The future of employment and digital skills for young people post-Covid
As we end the tenth week of formal lockdown, the UK economy is showing early signs of beginning to stir, as is, very tentatively, the jobs market. So this may be a good time to reach for the crystal ball and see what the future of employment may look like for those still in education.
To start on the sobering headlines for the near future, vacancies and recruitment fell sharply at the start of lockdown and remain far below pre-pandemic times: the Institute for Employment Studies reported on 24 May that, according to the giant job search engine Adzuna, vacancies for that week were down 67% on the same week last year. Meanwhile, the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance observes that one in four UK workers are currently furloughed, with many expected to lose their jobs once the scheme ends, which means not only an increase in unemployment but a reduction in the total number of UK jobs. The House of Commons Library noted on 29 May that forecasts for the rise in unemployment rates ranged from 5.4% to over 20% of the working population, depending on the length of lockdown, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicting 10% and the Bank of England 9% by the end of the year. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that most UK economic forecasts don’t see the labour market recovering for several years and some see unemployment continuing to rise into 2021 with, according to the LSE, longer-term economic and social damage likely to be worst for young people and especially the under-25s – the ‘Covid generation’.
In contrast, there are some glimmers of optimism, as non-essential retailers start to reopen from 15 June, potentially benefiting from pent-up consumer demand. According to PWC’s latest economic update, around 55% of temporarily closed businesses expect to start trading again in the not-too-distant future and the sharp decline in demand for workers appears to have levelled off. Meanwhile, the 24 May report from the Institute for Employment Studies also said that, according Adzuna, vacancies were up by 5% that week, with new vacancies increasing for a fifth consecutive week.
With the focus on breathing life back into businesses, the possibility of further pandemic waves and Brexit still on track for the end of the year, nobody seems ready yet to make firm predictions for the future of employment, nor which sectors are most likely to thrive. But, at this point, it is worth some speculation.
There is no doubt, it’s safe to say, that digital and data skills will continue to be in demand. Remote working and remote study may not remain at the present levels but they are here to stay, spawning a potential expansion in companies, and therefore jobs, developing new types of platforms, apps and ways of connecting and working – and meeting socially. Of course, the digital sector itself is ideal for remote working, with distributed workforces already more common, pre-pandemic, than in most sectors.
Digital home entertainment may also flourish. Unless or until a reliable vaccine is developed and rolled out successfully worldwide, there is likely to be wariness for some time about mass events, particularly indoors, creating demand for forms of arts and entertainment that do not involve cinemas, theatres or concert halls – including forms that may not yet have gained widespread appeal or are still glimmers in the eyes of developers and entrepreneurs.
Beyond those areas, it is worth looking for job prospects in sectors that may not themselves be digital but that use or even depend on digital and data services. According to the reports mentioned above, employment in healthcare, social care and education have been the least affected during the last few months and recently have been showing a slight week-on-week increase in vacancies. The use of data, AI and the tools that make them work was growing noticeably in healthcare and education, pre-pandemic, and there is every reason to think that this will at least continue, if not accelerate in response to the ‘new normal’.
So, our advice for educators of young people in these difficult times is don’t panic, look beyond the obvious sectors that need digital skills and talents and be prepared to be very flexible.