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Businesses set back 18 months by COVID

UK organisations anticipate that it will take 18 months to fully recover from the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures, with small businesses leading the way back to “normal”.

A survey of business leaders and managers by The Open University has found that SMEs expect to recover to their pre-COVID status in 15 months, with larger organisations trailing behind by a further 6 months.

While 71 per cent of organisations across all sectors have been severely affected by the pandemic, it is those businesses that have invested in training during lockdown that expect to recover more quickly. In Wales, The Open University has partnered with the Welsh Government to provide free courses to the furloughed workforce signposted through it’s Working Wales site. They’ve also given training to Careers Wales to make their staff aware of free courses on the OpenLearn website.

In an attempt to get to grips with socially-distanced, digitally-delivered business models two thirds (67%) of organisations report that learning opportunities have been crucial to enabling their workforce to remain agile throughout the pandemic.

One in five (22%) have embraced technology to meet new business challenges and are now looking for the skills to harness them effectively. As a result, 40 per cent of leaders expect to rely on their employees’ digital capabilities more heavily than before as they adjust to the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Yet one in three (33%) organisations plan to let go of furloughed workers or make other redundancies as pressures to recover mount, but this in turn is creating further skills gaps, as one in five (22%) report that redundant workers will be replaced with new talent offering more valuable skills, talent that could be developed from within.

One in six (17%) plan to re-model their organisation, driving the value of “soft” skills that could be developed through work-based learning such as communication, problem solving and critical thinking skywards.

The Open University is urging employers to think ahead and invest in the re-training of workers whose roles have become redundant to fill future skills gaps and re-channel employees.

Louise Casella, Director of the Open University in Wales added: “Our lives have changed fundamentally over the past three months, and the business community in Wales and across the UK has felt this especially. Many companies are needing to take tough decisions about the future, but it’s also encouraging to see that so many have committed to reskilling and upskilling their staff.

“It’s highly likely that the UK is approaching a recession as a result of the coronavirus, and businesses know that they need to invest in  in training and support their staff to reskill in these difficult times. For over 50 years, the OU has been at the forefront of lifelong learning, providing access to agile and flexible ways of learning. The need for that approach has never been more important and that’s why we’re so eager to work with businesses in Wales to help them tackle the uncertain time ahead.”