers increase investment on retraining workers.


The focus should be on the development of digital, technical skills and human skills. Skills and lifelong learning are crucial for sustainable growth and innovation and a key factor for the competitiveness of all businesses, in particular SMEs. The value of workplace-based learning has been highlighted such as within apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. While remote learning has become a reality for many people the pandemic has accentuated the digital skills gap that already existed as many people do not have the required level of digital skills or are in workplaces or schools lagging behind in digitalisation. 



Identify the Jobs of Tomorrow

Education and training provision need to be aligned to the jobs of tomorrow to ensure individual’s skills are future-proofed. National and Regional skills anticipation mechanisms can help define education and training provision. Companies which engage in manpower planning can identify the skills necessary to support their Strategic Business Plan.


As governments seek to rebuild their economies, new sources of jobs growth are anticipated in the green economy, science and health research, and digital infrastructure. The World Economic Forum  has identified several high job growth professional clusters as follows:

•    Health and Social Care Professions 
•    Green Economy Professions
•    Human Resource Management 
•    Data Science and Artificial Intelligence
•    Engineering and Cloud Computing 
•    Digital and Software Product Development
•    Digital and Social Media Sales, Marketing and Content



Prioritise Re-Deployment and Re-Employment Supports

Governments can prioritise labour market services to support the redeployment and reemployment of workers made unemployed or whose jobs are at risk. These include career advisory services, job market information, and job-search assistance. In some cases, individuals may only need to update or add to their skill set profile. In other instances, it may mean a major reskilling intervention if there is little hope of their original job coming back and workers have to transition towards a new area of work. International evidence is that in countries where governments have systems in place for doing this at scale and in a proactive manner, that workers are faring better than in those that don’t.



Increase education/training measures supporting young people 

There are calls for largescale policy responses to prevent long-term damage to young people in terms of education/training and labour market policies. This is against the worrying prospect of young people facing multiple shocks from the COVID-19 crisis which could lead to the emergence of a “lock down“ generation. International research has found a relatively higher number of young people losing their jobs (as in Ireland within retail, hospitality and tourism), having their working hours reduced, and their education interrupted.


A recent World Bank survey reported a majority of young people reporting a disruption to their education/training, and rising signs of anxiety and depression since the commencement of the pandemic. Young workers in the labour force are a valuable resource given ageing demographic trends across many European countries.



Re-evaluate the importance of essential work and improving  the quality of jobs

The pandemic has resulted in a re-evaluation of the essential nature of jobs in health and social care, education, sanitisation, transportation, food retail and food processing. As highlighted by the OECD, these professions have often been taken for granted and their value to society not fully recognised. This highlights the need for improving in-company training, providing career paths progression, quality working conditions and fair remuneration for workers in such professions. There is evidence of a renewed interest by young people in acquiring vocational skills in such occupations given an increased awareness of their value to society. 



Reset Education, Skills, and Job Systems for a post-pandemic recovery

Collaboration between employers, governments and workers nationally are critical to the recovery. In early 2020 the World Economic Forum announced the creation of a Reskilling Revolution platform devoted to improving education, skills and jobs for a billion people by 2030. This is dedicated to supporting governments, companies, and educators to help workers and students through the crisis, exchange best practices and to build back better education, skills, and jobs systems for the post-pandemic recovery.

The European Commission will launch a 'Pact For Skills' during the European Vocational Skills Week in November 2020. The Pact will facilitate public-private cooperation and synergy including at regional level. Stakeholders will be encouraged to pool expertise, resources, and funding towards concrete up-skilling and re-skilling actions with clear commitments that will allow people to keep, change or find new jobs. The Pact will also facilitate access to information on EU funding instruments for skills by offering a single-entry point at EU level. The EU will provide financial support within an “Next Generation EU”  Recovery fund to support member countries skill policies aimed at supporting their recovery.



Main Takeaways

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a reappraisal of the key role that education and training can play in fostering resilient societies and supporting economic recovery. This includes improving enterprise competitiveness, helping workers to redeploy to other areas of work, sustaining at risk employees within their employment, preparing graduates for a more challenging labour market and improving the job prospects of those unemployed. Young people and low skilled workers are being hardest hit by the current economic slowdown. Well-designed active labour market measures with quality education and training, employment services and supportive income supports can help societies better deal with large-scale disruptions. 


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