recovering from the pandemic requires agile and effective reskilling

when private and public entities collaborate on re-training, everyone wins

For some time, the labor market has incentivized talent to continuously reskill during rapid technological change. The acceleration of digital businesses has led many to acquire a different set of skills or face redundancy. During this period, digitalization has steadily but predictably transformed the competencies of the global workforce.

But now the crisis brought on by the pandemic, has upended many market norms and expectations. More than ever, workers need to learn new skills to remain relevant and fit into evolving businesses. To reduce mass global unemployment, private and public sectors will have to collaborate closely to help the temporarily displaced from becoming permanently displaced. Reskilling is no longer a tool for career advancement but for survival.

It’s clear many jobs that existed before COVID-19 are not coming back; and we should not have illusions otherwise. And even the work that may eventually return could take years to reach pre-COVID levels. Huge losses in sectors such as hospitality, travel and tourism mean millions face an uncertain future. While governments have been effective with aid legislation, these bailouts are not sustainable nor ideal. How can markets, then, find a place for millions in need of permanent and meaningful work?

What the pandemic has produced is a seismic shift in employment growth. Even as millions of jobs evaporated overnight, demand in some sectors surged. Essential businesses such as healthcare, supermarkets, protective equipment manufacturing, home delivery and others saw unprecedented growth for their goods and services. Technology specialists in video conferencing, work virtualization and other forms of communications also experienced a rise in their business. While this growth didn’t fully make up for the spectacular fall in overall employment, hiring by large retailers, e-commerce businesses, healthcare providers and some manufacturers softened the blow.

So how can governments, employers and labor organizations redeploy idle workers into growth businesses? 

What the global economy needs right now is a coordinated effort to quickly reskill those who have been furloughed or laid off, giving them marketable talent that can be applied in different roles within their company or at other organizations. Many, especially those in service industries, already have marketable skills. Empathy, a team-oriented attitude, and experience with customer service are competencies needed in virtually all industries. To facilitate a career shift, these workers may simply need technical upskilling.

Take the example recently undertaken in Sweden. According to Harvard Business Review, private and public entities came together to launch a training program for recently unemployed airline workers. After designing a three-and-a-half day program, the consortium enrolled a small group to be reskilled with medical knowledge to serve as nursing assistants. The program was expanded to staff nursing homes and schools.

This type of agile and effective reskilling is exactly what we need right now. Other, more extensive programs should also be considered, but a rapid response by industry, academia and government shows the results possible when they are committed to a collaborative effort.

At Randstad, we very much believe in the impact of reskilling on the global workforce. For example, we announced our commitment to reskilling 40,000 in the U.S. and 10,000 more in the Netherlands in the very near future. Randstad Italy had 1500 candidates complete training between April and May of this year thanks to our reskilling project that focused on logistics, manufacturing, and food and beverage sectors. By the end of this year the goal is to train 9000 candidates with the support of Formatemp, a bilateral fund. In the Netherlands, Randstad launched “Randstad Boost” where we showcase our training and development offerings. This campaign includes a new website, and extensive promotion via several media channels. By providing field training and development, free online courses and individual coaching, Randstad hopes to be part of a larger effort to redeploy unemployed talent. 

But we can’t do it alone. Government, NGO and corporate leaders all need to commit time and resources to reskill the unemployed on a broader scale. Waiting for everyone’s jobs to come back is unrealistic. We must act now. As Sweden’s effort has demonstrated, a collective effort can lead to a sustainable pipeline of talent that will last long after the pandemic has passed. Making modest investments today in reskilling will have tremendous repercussions on the future of work, the employability of workers and the welfare of societies around the world. I urge leaders from all corners of the world to consider how they can help contribute to the rapid redeployment of talent to meaningful and lasting jobs.

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.