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COVID-19 impact on skills in enterprises: global survey findings

The findings of a global survey on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on skilling, upskilling and reskilling in enterprises were presented at a webinar organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on 28 June. Cedefop was one of 10 international organisations who jointly conducted the survey.

Main findings

The survey received responses from 114 countries. Findings showed that 78% of enterprises had completely or partially suspended operations in June 2020 and nearly half had stopped paying stipends or wages to apprentices.

Training was interrupted for 90% of employees, 86% of apprentices and 83% of interns/trainees.

Some 65% of enterprises surveyed took active measures to continue training and there was a 60% shift to online learning.

Trade unions acted to influence public policy and set up emergency funds while offering labour market matching services and legal advice.

Government measures included greater flexibility of funding rules, training periods and scheduling of off- and on-the job training, free online learning platforms, financial support and subsidies to companies and apprentices, including digital equipment.

The biggest challenge was to offer practical or on-the-job online training effectively and efficiently to a large number of trainees.

After the pandemic, three in four enterprises plan to make adjustments to training such as:

  • increasing investment in distance platforms, tools and virtual reality;
  • introducing or intensifying blended training methodologies;
  • building the capacity of their staff to design and deliver online training.

A concerning finding is that the offer of new apprenticeships and internships is likely to be lower even after the lifting of lockdown measures, resulting in an increase in youth unemployment rates.

Policy responses

The policy responses for skilling, upskilling and reskilling suggested in the survey include:

  • use of multimodal channels comprising high-, low- and no-tech solutions;
  • increase of incentives to employers and wage subsidies;
  • mandatory recruitment of new apprentices into government-funded projects and community programmes;
  • use of simulation and digital technology;
  • covering the theoretical part online and starting practical training when lockdown is lifted;
  • grants for apprentices to buy computers (South Africa and France);
  • subsidised internet access.

Along with Cedefop, the other partners in this survey were: the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the European Training Foundation (ETF), the Global Apprenticeship Network, the ILO, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank Group.

Shift in skill development

At the webinar, Cedefop Executive Director Jürgen Siebel took part in a panel discussion on driving work-based solutions for skills and employment creation.

He noted that ‘helping EU Member States, their enterprises and citizens drive and survive the digital and green transitions, and to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, requires up- and reskilling at an unprecedented scale and a shift in the approach to skill development of the adult population. The global survey and the related report emphasise the need for a systemic perspective when it comes to skills development.’

Mr Siebel was asked about the results of the Cedefop/Eurofound European Company Survey (ECS), which provide interesting insights into company investment in skill development pre-COVID. He said that ‘the survey shows that HR practices which tend to reinforce people skills, design jobs that challenge workers and give them more autonomy are positively correlated not only with higher well-being for workers but also with company performance.’

However, less than 20% of companies today take advantage of boosting business performance through higher investment in skills development.

The follow-up to the ECS, the survey on the impact of COVID-19 on workplace practices among employers in EU Member States, shows that preparedness for unforeseen developments goes together with an active stance towards skills development and use. Companies with such a stance are twice as likely to have a contingency or business continuity plan (BCP) in place than those who do not invest in skills development. Less than one in three companies surveyed had such plans in place before the pandemic hit.

The Cedefop Executive Director spoke of the need to support employers in shaping learning-conducive workplaces with a systematic approach to continuing vocational education and training (CVET): ‘This requires the right incentive to facilitate a shift in enterprises’ mindsets from short-term, individualistic to a more strategic and long-term vision. Companies will need special support and tailored approaches that fit their circumstances, with the involvement of social partners and public institutions.’