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Why young people need to develop skills for the 'new normal'

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the employment prospects for young people. In fact, research shows that it’s young people who have been most hard hit by the pandemic and whose work opportunities are likely to be most affected going forward as the economic fallout continues.

Movement to Work, a coalition of employers focused on empowering young people and tackling youth unemployment, recently brought together a group of experts for a webinar to talk about the impact Covid-19 has already had on young people and what lies ahead. Simon Tindall, Head of Skills and Innovation at The Open University, was one of the experts, giving a talk called Skills for the New Normal.

How has the ‘new normal’, this Covid-19 world changed skills requirements? It hasn’t actually changed skills requirements as yet says, Simon, but it has sped up changes that were already underway. “The onset of Covid-19 and the current situation hasn’t actually started any new trends with skills and employment requirements, but rather has accelerated some of the underlying trends that were already there,” he says.

One of those trends is that employers have become increasingly cognisant that they are operating in an environment of constant change and that they need to keep developing skills if they are to survive. As a result, they are increasingly interested in hiring generalists, rather than specialists, because skills requirements are changing so quickly now that job roles are changing all the time. Jobs that exist now may not exist in five-10 years time, or not in the same way.

That means employers are looking for flexibility and adaptability. They want people who are prepared to keep learning, upskilling and reskilling, rather than people thinking they can learn once and that will see them through their working lives.

You had people who traditionally went through their education, stopped at A-level or at degree level, and worked for a number of years. That model is increasingly not valid. People tend to do multiple different careers and types of jobs. They need to build and continue to build skills.

Simon Tindall
Head of Skills and Innovation at The Open University

This has prompted a shift towards continuous learning. It also led to more modular learning, with people learning in smaller chunks, as the need arises. Learning is now an ongoing process, rather than a one-off event.

Formal qualifications are still really important, but there has been a growing realisation that informal learning and informal skills development is just as important. In particular, the development of soft skills, that really help people to progress in this new, ever changing business landscape.

In the webinar, Simon talked about OpenLearn, The Open University’s education portal that provides over 10,000 hours of free courses and content, helping individuals and organisations to boost skills development. OpenLearn covers a wide range of content and at all levels, from basic level 1 up to undergraduate and masters level.

The Open University has recently been working with the Department of Works and Pensions to promote these courses through Jobcentre Plus offices to jobseekers. Simon explained: “We have built a selection of short online course, allowing job seekers to upskill and gain recognition of their existing skillsets to help them find future employment.”

The courses focus on developing skills for work and covering areas like communication and leadership. There is also a selection of courses to help learners improve their basic skills in English and maths. These course are free of charge to all, and feature a digital badge and certificate for successful completion.

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