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Uncertainty driving surge in employees seeking out distance learning opportunities

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Covid-19 is expected to significantly change the skills required for as many as 5 million job roles across the UK1, driving a surge in employees seeking out distance learning opportunities, according to The Open University.

With coronavirus uncertainty affecting half (49%) of current job roles across the UK, a quarter (24%) of employees have taken on additional learning opportunities to boost their employability and protect the value of their skills.

The results suggest that younger employees are particularly fearful that their skills could become obsolete. Over a third (39%) of 18-34 year-olds agreed that they would put their own money towards development opportunities if it made them more employable.2

However, for all the hunger for professional development, a quarter of employees (23%) admitted that they would like to have more direction from their employers when it comes to learning new skills, with younger team members again (38%) the most keen to have steer from their leaders on how to remain employable post-coronavirus.

Data from one of the UK’s largest free learning sites, The Open University’s OpenLearn, backs up the findings. The site has logged over 950,000 course enrolments during lockdown, taking it beyond the 3.25 million mark since its launch. Specialist work-focused courses such as Leadership and Followership have proved particularly popular, in addition to modules designed to boost fundamental professional skills such as workplace communication.3

In April, The Open University partnered with the UK Department for Education to help provide content for the government’s Skills Toolkit. The initiative, currently supporting governments throughout the whole of the UK4, aims to boost furloughed employees’ skills during lockdown so that they are fully prepared for the return to work.

Across the board workers are investing in ever-green capabilities that will help them retain value to their employers in the long-term, as well as skills that will help them manage the current digital landscape. The majority of those who have taken on additional learning opportunities during lockdown have focused on developing managerial skills (51%), whilst just under a quarter (23%) have prioritised digital skills such as learning how to use new software.

While the OU welcomes this rise in independent study, the university is urging employers to make the most of the appetite for new skills development and utilise the advantages of online learning for remote employees, to cultivate the skills they are likely to require in the years to come.

With the UK approaching a recession and the economic uncertainty that this will bring - the time to invest in skills is now. The world of work is changing and it’s clear that employees are recognising this and prioritising the development of their own skill sets to prepare for the ‘new normal’.

With OpenLearn, employees can enrol on free courses that reward them with certificates and digital badges, helping them signpost their development and the value of their skills to their employers. Employees will still need direction from their employer if they are to acquire the new skills needed for post-lockdown business.

Employers must embrace lifelong learning as a necessity for growth and ensure that teams stay engaged, potential skills gaps are tackled proactively and the associated risk of losing valuable talent is minimised.

Tim Blackman, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

The Open University commissioned Opinium Research to interview 2,002 UK adults (18+) between 28 April and 1 May 2020.

1) 14% of respondents agreed that Covid-19 will change the professional skills required for their job roles. AccorNumber of jobs in the UK (Most recent available: Dec 19) – 35.83million 14 x 35.85 million is 5,016,200.00.

2) 39% of employees aged between 18 and 34 said that they would pay for learning and development opportunities if they protected or boosted their employability. This drops to 33% of employees aged between 35 and 54, and 7% of those 55 and over.

3) According to OpenLearn site data, the platform’s Effective communication in the workplace course has seen a ten-fold increase in visitor numbers. Leadership and followership has seen a seven-fold rise in visitor numbers. Full table is available below.

4)  The Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland launched the portal with the guidance of the OU in Scotland to support furloughed workers. The Northern Irish Government launched the portal with the guidance of the OU to support furloughed workers.The Welsh government launched the portal with the guidance of the OU to support furloughed workers.

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