The COVID-19 pandemic has wide reaching implications for organisations, individuals and educators: many businesses have had to temporarily, and in some cases permanently, shut up shop; organisations are continuing to have to make difficult decisions about workforce resourcing; colleges, schools, and universities have been closed, exams have been postponed; individuals have lost their jobs or been furloughed, while others have seen a dramatic shift in how, and where, they work. Disruption is likely to continue for a significant period of time, with experts suggesting that it could be up to six months before we return to a 'normal' way of life and work. Yet, the pandemic is likely to have far-reaching consequences beyond this point, for organisations, individuals, the economy and society. We need to prepare and ensure that the right support is in place to help mitigate this as much as possible.
Supporting individuals who have been affected to upskill or reskill, so that they can be ready when the economy recovers, could be part of this solution. Two weeks ago we wrote to the Chancellor to outline our idea of a wage subsidy scheme, similar to that which he subsequently announced, but we also called on him to go further and consider developing a programme to incentivise the training and development of staff who had been furloughed, lost their jobs or were experiencing a significant cut in their normal hours. The previous recession of 2008-9 could provide some insights into the types of schemes that might work in this context and it would be worth revisiting these and learning from past experience. Alongside this, the explosion in high quality digital learning content also offers a potential solution to provide access to training opportunities when movement is restricted.
The support could include a mix of financial incentives for individuals and organisations to increase uptake and completion of online courses, and could be structured along the lines of:
- Individual Learning Accounts for those currently out of work, providing access to finance to support online learning for a range of prescribed accredited courses, aligned to the needs of the economy; and,
- Training grants for employers to support individuals who have been furloughed or have experienced a significant reduction in hours.
Alongside this the Government could develop an online portal providing career coaching and advice with access to online courses, to enable informed choice and to ensure the quality of online learning offered. A recent study for the Department of Education which involved a rapid evidence assessment national and international approaches to online adult learning provision provides some insight into effective approaches:
- Provide career coaching and guidance to enable learners to make informed choices about which courses will help them to develop skills which are in demand;
- Ensure alignment of online learning opportunities with skills demands of the future economy;
- Build 'human interaction' into online provision; this could take the form of Q&As with instructors, online mentors/coaches, and forums to provide peer-to-peer support and learning;
- Incorporate practical learning experiences into online courses so learners have the opportunity to apply the skills they are developing; and,
- Development of an online portal so learners can access everything in one place, from careers guidance and online courses to access to employment opportunities, so that learners can take responsibility for their learning and career development journey.
These are certainly challenging times, but they also potentially offer us the opportunity to do things differently. Already we are seeing many organisations leveraging the technologies needed to work and learn any time, any place, and now is the time to harness this and ensure that we do as much as we can now to support individuals and organisations prepare for the future.
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