An investment in skills is the key to economic recovery

In the past few months, the world has strived to weather the staggering impact of COVID-19

As the affected 200 million higher education students and more than 555 million workers worldwide began learning from home, searching for jobs, and transitioned to life online, we’ve started to work at solving the puzzle of what a post-pandemic world will look like. One major key to understanding this future is unpacking our skills landscape and how institutions can play a role in empowering learners for a thriving workforce and global economy.

Our 2020 Global Skills Index (GSI) report shows a unique and in-depth look at the state of skills around the world. By drawing on performance data from 65 million learners across 60 countries, the report provides a critical lens into the future of industry and learning, while also signaling the pandemic’s impact on what skills will take precedence in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial our digital and technological infrastructure is for everyday life. Work is moving from the office to the home, and companies of all sorts are transitioning to operate entirely online, foreshadowing the current and future need for technology skills across industries. But while European countries round out the top ten global skills leaders in technology and data science, the UK is lagging behind the rest of the continent, ranking 20th in overall technology and 18th in data science. Without a workforce skilled enough to build, maintain, and facilitate this digital transformation, the UK risks falling farther behind in a world where the ways in which we learn are changing — to the detriment of workers, employers, and officials. This is especially concerning considering Brexit’s impact on the country’s tech industry, as companies are already claiming that uncertainty over visas and work permits are pushing skilled workers away.

Nowhere is this shortage more apparent than in the UK’s consumer goods industry – one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. As life moved online, workers were left to wonder when they could return to work, if their job was still there at all. Employers needed to quickly develop the tools and means necessary for operating entirely online. But with a lagging 23 percent industry skills proficiency in technology, both workers and businesses have struggled to adapt. The healthcare industry in the UK showed similar problems with only 8 percent skills proficiency.

The growing pains of this digital transformation are sure to be felt long past the end of a COVID-19 world, putting a consistent range of skills at the forefront of learning and economic recovery. Alongside technology, business skills – a field where the UK is 13th in the region – will see growing importance as leadership and team management take place over remote workplaces.

An encouraging sign is that the GSI report shows one of the UK’s strongest skill bases is fintech, at 80 percent proficiency. A growing reliance on all-digital experiences in the world’s financial hub is opening a new wave of opportunity for those looking to upskill during the pandemic.

With emergency loans for UK universities falling through and the recent announcement from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that the UK is doubling-back its commitment to get 50 percent of young people into university, there needs to be a mobilized effort toward solving our skills gap. Without access to opportunities for learning new skills, the country faces a dilemma of workers in need of employment and employers in need of a growing range of skilled workers, a fact compounded by COVID-19’s rippling effect on learning and industry in the future.

By utilising this report’s insights and leveraging free access to online courses, the country can begin to address serious deficiencies in skilled workers – deficiencies like the UK’s IT industry, where nearly half of employers struggle to find applicants with adequate skill bases. For learners, it offers the chance to empower them with the tools to upgrade and relaunch their careers. The current pandemic, which has impacted one in four workers in the UK, is an opportune time to invest in flexible learning pathways as an affordable, adaptable, and strategic road to recovery.

About the Author

Anthony Tattersall is Head of EMEA at Coursera. Coursera was founded by two computer science professors at Stanford with a vision of providing life-transforming learning experiences to anyone, anywhere. It is the world’s largest online learning platform for higher education. 190 of the world’s top universities and industry educators partner with Coursera to offer courses, Specializations, and degrees that empower over 43 million learners around the world to achieve their career goals.

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