With the coronavirus pandemic having dramatically distorted the working world, leaving many unemployed and many more facing potential redundancy, Niamh Corcoran, policy adviser at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, says the time has come for the Government to truly transform the adult education system and help people re-train for new roles in a post-COVID-19 world
In six short months, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work.
While some have simply ditched the daily commute and embraced technologies we had not heard of before March, others have spent months in furlough-limbo, uncertain if they have a job or even an industry to return to.
Unlike other economic crises, the fallout from the pandemic has hit certain sectors, like hospitality and retail, harder than others. Despite a brief reprieve over summer, when we enjoyed loosened restrictions and half-price meals, the second wave of the pandemic has halted any sort of sectoral recovery.
Employees in these sectors are, yet again, more likely to have lost hours or pay, to have been furloughed or be in a position where they may face losing their jobs in the coming months.
The fear of unemployment in these sectors, as well as for younger, lower paid and insecure workers, is well-founded.
The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that in the worst-case scenario, the national unemployment rate could peak at 13.2 per cent in 2021.
The North East entered this crisis with an already high unemployment rate, leaving the region particularly vulnerable. Worryingly, unemployment already appears to be rearing its head, with the North East recently seeing the most significant rise in joblessness in the UK.
The question now is, how do we navigate out of an unemployment crisis unseen for generations?
Ultimately, developing a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible is the golden ticket.
However, even if Government achieves this soon, the virus is likely to leave permanent scars on the hardest-hit industries, fundamentally altering the economy.
Even before the pandemic, the world of work was set to look very different in 2030.
Automation and evolving technologies are predicted to change the types of skills in demand and render some job roles obsolete.
The pandemic is accelerating this speed of technological adaptation.
The CBI estimates that consumers and businesses have leapt five years ahead in digitisation over the course of eight weeks.
As a result, it is estimated one million people are in jobs that will not return after the pandemic.
Policymakers must be prepared to adapt to the structural economic changes we face and outline a plan that offers workers the opportunity to gain new skills and move into growing sectors.
The onus will be on the skills system to support people in this transition.
However, the neglected state of the system should be cause for concern.