As the ONS has reported, unemployment is rising. The 16-24 age group, who typically occupy roles in some of the worst hit sectors including hospitality, entertainment and the arts, have been particularly affected. However, the spike in unemployment caused by COVID-19 is pan-generational.
In August 2020, the claimant count reached 2.7 million people, an increase of 120.8% since March 2020. Notably, there is a significant rise in the number of people unemployed for up to six months, up 202,000 over the year to 988,000. This poses an additional challenge; it’s widely recognised that the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is for them to re-enter the workforce.
These figures represent both a huge burden on the UK economy and a startling increase in the number of individuals who lack economic security. And these figures don’t include the nearly half a million people identified by the ONS survey as employed but not receiving any pay or support from the government. If the employers of this group are not able to resume operations soon, these employees may well be added to the rising number needing support in the UK. This dramatic increase in jobseekers is placing added strain on already stretched employment services.
As we approach the deadline set for the end of the furlough scheme – 31st October 2020 – economic uncertainty continues to grow. Employees on the scheme still face potential redundancy and the debate is ongoing about how best to support employers and employees after the scheme ends.
Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, called for a united approach to preventing widespread unemployment and a ban against the practice of firing and rehiring employees under worse conditions. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has maintained that continuing the furlough scheme would simply be keeping people out of work, which is not a sustainable long-term solution to a crisis we’re going to have to learn to live with.
At the time of writing, Sunak has announced a new Job Support Scheme that will go some way to mitigating the economic damage caused by the coronavirus. However, while this will support the continuation of some employment, it is a targeted approach and will not solve the broader problem of job losses and economic restructuring.
Impact on sectors and skills
Sectors worst hit by the fall-out from the pandemic include entertainment, retail, and hospitality, which currently has the highest percentage of workers on furlough at 77%. And, as we face further waves of the virus and possibly more localised lockdowns, the future of these industries remains uncertain.
No one yet knows how long distancing measures will need to remain in place or if sectors that rely on face-to-face interaction and experiences will ever regain pre-pandemic levels. For furloughed employees and those made redundant from jobs in these sectors, that makes the future hard to navigate. And for businesses, planning for the future is complex. The need for agility, increased digital skills and multi-hyphenate employees is increasing.
In tandem, trends set in motion and accelerated by the pandemic, such as the rise in remote working and the growth of online retail, are likely to have permanent implications. For example, retail sector employees whose experience lies in facilitating a brilliant in-store experience will need support to transition into new roles created by the surge in online activity, roles for which they may currently have very little training.
Upskilling employees is essential to making sure many more people do not become unemployed. AEB funding can be accessed by employers who are seeking the means to retrain their staff and provide the continuous professional development needed to thrive in the new normal.
Beyond COVID-19 – shaping a better employment landscape
Economic disruption will be a terrible experience for many people. But it has also given rise to a unique opportunity. With millions of low-skilled, low-paid workers with low job security either out of work or facing imminent redundancy, now is the time to shape a better employment landscape and raise productivity.
Through upskilling and retraining initiatives and efficient employability programmes, we have the chance to ensure everyone has access to a secure job, fair pay and the attendant positive ramifications on mental health, prosperity, and the UK economy.
Technology steps in
Unemployment characteristically brings with it low self-esteem, self-doubt and uncertainty. Facing a recession and the transformation of many industries and job roles, people experiencing unemployment now have even greater reason to feel discouraged when trying to determine the best path forward.
Applying for jobs is always a fraught experience. From knowing how best to present yourself on your CV, to recognising what skills you have to offer and then tracking down available opportunities, it’s a process beset with obstacles, even for the most savvy would-be-employees.
With the scale of unemployment we’re facing, and particularly in this climate of chronic uncertainty, jobseekers need a helping hand to identify their skills, spot where they need to retrain to fit new roles, and to track down vacancies that best fit their profile and career aspirations.
Which is where technology can help.
We’re facing all these challenges at a time where the technological solutions exist to support large numbers of people to retain work through retraining or by identifying new opportunities. And with the longer-term effects of the pandemic still unknown, it’s essential that we look to solutions that can be accessed online, so that the recovery is not disrupted by further waves of the virus.
Digital services should not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face interaction. Rather, it is a means of saving those all-important human connections for vital moments on the back-to-work journey or for people who require additional support. We cannot have job centres and training facilities crammed with the millions of unemployed people currently seeking learning and development opportunities and new jobs. Technological solutions ensure that this increased number of job seekers can access the support they need remotely, and that our economy can continue on the road to recovery.
Using intelligent testing, job seekers can be helped to pinpoint their strengths, recognise transferable skills and identify the roles that are right for them in this new normal. And by aggregating job vacancies, a greater efficiency can be brought to the job search process, making sure that in this crowded market people can find their way to the roles that are right for them and that employers can identify the people they need to fill their vacancies. Combined with eLearning opportunities, platforms designed to facilitate the journey into work offer the solution that society badly needs.
Aptem Employ does all this and more. So, while we should reflect on the difficulties we are going through, let’s use this moment to think what’s possible too. Get in touch with us and we can talk you through how Aptem Employ can transform the employability experience.