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Solving the skills gap for economic recovery

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Solving the skills gap for economic recovery

The UK economy is suffering from a significant skills gap. Automation and digitalisation, accelerated by the pandemic, have brought this issue into sharp relief.

2021 needs to be a year of economic recovery. To support that, it’s essential to have a clear idea of the shortcomings in the existing talent pool to fill vacant jobs, and the roles which will see high demand in the coming years. So informed, we will be better equipped to determine the best way to support jobseekers to reskill, upskill and move into secure jobs, and to once again nourish growth and innovation in our economy. 

Areas of growth in the job market

Frequent periods of lockdown and restrictions imposed to control the spread of coronavirus have made themselves felt in the labour market. There has been a dramatic decline in particular areas of industry, notably travel and hospitality, as businesses have had to – in some cases permanently – close their doors. Alongside roles in those sectors, the demand for workers in other positions centred on human interaction such as receptionists, office managers, retail staff and events coordinators, has also significantly dropped, leaving large numbers of people unemployed.

However, the shift in how we live and work has also brought growth to sectors that serve our new lifestyles. Alongside an unsurprising rise in demand for healthcare professionals, there is, predictably, an increasing need for warehouse and delivery personnel as we order everything we need to our doorsteps. AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at job search site Indeed, reported increased demand for workers with delivery and courier experience of 74% and 78% respectively, while the need for warehouse experience has risen by 98%. A little more surprising is the increase in positions for furniture sales people. As we all turn our attention to improving the spaces in which we now spend all our time, more people are needed to field huge volumes of sales of home office furniture and home decor.

The demand for information technology professionals has been boosted by the move to remote working and the corresponding shift to cloud computing, with IT helpdesk personnel particularly sought after. The World Economic Forum, in their report The Future of Jobs, have listed the top ten jobs they anticipate will be most needed, of which eight are technology related: data analysts and data scientists, artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, digital transformation managers, information security analysts, software and app developers, Internet of Things specialists and process automation professionals. Alongside these roles, they also list business development, digital marketing and strategy specialists.

The digital skills gap

The rise in demand for professionals with specialist technical capability has been met with a gap in the talent pool. The digital skills gap, defined as the difference between employees with the required digital skills and the number of such employees needed for businesses to grow and innovate, is stark. A recent report by Microsoft has revealed that 69% of employers in the UK acknowledge that their organisation currently has a skills gap, while 78% of leaders in the UK see having a large talent pool for digital skills as essential to driving competitiveness on the global economic stage, and 80% see investment in digital skills as essential to the economic recovery of the UK. Their research highlights the critical role that technology will play and the urgency of filling the gap. They set out advice for businesses and employees to do so, encouraging a focus on productive skills – the technical capabilities to create digital systems and tools – and forecast that the rising use of low-code and no-code technology will make productive skills easier to attain.

In their report, The World Economic Forum recognised that while 85 million jobs are likely to be displaced by the shifting labour division between humans, machines and algorithms, another 97 million will emerge to manage that division. They describe how the “double-disruption” of increasing automation and the pandemic will require 50% of all workers to re-skill in the next five years.

Skills for economic recovery

Given these predictions, it’s fair to say that the demand for digital skills is not going anywhere.

According to LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann, “Skills that make remote work more effective, like communication and digital literacy (knowing how to use digital collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, for example), have become increasingly important.” The shift to remote working has made the ability to communicate well through digital and video platforms like Zoom, and the use of project management tools such as Slack, especially important. Social media knowledge has also risen in demand as companies recognise the increasing importance these platforms play in customers’ brand perception. As opportunities for face-to-face interaction have diminished or disappeared entirely, social media also provides an important touchpoint for customer service.

But digital skills are not the only ones in high demand at the moment. HR Digest conducted a study to determine how the most in-demand skills have changed over the past year, with Deloitte, McKinsey and LinkedIn, among others, taking part. They discovered an interesting shift that reflects the economic truth of the past year. Where creativity – essential for growth and innovation – used to be the number one skill employers sought, they now look first for emotional intelligence. High levels of economic uncertainty, social unrest and the ongoing pandemic have changed our priorities. Individuals able to understand their emotions and those of others are essential to support productive, happy and collaborative workforces. Other essential skills identified by HR Digest were communication, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, leadership and time management.

The World Economic Forum also highlights the emergent need for self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, and it’s not hard to understand why. Thankfully, these cross-cutting skills are easily attainable with a little dedication. For employees and employers alike, investing in developing these soft skills should be a straight-forward decision. 

Upskilling with Aptem Employ

Encouragingly, the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab, acknowledges that, “We have the tools at our disposal. The bounty of technological innovation which defines our current era can be leveraged to unleash human potential. We have the means to reskill and upskill individuals in unprecedented numbers, to deploy precision safety nets which protect displaced workers from destitution, and to create bespoke maps which orient displaced workers towards the jobs of tomorrow where they will be able to thrive.”

Once such a tool is Aptem Employ. Uniquely placed to get high volumes of job-ready people back into the workplace quickly and for the long-term, Aptem Employ has been designed specifically for those who deliver employment services. Alongside skills to support employment such as job search advice, CV building and interview techniques, the in-built e-learning Advice Centre offers modules in motivation, mindset, communication, critical thinking and analysis, leadership, and management skills.

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