Chancellor Rishi Sunak has made it clear that any work lost by Covid-19 would not be possible for the Treasury to save.
This month, critical assistance in the form of the Coronavirus Employment Retention Scheme expires. Substitutions are welcome, but are largely dependent on employers providing at least some jobs for their workers. In the aftermath of the sanctions, those companies that are not permitted to work or for which trade has collapsed face a winter of desperation.
Our best choice, if we can’t save every job, is to give people the skills to find and build new and sustainable jobs.
Businesses and workplaces faced drastic change in the form of automation and digitization well before the pandemic shook the economy, with a strong need to provide expertise and training to customize the workers and the companies that employ them.
The widely praised study by Mark Logan on the Scottish tech ecosystem highlighted the lack of sufficient informatics and management training and support as the key factor undermining the potential of Scotland to deliver a steady stream of world-class tech companies. For any planned economic recovery, these will be crucial.
It has never been more urgent to ensure the country’s workforce is ready for a digital future and must be at the core of every economic recovery plan.
This attention must also extend to the entire workforce, including current workers and young people who are beginning their careers.
There has been much discussion of the need to help 16- to 24-year-olds, for whom many of the ties to the workforce have been broken by the crisis.
The £ 100 million work and training support package by the Scottish Government is targeted at those who are unemployed or face redundancy, as well as a “jobs guarantee” for young people. Combined with the efforts of the local chamber network running the well-established Developing the Young Workforce Collaborations, the Youth Guarantee, created by the capable Sandy Begbie, promises to give everyone in this age group the opportunity to work, learn or be educated.
A further announcement was made of an extra £ 100 million for so-called “green jobs” and the Scottish Government’s pledge that its National Transitional Fund would enable individuals to take up opportunities for training in digital skills. Employers need more information on this support and guarantees that it would help all aspects of the workforce.
In England, new plans to target upskilling for individuals of all ages were part of a series of measures: Westminster launched a “Lifetime Skills Guarantee,” providing the ability to take fully paid college courses to adults without A-levels or equivalent qualifications. Support to allow flexibility in the form of part-time workplace learning and shorter-term programs is also given for the college sector.
Companies, however, do need to be convincing and want guarantees that these investments are similarly targeted at helping to retrain and upskill our current workers so that both companies can adapt to these new horizons at the same time.
We know it is important to take action quickly. In every area of our lives, the need to understand and use technology is here now. For example, the unstoppable growth of online sales has been fuelled by lockdown shopping, like a turbo. Businesses of all sizes and sectors that target customers need to know how to easily sell online, how to load and process orders, from logistics to payment processing.
One of the greatest problems facing governments, business and society is restoring the economy after the pandemic. We must have opportunities for learning and gaining skills, whether in the digital sector or for “green jobs.” The future of jobs is at stake in Scotland.
The chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce is Liz Cameron.