The growing need to upskill and reskill employees

There is a growing need for businesses to upskill and reskill their employees in order to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Businesses continue to adjust to new ways of working. Employees are returning to workplaces with different rules and regulations in place. For many there is a need to do more with less. The result of a reduced workforce, a strain on finances or a more challenging operating environment. There are few who can say it’s ‘business as usual’.

We spoke to Joe Hedley, Assistant Director for Business and Enterprise at Northumbria University about why businesses need to upskill and reskill to remain efficient, effective and competitive in a post-Covid world.

How has Covid-19 affected businesses’ skills, capacity and ability to deliver?

The initial impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy has been a stark indication of things to come. Despite government interventions, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that Britain has entered the deepest recession since records began. The UK economy shrank by more than any other nation during the coronavirus outbreak in the three months to June. Unemployment figures continue to rise and are expected to more than double to the highest level since the 1980s before Christmas. 

The latest economic figures also showed some signs of growth in May and June. There is however significant concern from business leaders that ongoing uncertainty and the threat of a second wave will see growth falter in the coming months.  

Since the start of the pandemic, our ability to make choices has diminished. Most businesses have been unable to recruit at a time when they most need new skills to survive and adapt.

Undoubtedly, employees with a diverse skillset are more valuable right now. In many cases, those in senior positions are being called upon to do more at the expense of lower level roles. The net effect is an overall reduction in capacity. Conversely, some businesses are overwhelmed with opportunities as a result of the pandemic but are similarly struggling to adapt and cope.

Covid-19 forced many companies to change the way they work almost overnight. Many employees now need new or different skills in order to deliver effectively in the long term.

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

To reskill is to retrain someone in a completely new skillset in order to deliver a different role. Upskilling involves learning additional skills to improve an existing skillset.

Why is it so important to upskill and reskill staff right now?

History tells us that in times of crises, successful businesses use recovery as an opportunity to learn and innovate. To re-evaluate what customers want. And how to provide it and to make critical changes to how they are organised and work. These companies are reported to outgrow their peers by nearly four times. Driving forward in this way means business become purpose-built for the new future.

Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that 7 in 10 workers needed to upskill their digital capabilities. The knock-on effect of the digital revolution already required significant amounts of upskilling and reskilling across all sectors. As we start to emerge from the first wave of Covid-19, the influence of digital technologies has been dramatically accelerated. This is compounding the need for new and improved digital skills in every area of the economy.

The full social and economic impacts of Covid (after all, it is not over yet!) are still very much unknown. New problems and new opportunities are yet to be presented. We need to adapt, improve and change our skillsets and retrain where necessary. This will become part of the ‘new normal’ for businesses and individuals alike.

How can Universities help?

Drawing on research rich education, universities like Northumbria can provide a tailored approach to equipping organisations with the right skills. From degree apprenticeships and continuous professional development to new product development partnerships and bespoke collaborations. We help businesses understand and solve their evolving skills needs (and gaps). This is crucial to successfully delivering new business models in a post-Covid world.

To find out more about how Northumbria University could help your organisation, visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/business-services/ or contact businessenquiry@northumbria.ac.uk

About our guest blogger

After completing his PhD at Newcastle University in 2011, Joe spent four years at North East SME QuantuMDx as Chemistry Team Lead working on disruptive life sciences tools and diagnostics. At the same time as embarking on an MBA, he moved into Business Development at Newcastle University working primarily in Genetics. Joe joined Northumbria University in 2018 where his role covers a range of commercial activities including workforce development.