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Upskilling and training key to post-pandemic labour strategies

Covid-19 pandemic didn’t impact on all workers equally

The kind of pandemic you’ve been through isn’t only a matter of health. It affects employment too, both current and future job prospects.

Its primary impact on the labour market has been the bifurcation between those whose work was secure and those who have seen their livelihoods disappear.

According to Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, workers with precarious employment conditions have been particularly exposed to job losses.

In particular, the pandemic hit service sectors that involve a high degree of social contact, many of which employ more women than men and where average pay tends to be low, resulting in what it calls a “sharp contraction” for women in lower-paid employment.


Higher-paid service workers have fared better. What the think tank terms the “shelter of telework” has been an important part of this resilience, but again access to this shelter is very much task-dependent. Computer-facing, knowledge-based work can shift into the home, but much in-person service work is still difficult to perform at a distance or virtually, it points out.

The divide “made stark during the crisis, but likely to persist beyond it, is that between ‘remotes’, whose work lends itself to telework, and the remainder, including many ‘essentials’, for whom telework is largely not an option, Eurofound says, pointing out that young people experienced the sharpest decline in employment.

The need to avoid another lost generation of young people must be a priority for policymakers when designing active labour market policies to mitigate the fallout from the crisis, it warns.

That doesn’t just mean helping unemployed people back to work, increasingly it means protecting those in employment too.


The Further Education and Training (FET) sector is working hard to support employees and businesses struggling to adapt to what Mary Lyons, director of enterprise employee and skills at SOLAS, which funds the sector, calls “the new paradigm”.

It is engaging with the FET sector at a local level to offer both blended and online learning opportunities to help.

“Our focus is on developing more agile learning opportunities for people who need to upskill or reskill,” she explains. For example, more than 9,500 employees participated in its Skills to Advance training initiative, aimed at developing the skills of people in employment, last year; a number set to rise this year.

The training programme is being rolled out by the country’s 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs). In particular it targets skills development for employees in lower skilled work who typically need more opportunities to advance in their working lives and careers, if they are to sustain their employment, to avoid displacement and to avail of emerging job opportunities. These are traditionally the workers in who employers are least likely to invest training, she points out.

SMEs in particular stand to benefit from the ETB’s assistance in identifying skill needs and gaps. Research shows a 1 per cent increase in training days leads to a 3 per cent increase in productivity.

Yet individuals and companies are often not aware of the highly subsidised, flexible training opportunities available to address skills needs which enhance employability and business growth, she points out.

SOLAS has also thrown open the doors of its eCollege service to all, whether employed or unemployed. The courses it offers, and the predominant weighting it gives to tech training, from programming to data science and data centres, gives a clear indication where the agency believes the most opportunities now lie.

Demand for skilled personnel is already accelerating appreciably, according to Niamh O’Brien, director of talent management of BDO Eaton Square, a consultancy.

“Business confidence is starting to come back, and people are hiring, particularly in the tech, pharma and accountancy sectors,” she says.

“Employers were holding off during the pandemic, but that dam has now opened. We are seeing demand for skills-based roles growing and innovation is now front and centre for businesses. Companies are all looking for process improvements, for digital skills, ecommerce and data analytics skills, all are areas we are seeing really high demand for.”

The drive for innovation is supported by a number of funding programmes from Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland. "The Government has done really well in ensuring companies come out of this. It's up to companies now to avail of these supports and invest in innovation," she says.

Regardless of sector, one common factor will underpin much of the jobs market post pandemic, she predicts. “Flexible working is going to go way beyond where you work, and into how you work. The nine to five will see a radical shift in a way that will be particularly positive for working parents,” says O’Brien.