With redundancies and unemployment rising – which sectors will be looking for skills and talent?

The unemployment rate in the UK grew to 4.1% in the three months to July 2020 – the highest levels of people out of work since the end of 2018.

In August it was also revealed that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls were down 695,000, compared to the three months prior to the lockdown. So, what does the future hold for the UK workforce and what will be the growth areas of the economy that will be creating jobs and requiring talent?

Nerys Mutlow is the Chief Innovation Officer at ServiceNow, says that the technology sector will be a key growth area for the UK economy: “The pandemic has highlighted huge resilience from the technology sector and as such, it’s a better time than ever to develop science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills. Data skills will be in demand for the foreseeable future.

“Businesses collect a huge amount of data from multiple sources, but to gain value, this data must be analysed and turned into actionable insights. Understanding how to use the technology that handles data is a particularly good skill to gain.”

The highly tech-focused business world that now exists due to the crisis has been made an immediate priority by firms in all sectors – as employees’ daily lives take a more digital-focus.

Robert Chapman, Co-founder of Firebrand Training, comments: “As organisations of every kind have rapidly shifted to a digital model in order to survive the pandemic, it has brought into focus the benefits that digital skills bring to everyone across the UK. The skills gap is still very much a reality for employers and upskilling employees cannot be disrupted at such a critical time.

“By digital skills, I am firstly referring to basic technology skills, such as how to use digital tools like Zoom and cloud services, and cybersecurity awareness, to prevent mistakes being made that can put an entire organisation at risk.

“Secondly, I am referring to more technical digital skills, the skills that enable you to build or fix these tools and systems that are more important than ever in ensuring our economy keeps on running. These skills are no longer just for the organisation’s tech department either, upskilling to have an understanding of basic code or how to be creative with data could enable people in many roles to make innovative changes to the way they and their department work, pushing towards an even more digitized and efficient future.”

However, it is not just tech and digital skills that today’s business leaders need to equip their staff with and those looking for a new role, need to acquire.

Mutlow continues: “Additionally, customer service skills are always useful; it’s important to know your customer in whatever industry you may work in. Looking at output through a customer’s lens means businesses will always deliver what is needed at that time, be it prior to the pandemic or as we navigate through it.”

Niamh Mulholland, Director of External Affairs at CMI, said: “At CMI, we suggest focusing on digital and interpersonal skills as well as management. This powerhouse trio will support workers, both with pivoting to remote and digital business delivery and support themselves and their teams through these variable and uncertain times. This is endorsed by 73% of managers, who in August 2020 told us they thought COVID-19 is a good opportunity for staff to develop either management or general workplace skills.”

Post-furlough futures

The employment market is at a crossroads, whereby urgent skills and talent are needed, but many industries are haemorrhaging money to just try and survive. But, as the world tries to move towards a vaccine and economic recovery, what new skills should people be trying to learn?

Jason Greaves, Manpower Brand Leader and Operations Director, comments: “One area we are increasingly seeing demand for skills is in IT, and we’re seeing new roles being created such as video platform support specialists. Our reliance on digital services in recent months has naturally skyrocketed, and in many ways has accelerated the trends of digitisation we had seen prior to the pandemic. As we continue through this health crisis, building knowledge of digital platforms can be invaluable not only in helping prepare for the future of work but also potentially to find a new role.”

Chapman concurs: “My advice to those currently out of work would be to urgently upskill tech – this knowledge is massively in demand but there simply aren’t enough skilled people to fulfil that demand. Also, it is also not as hard as people may think to re-skill or upskill in digital! With the right courses, as well as a pinch of determination, reskilling becomes a less daunting task.

“Take coding as an example. The most in-demand job in the world now is the Software Developer, including here in the UK. Coding really is the hottest and most in-demand skill and there are a huge amount of free resources to get people into it, including BBC Bitesize, as well as paid-for courses like LinkedIn Learning. But, while you may not expect it, apprenticeships are undoubtedly one of the best ways to reskill.”

For those that have unfortunately lost their jobs, or their industry has been turned upside down – they will need to change careers. This provides an opportunity for themselves as well as business owners who can see the potential in cross-skilling.

Mutlow comments: “The pandemic has completely changed the types of roles that are in demand, with many losing their jobs. But for those looking for a new career, retraining in an entirely different field costs both time and money.

“Instead, both businesses and prospective employees should be looking at cross-skilling: identifying areas that they could reapply their existing skills to different roles. This involves considering skills similar to those in demand rather than being a direct fit or looking at where employees could be moved from one area of the business to another with transferable capabilities.

“For instance, a mechanical engineer with a mathematically driven mind could fit the bill and cross-skill as a data scientist, or someone who may have worked as a travel agent with great customer service skills could be hired to improve this area within financial services. The responsibility falls on businesses to leverage this accordingly, but for redundant or furloughed workers, cross-skilling could be a good solution rather than having the pressure of learning entirely new skills in a short space of time.”

For would-be entrepreneurs – chaos brings opportunities – and for many, now could be the time to take a leap of faith and start their own business.

Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training, said: “The teeth of a recession can actually be the ideal time for innovators and entrepreneurs to create and launch their own start-ups. Economic downturns have previously shown that new businesses can gain market opportunities and provide income for those struggling to secure their jobs – or who’ve actually lost them. The lockdown may provide an opportunity for homepreneurs to use their physical-distancing time to pick up a new skill or to create a business plan to launch an Etsy shop or consultancy from their kitchen table.

“In the first six weeks of lockdown alone, High Speed Training saw a dramatic 61% increase in the number of people completing its Starting a Business course compared to the same period last year – a reassuring statistic that Brits are using their time to embark on new career adventures.”

Sector specific skills

Despite the government’s introduction of the furlough scheme and various loans to keep businesses afloat, some industries were helpless in their demise due to the pandemic.

Retail, tourism and manufacturing are just a few that have suffered – but what does the future hold for the workers and business owners in these sectors?

Andy Moss, Managing Director, Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group, comments: “With around four million people across the UK expected to be unemployed by the end of the year, it is vital to create a link between industries that are reducing their workforce and those sectors that are growing which require a similar skill set.

“Indeed, whilst COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the aviation industry and particular parts of the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, in industries such as healthcare, digital and infrastructure, there exists an unprecedented demand for talent.

“Mapping transferable skills potential and the agility of workers will be key to helping people move from one industry to another. Not only will this help displaced workers unlock new career paths, but it will also provide employers with access to a new pool of talented, industry-ready employees – encouraging further growth in these sectors.”

It is the workers within the sectors that are struggling that should look to reskill in industries that are currently thriving during the pandemic.

Nigel Morgan, Chief Executive, HWGTA, said: “The collapse in the aviation industry would be an example of a sector needing to retrain in large numbers. Pilots would make exceptional process developers and managers as well as risk assessors. Having been so thoroughly trained in situational awareness and a capability to deliver in extreme pressure situations they would be valuable to businesses in a wide range of sectors, it would be easy to imagine a pilot making a very competent EHS Manager for an organisation, or in a management position with the emergency services, ensuring risk is appropriately managed while retaining a capacity to handle an emergency incident.

“Cabin crew have learned to deal with a huge range of people covering the full range of emotional situations, from joy to panic and fear. These human skills would be transferable into a vast array of roles, such as HR and public services.”

The role of the educators

In order for these industries to recover, or for the industries thriving – to teach new and existing staff the relevant skills – colleges, universities, apprenticeships and other education facilitators will be the cornerstone for driving economic growth as businesses move towards a post-COVID-19 world. Just like businesses – the educators will need to evolve with the times.

The importance of these educators cannot be understated when looking at reskilling the workforce.

Mulholland concludes: “Educators cut through the noise and deliver expertise that will boost your business in ways that work for your people. Pursuing accredited qualifications, like those from Chartered bodies, has the additional benefit of hallmarking you and your people as the best in the business. Working with educators to pursue skills training and upskilling during this crisis should be seen as an investment, not as an expense.”