Covid-19 is expected to significantly change the skills required for as many as 5 million job roles across the UK, 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.
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.
Additionally, in April, The Open University in Wales partnered with the UK Department for Education to help provide content for the Welsh government’s Furlough Support scheme. The initiative aims to boost furloughed employees’ skills during lockdown so that they are fully prepared for the return to work.
Across the board, it seems workers are investing in evergreen 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.
Professor Tim Blackman, Vice Chancellor of The Open University, added:
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.