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The Open University (OU) was delighted to take part in the CBI’s recent virtual roundtable discussion - ‘Reskilling for Recovery: Preparing Business for the Future’ - part of the CBI’s daily webinar series exploring the most pressing issues for business in light of coronavirus.
Simon Tindall (Head of New Business at The Open University) joined Tera Allas CBE (Director of Research and Economics at McKinsey) and Josh Hardie (CBI Deputy Director-General) to discuss the critical importance of skills training in the post-coronavirus economy.
Reflecting on The Open University’s social remit to make education and training more accessible, Simon highlighted three ways in which the OU can help businesses, individuals and the economy to bounce back.
Given that the UK already faced skill shortages prior to the pandemic, the panel agreed that reskilling the UK workforce would be key to future economic success. In particular, they discussed how the government, industry and regional agencies could collaborate more effectively to deliver a nationwide upskilling agenda.
One of the major stumbling blocks for employers is the perceived cost of training their employees, but Simon explained “what you are seeing are more enlightened employers now really embracing skills programmes”.
Initiatives such as apprenticeships provide a structured way for employers to upskill existing staff, with minimal disruption to their day-to-day operations, and the ability to apply new learning immediately in the workplace.
Simon also described the availability of free online learning from the OU which can – and is – being used by individuals to boost their professional skills.
The OU’s online learning platform, OpenLearn, provides access to more than 950 courses completely free of charge. The site already attracts more than 8 million visitors per year but traffic has increased threefold since lockdown began, with over 1.3 million new course enrolments since 23rd March.
Given fears that learning and development budgets may face cuts in the future, free online learning could be a cost-effective solution for both employers and employees. OpenLearn provides badges in recognition of completed courses, helping learners showcase their skills.
The panel also discussed the question of who should be responsible for upskilling and training people who had lost their jobs due to coronavirus crisis.
Simon talked about the OU’s work with the Department of Work and Pensions.
We are currently working with government departments like DWP and job centres. We are really finding that individual job centres are very proactive in driving skills awareness and the availability of [free online] resources to clients.Simon Tindall, Head of New Business, The Open University
The panel agreed that providing support to the most marginalised and socially excluded groups was essential to ensure any new skills agenda did not exacerbate existing social inequalities.
Simon advocated the development of a standardised national framework for skills training, but with coordinated support provided by local networks.
“The OU can provide a fundamental framework of courses but what is also critical is that you have local support. For somebody who has lost their job, their confidence is low. So even before you get them onto a reskilling agenda, they need that support.”