Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing workforce skills gap was widely acknowledged as posing a real threat to economic growth globally and to the opportunities for individuals to find suitable employment in the rapidly changing workplace. According to the 2019 pwc 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, 74% of CEOs shared these concerns. The pandemic has served to exacerbate the situation and increase the risk of economic inequality.
The workplace is more fluid than it has ever been. On the one hand, the global pandemic is changing the way we work. On the other, the successful implementation of rapidly advancing technologies demands advanced knowledge and skills that are in scarce supply. Yet those same technologies are taking over many routine tasks previously carried out by people, making their jobs obsolete and threatening their futures.
The urgent need for upskilling is clear and is widely recognised by most, if not all, high tech companies. Those companies are investing heavily in the futures of their employees and society as a whole.
Amazon Upskilling 2025
Amazon is a prime example. The company has pledged $700 million to its Upskilling 2025 program which aims to upskill and train Amazon’s colossal workforce, helping individuals move into more highly skilled roles both within and outside of the organisation.
Upskilling 2025 also includes:
- The Machine Learning University for employees with technology and coding background who wish to gain skills in machine learning.
- The Amazon Technical Academy for non-technical employees who wish to gain software engineering skills
- Associate2Tech for fulfilment centre employees who want to transition to more technical roles
- The Amazon Career Choice programme for fulfilment centre employees seeking to move into more demanding roles. Successful candidates receive a certificate or diploma in their chosen field while Amazon foots 95% of the tuition costs.
- Amazon Apprenticeship which provides training and on-the-job apprenticeships
- AWS Training and Certification, which aims to help professionals from both inside and outside the organisation, develop their knowledge of cloud computing.
Microsoft will upskill 25 million workers
Microsoft has launched an initiative to upskill 25 million workers across the globe in preparation for what it describes as a “post-pandemic future.” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, believes that the impact of COVID-19 has served to make the skills gap “even more acute”, especially for people with disabilities and lacking a formal education. Up to 800 million people, he believes, will need to learn new job skills by 2030.
Microsoft’s approach is to create a digital model of the global economy and identify the tech jobs that are most in demand. The company will develop a service matching people’s skills with the right jobs while offering affordable certification and free job-seeking tools. Additionally, a new Microsoft Teams app will help organisations deliver learning and upskilling to their employees, leveraging content from Microsoft Learn, LinkedIn Learning and other training providers.
IBM Talent and Transformation
A recent IBM study has discovered that most C-suite executives are accelerating digital transformation in response to the pandemic; however, it is people and talent that are crucial to future progress. Currently, the skills gap, along with employee burnout, are inhibiting progress; 120 million people need upskilling over the next three years.
In partnership with various organisations including the Open University, Social Enterprise UK, Jones Day and others, IBM has launched the SkillsBuild Reignite platform. The aim is to provide job seekers and business owners with access to online learning and mentoring resources to help them develop technical and professional skills. Topics include cloud computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, financial management and more. There are around 370 different activities, and the consortium is continually developing more.
Never before, at least not since the industrial revolution, has upskilling been as crucial to individuals and the economy as a whole as it is now. While high tech businesses such as those we have mentioned are blazing trails, there is also a considerable pressure from employees, a third of whom are concerned their skills may become irrelevant in the next few years. There is now a real risk that post-pandemic a large proportion of the population will be out of work, and lacking the necessary skills to find a new job.
The big question is how to reconstruct the post-pandemic workforce. Fortunately, most of the necessary learning resources are available online, and, as we have described above, several large tech companies are ensuring that many of these are available at no or minimal cost. The UK Government’s Skills Toolkit platform provides free access to a range of digital courses providing people with the opportunity to equip themselves with the skills they will need in the future.
These are all moves in the right direction; however, it is essential not to underestimate the challenge we face in closing the skills gap in the post-pandemic economy. The opportunity for adults to upskill and reskill is critical to our future prosperity. Businesses, governments, and individuals all have a vital role to play.