The successful vaccine rollout means our economy is reopening and starting to recover after successive lockdowns led to some of the sharpest drops in economic output on record.
Vacancies are back to pre-pandemic levels and it looks like unemployment may be close to its peak – who’d have thought at the start of the crisis that the economy would shrink by almost 10%, yet unemployment would only have risen to around 5% (though of course every extra person out of work represents a reason to act)?
The main reason is the Government’s economic support, in particular the furlough scheme, which has protected millions of jobs. Though Learning and Work Institute’s analysis shows some groups and areas of the country have been harder hit by the economic impacts of the pandemic than others.
To start that discussion, here’s five areas I think we’ll need to focus on.
- Finding work quickly. Long-term unemployment is on the rise and is particularly damaging to people’s future prospects: the longer you are out of work, the less likely you are to find a job. With youth long-term unemployment already up around 50% in a year, will the Government’s Restart programme be enough?
- Growing opportunity across the country. The crisis has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities, with some groups (like young people and lone parents) and areas (like places where unemployment was already high before the crisis) being hit hardest. This makes the Government’s aim of ‘levelling up’ even more important, but also more challenging. How can we increase opportunities where currently they are lowest?
- Supporting young people. Young people have seen the largest falls in employment during the pandemic, too few gained level 3 qualifications before the crisis, and some groups (such as 16-17 year olds) too often miss out on help altogether. We’ve argued for a Youth Guarantee so all young people are offered a job, training place or apprenticeship and an ambition for three quarters of 25 year olds to have at least a level 3. How can we deliver opportunity for all young people?
- Facilitating retraining. The combination of longer working lives and increasing economic change was expected to increase the need to retrain and upskill before the crisis. The pandemic is likely to have accelerated structural shifts (such as online shopping and remote working), making this a more pressing and urgent issue, particularly as furlough ends in September and not everyone will be able to return to their previous jobs. Yet policy has yet to catch up with this new reality. How do we best support retraining and upskilling.
- Growing good work. The decade since the financial crisis was one of slow growth and too many were in low paid work with limited opportunities for development. There are lots of uncertainties, including the extent to which changes during the pandemic (such as remote working) will persist and affect the jobs market in different parts of the country (such as city centres). There are huge opportunities ahead to harness our world-leading expertise in the creative, green and service sectors among others. How do we accelerate growth and good work, and ensure all parts of the country benefit?
These are big questions, and ones we need to address.
Our Employment and Skills Convention will look at what comes next and we will be asking Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Kate Green, Shadow Secretary of State for Education about how we build back stronger. Most importantly, how we ensure a sustained recovery and prosperity for all.
Join us on Thursday 1 July 2021 and sign up for your free place now.
As featured originally in FE News.