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The OBR warns that employers must make sacrifices to navigate COVID-19, but can employees’ adaptability drive business recovery?

City of London


Hopes of a swift economic recovery with minimal scarring appeared to look remote when the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned of a likely 12.4% drop in GDP by the end of the year, and a 12% rise in unemployment in the same time period.

For businesses adapting to a world full of new challenges this will come as a blow. The prediction that 15% of the nine million furloughed British people will be made redundant will also be of great concern to employees.

However, as Viren Patel, Corporate Director at The Open University explains, a recent study by The Open University suggests that optimism may be found in the benefits that staff learning and development can, and is bringing, as lockdown eases.

One of the most intriguing figures to come out of the OU’s Business Recovery report suggests that it is the businesses who have prioritised the development and reskilling of their employees that are the most confident of a post-lockdown recovery.

Indeed, two thirds of organisations report that learning opportunities have been crucial in enabling their workforce to remain agile throughout the pandemic.

So, as experts forecast a burgeoning skills gap, could employers look to invest in the retraining of existing employees, rather than letting those deemed ‘redundant’ go?

The case to make for this being a more cost-efficient option is clear – and learning can be delivered quickly and flexibly.

Robust and intuitive virtual learning platforms now offer dynamic and engaging business-focused courses, often at low – or no – cost to employers.

So how can learning help reskill and repurpose employees?

The nature in which virtual learning has evolved – not just over the last few years, but since the pandemic took hold earlier this year. This means that employers can enrol employees on short, bite-sized and accredited courses that bestow upon participants very particular skill sets that are directly linked to the challenges faced today and tomorrow.

For instance, take an employer who anticipates that they will be transitioning to a full-time working-from-home model. They will need to ensure that their team leaders have the requisite skills to manage their remote colleagues. By having them participate in a short, fully-flexible course, they directly fortify their organisation with the specific skills they foresee needing in the months ahead. And as these courses are innately flexible – where employees can pick them up and put them down at their own discretion – workflow and capacity is not hampered.

Again, this is especially significant given that our report found one in five (22%) organisations were planning on directly replacing outgoing workers with external hires to bring in the newly required skills to an organisation.

HR managers will recognise that this in itself is a process that is inherently costly in both finances and time.

With platforms such as The Open University’s own OpenLearn widening access to intuitive, continuous work-focused learning, it’s becoming increasingly straightforward to make the case that investing these efforts in training is a more sustainable and long-term solution to skills.

Predicting what challenges this pandemic will bring, and how quickly, is difficult. However, what is becoming increasingly clear is that instilling an organisational adaptability – where skills can be accessed on demand – will be key to those businesses looking to survive and succeed the months and years ahead.



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