- Even before COVID-19, many workers around the globe lacked key skills - including digital capabilities.
- Upskilling in preparation for the changes to come post-COVID-19 should be a critical part of response and recovery.
- There are four steps workers and businesses can take today to prepare for tomorrow: Accelerate the move to platform, transition to digital/virtual work, assess your skillset and expand it as needed, and plan for the future.
The pandemic has accelerated the need to ensure that people around the globe have the necessary technology skills and access to do their jobs. Even as China shows signs of recovery and the number of new daily infections worldwide appears to have stabilized, the US has seen an unprecedented number of people file for unemployment, and 57% of Americans surveyed recently report feeling worried about losing their jobs.
The current picture is bleak — and many parts of the world still haven’t felt the pandemic's full impact. However, recovery will come, so what should individuals be doing to make sure they can come back to the workforce stronger?
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Shoring up skills
Many of the skills people need to be employable during and after COVID-19 are digital, which will enable, but not guarantee, resilience, creativity and the ability to collaborate with others. In areas where the pandemic is still an active threat, people need to be able to get work done while operating at a distance from co-workers. Managers and team leaders need the skills required to motivate and manage distributed teams. Job seekers may find themselves having to compete in a digital, fast-changing digital work with which they are unfamiliar.
Regional disparities will likely grow, with regions already left behind in the digital era experiencing increased hardship. Two such examples are rural areas, where less robust healthcare systems will exacerbate the pandemic’s impact, and some urban areas, especially in the developing world, where large populations were facing dire employment situations even before COVID-19.
If surviving and thriving in the wake of COVID-19 are our goals as a society, where should we start - and how should we chart our future course?
1. Accelerate the move to platform
One of COVID-19’s most immediate economic effects is to accelerate efforts that businesses, governments and individuals were already making to not only digitalize, but also transition to a platform model.
A platform business takes an approach similar to that of technology giants. The platforms these companies have created comprise ecosystems of technologies, services and products that bring consumers and producers together, and which can scale quickly and encourage third-party collaboration, thus extending their reach.
Our collective ability to operate successfully in a platform-based world will become much more important now because linear models - the most basic example of which is the factory assembly line - are not agile or resilient enough to withstand major disruptions like COVID-19. Such disruptions will become much more common in the decade ahead, so the importance of preparing our businesses, governments and institutions for this cannot be overstated.
Not all sectors are wholly suited to the platform model, but many industries and companies that haven’t started to evolve in that direction will be forced to do so much faster. As an individual, if you own a business you should explore opportunities of adopting a platform-business model or partnering with a platform and should prepare to compete with them. And all of us - whether owners or employees - need to study platforms to understand how they affect our lives, our work, and our future.
2. Transition to digital/virtual work
The requirement that we engage fully in the virtual realm right now is pushing people in many areas of business to learn not only digital skills, but also to improve auxiliary skills such as collaboration, creative problem-solving and openness to new ideas. Managers and team leaders, for example, are having to learn how to motivate and engage teams from afar.
At work, everything that can be done online will be, while activities we can’t do remotely will have to be reconfigured somehow.
Here we get a glimpse of how well-suited existing platform companies are to surviving COVID-19 - and thriving afterwards. In an ecosystem, the players rely on each other collectively, while the virtual aspect adds critical flexibility overall, so weakness in some areas won’t necessarily sink the entire enterprise.
3. Assess your skillset and expand it as needed
For those who gain time in the day because they now work remotely and no longer have to factor in a commute, there’s an opportunity to use the time to gain new skills. If you have been displaced or lost your job as a result of COVID-19, this offers a way to round out your skills and increase your employability.
Of course, many people now have to spend time caring for children who are not in school or other family members. Nonetheless, as people get used to changes in the rhythm of daily life in a world where work and personal lives are happening in a shared space, they can and should build time to assess their skills - digital and otherwise - into their new routines.
You won’t know what skills you need to bolster until you assess your current knowledge, so it makes sense to start with a diagnostic. PwC’s free Digital Fitness app, for example, allows anyone to assess their skills as well as boost knowledge in topics that help shape your behaviors and mindset.
At the same time, you’ve probably learned new skills to continue doing your job without leaving home. In the weeks of quarantine, you’ve likely had to bring different skills to your work: managing time to get work done and tend to others who are quarantined with you. Whatever reserves of resilience you have will likely have been tested - and you can draw on that as you move forward.
4. Plan for the future
Planning for the future in uncertain times is tricky at best, but we can extrapolate how things might shake out by doing some personal scenario planning, similar to the way businesses set strategy. The key is to begin thinking about where demand for work will exist and how best to prepare for those spaces, while realising that there are real uncertainties in the answers to those questions. The type of work that is robust across a lot of different futures is not a bad way to start.
And, in such times as these, it’s always good advice to bet on known trends, rather than try to anticipate what might be. For example, some parts of the world with demographically older population profiles - such as Europe, North America and Asia - may respond differently to these trends than populations in other parts of the world where there is a need for education and as they are about to enter the workforce. Finding ways to connect to these trends, and the implications for where there is likely to be work, makes sense.