It is time to solve the skills challenge and build back better

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Dame Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner UK&I, McKinsey & Company, on the challenges business face as it reimagines the way we work during the COVID-19 pandemic

As business needs and job requirements change, the supply of people with the right skills often lag behind. With a rapid increase in jobs at risk, COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that we already faced on skills now that entire businesses and sectors are forced to reimagine the way they work.  

We know that COVID-19 will impact the most vulnerable populations, widening the disadvantage gap. Research from McKinsey & Company estimates that one in four UK jobs are at-risk and half of those jobs pay less than £10 an hour.  

This pandemic will change the way we work forever

Dame Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner, UK&I McKinsey & Company

Moving to the next normal
While there are many predictions on what the economy, labour market, and working environment will look like in the future, there is consensus that we will not return to “normal”. Instead, we are moving to the “next normal”. Within this unique moment to make change and learn, comes an imperative to build a better normal for business and society.  

Skills can be a great leveller and the skills we need more than ever – from listening and speaking to teamwork and leadership – are enabling skills that can be developed through our lives. They’re the skills that help us live full and fulfilling lives, and grow in a professional capacity, supporting the development of ever-changing technical or job-specific skills. In an increasingly automated world, these skills are valuable precisely because they can’t be replaced through automation. What they can provide is social and career mobility at a time when we need to have more diversity of thinking to drive the innovation that will get us to this next normal.  

Building skills for now and the future
The launch of the Skills Builder Universal Framework – a common language on skills that is already being used in schools and that top employers are getting behind – couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Now we have a robust way to assess and develop skills that were previously considered innate or indefinable. 

As business leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure our current and future colleagues are equipped with these skills as they move from school to work, from entry-level to management roles, and from one workplace to another. 

We must pay particular attention to young people, women and others in low-paid, vulnerable industries to develop the skills needed to be resilient as they face disruptions in their education and employment. 

This pandemic will change the way we work forever. Transitions that could have taken decades have happened in a matter of days. For example, we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in eight weeks. We now have an opportunity to invest in the skills building, and training of the most vulnerable populations, to help accelerate both their recovery and the recovery of our economy.   

With a recognition of the eight essential skills and a plan to develop them, we’ll be equipped to reimagine an economy that supports communities and builds back better, leaving no-one behind.