The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented upheaval over the past year. As organisations went into survival mode during lockdown, they have faced difficult decisions and significant challenges. Within learning and development (L&D), the overnight shift to remote working for many organisations resulted in sudden and sweeping changes to how L&D teams support organisational learning.  While, many others had to redeploy, upskill or reskill staff quickly, in response to rapid shifts in demand.  

While some specifics are focused on a UK context, the broader principles and implications should be of interest wherever you are based. 

Learning and skills at work survey 2021

To help us understand the impact of the pandemic on L&D CIPD conducted a survey of over 1,200 organisations. The survey found that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reduced significant metrics of organisational L&D:

  • 31% reported that their L&D budget has decreased in the last 12 months
  • 32% reported that their L&D headcount has declined
  • 31% reported that their use of external suppliers and consultants has fallen.   

Yet, while the resulting disruption was widespread, it has not affected organisations equally, those who have been more severely affected experienced greater cutbacks. The hardest hit experienced the biggest cut to L&D resourcing, with organisations who have had to make redundancies more likely to see a decline in budget (48%), use of suppliers (40%) and headcount (56%). 

However, the survey also found that while overall learning budgets were reduced, investment in technology to support learning has not: 70% of organisations reported that their use of digital learning solutions has increased over the last 12 months and 36% reported an increase in investment in learning technologies. 

How the world of work in 2030 will look very different

Even before the pandemic, organisations were facing an increasingly complex and unpredictable future, driven by wider technological, societal, and economic trends. The world of work in 2030 is going to look considerably different from today. Tasks, roles and entire jobs are set to transform, as technology rapidly changes work and drives up demand for new and higher skills. From a skills perspective, organisations are increasingly recognising that to prepare for the future requires the merging and expansion of two very different skillsets: the uniquely human skills of creativity, problem-solving and resilience, alongside deep technical skills like cybersecurity, data, cloud and artificial intelligence. 

In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills needs is increasingly critical for organisations. Positively, the evolving world of work and the catalyst of the pandemic have promoted more organisations to become future focused. Compared to the previous year’s data a greater proportion of organisations say they have assessed:  

  • the impact of automation and how to redeploy employees affected (51%) 
  • how roles are changing and how to reskill to meet these needs (64%) 

Organisations are also more confident about their ability to address current skills gaps, with 72% reporting that they are able to effectively tackle skills gaps. 

Will the return to business as-usual post crisis look different?

There is a high probability that there will be no return to business as-usual post-crisis; the pandemic has likely changed for good the distribution of work between the regular workplace and home for many workers. Recent CIPD research found that some 40% of employers said they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic ends.  All of this will have an impact on how organisations develop the skills of their people in the future, while there is a high level of uncertainty about what the future holds, for many organisations there is no going back: just 18% of organisations surveyed think that their learning strategy will go back to what it was before the pandemic began.

About the author

Gerwyn Davies

Gerwyn Davies: Senior Labour Market Adviser

Gerwyn is the CIPD’s Public Policy Adviser for a wide range of labour market issues. With lead responsibility for welfare reform, migration and zero-hour contracts at the CIPD, Gerwyn has led and shaped the policy debate and achieved substantial national media coverage through various publications. These include Zero-hours contracts: myth and reality (2013) and The growth of EU labour: assessing the impact on the UK labour market (2014). 

In addition Gerwyn authors the CIPD's high profile and influential quarterly Labour Market Outlook. Gerwyn is an experienced labour market commentator, making regular appearances in the national media and on other public platforms, including several appearances before the House of Commons Work and Pensions select committee.

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