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Businesses set back 18 months by COVID

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UK organisations anticipate that it will take 18 months to fully recover from the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures, with small businesses leading the way back to “normal”. 

A survey of business leaders and managers by The Open University has found that SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) expect to recover to their pre-COVID status in 15 months, with larger organisations trailing behind by a further 6 months. 

While 71 per cent of organisations across all sectors have been severely affected by the pandemic, it is those businesses that have invested in training during lockdown that expect to recover more quickly. 

In an attempt to get to grips with socially-distanced, digitally-delivered business models two thirds (67%) of organisations report that learning opportunities have been crucial to enabling their workforce to remain agile throughout the pandemic. 

One in five (22%) have embraced technology to meet new business challenges and are now looking for the skills to harness them effectively.

As a result, 40 per cent of leaders expect to rely on their employees’ digital capabilities more heavily than before as they adjust to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. 

Yet one in three (33%) organisations plan to let go of furloughed workers or make other redundancies as pressures to recover mount.

One in five (22%) report that redundant workers will be replaced with new talent offering more valuable skills, talent that could be developed from within.  

One in six (17%) plan to re-model their organisation, driving the value of “soft” skills that could be developed through work-based learning such as communication, problem solving and critical thinking skywards.

The Open University in Scotland is supporting employers to invest in the re-training of workers whose roles have become redundant to fill future skills gaps and re-channel employees.

A new range of fully funded Upskilling Modules have been launched to address specific Scottish skills gaps in IT, business, maths and engineering. 

Other activity to support those impacted by the pandemic includes working with the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland to develop access to free online courses for furloughed workers on myworldofwork.co.uk, supporting employers and unions on the reskilling of workforces, and offering free places on relevant workplace courses like coding or micro credentials.  

Susan Stewart, Director of The Open University in Scotland, added: 

“The business landscape has changed almost beyond recognition in the last three months. While some Scottish business leaders will be tempted to replace employees who don’t appear to have the skills required for a post-COVID world, this new data shows that those who have invested in the development of their staff during lockdown are in fact more confident about their recovery.  

“More so than ever before, the nation’s workforce needs to be agile, and this should be reflected in the training it receives. The time to invest in skills is now.

"With the UK approaching deep recession and the economic uncertainty that this will bring, continuous learning is key to adapting and embracing the challenges that lie ahead.”

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