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Why the post-pandemic workplace will demand democratized qualifications

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock)

As the world digitally transformed - practically overnight - due to Covid-19, we became reliant on technology to keep us connected and to keep businesses in nearly every industry running. Many organizations were forced to bring their business online in order to stay afloat, using video conferencing tools to keep communications flowing and delivery platforms to provide needs for customers, while others unable to pivot digitally were forced to make the hard decision of shuttering, or letting go of staff.

Businesses will be even more reliant on technology in the future, especially as certain organizations plan to have their employees working from home until the end of the year, or even into 2021.

The UK’s digital skills gap was a constant concern, even before the pandemic, where it is estimated to have cost £63bn in lost GDP annually. Now, as a result of the pandemic, techUK found that 58 percent expressed interest in gaining more digital skills in the next twelve months. Obtaining digital skills is being seen as a key to protecting one’s future employability. With crisis comes opportunity.

The digital skills gap nudge

Education and training opportunities, in particular, have been forced to be interrupted, with some even coming to a complete halt. Over the next year, acquiring digital, technical skills will be more important and necessary than ever before. As we prepare for a post-Covid recovery and aim to get the economy restarted, businesses will need to increase investments in digital skills development so people can take advantage of education and job opportunities available online.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that one in six young people has stopped working as a result of the pandemic, while those able to keep their jobs faced a 23 percent reduction in working hours. Those made unemployed or furloughed have leveraged digital platforms to continue to upskill or reskill to improve their employability when the dust settles. Additionally, workers are able to earn an income on the side through online freelancing opportunities, which are particularly helpful for young workers, whose livelihoods have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. 

To prepare for a post-Covid economic recovery, new skills need to be acquired to boost productivity, employment opportunities and competition. A recovery strategy should be put in place, focusing on people and the necessary skills.

Technology is giving UK productivity a boost

While the investment in technology has been essential amid the pandemic to keep the world turning, there has been an increased dependence on human skills, especially the skills of others to keep us focused and motivated, even during times of physical separation. Once deemed unskilled or undervalued, jobs in healthcare, factories, retail/supermarkets, and delivery drivers, among others, have become essential and re-tagged with ‘key worker’ status. To maintain our “normal” lives, we relied on others to take care of the sick, to produce our clothing and keep our shops open to purchase groceries. Over the last few months, having these soft skills has proven to be beneficial to handle situations that have been thrown at us.

During the height of the pandemic, with companies shifting to a work from home model, IT and technology job vacancies dominated the London hiring market. While a degree is required for many career choices, some organizations are questioning how fit-for-purpose they are considering the lack of real-world training at university, as well as the fact that the cost of a degree can be inaccessible to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Last month, during the 2020 Summer Statement, the £2 billion ‘Kickstart’ scheme was announced to help create new jobs to support young employees, specifically apprentices, who ultimately are at risk of long-term unemployment and a decrease in income. This scheme addressed the lack of opportunities for those aged 16 to 24, enabling them to gain the digital and soft skills needed in the workplace, especially as we recover from the pandemic. Over the course of the next six months, this will prove a significant aid for businesses who employ apprentices, keep them training, and successfully qualify - further supporting their organization’s growth and the future of the UK economy.

Embracing certifications and on-the-job training over degrees

The pandemic has shone a light on what was already a widening skills gap globally, one which needs to be closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery. Young people are demanding it, with 73 percent of those aged 16 to 24 and 75 percent of those aged 25 to 34 expressing interest in upskilling and/or retraining. With this shift in motivation, it is clear that the importance of digital skills is driving a desire in wanting to do something about it.

The IT industry is very competitive, especially in the current climate, with companies needing to keep their customer data secure while staff are working from home. Those interested in having a career in this field need to do something to stand out from the crowd. The cybersecurity sector, in particular, is one of the most in-demand fields for IT professionals, requiring experts to have a lot of practical know-how. It has proven more accepting than other industries to ‘alternative’ qualifications, with 82 percent of security leaders actively preferring to hire candidates with cybersecurity certifications over a degree. Certifications are seen as validation of the professional’s cybersecurity awareness and understanding; increasing the trust that they will perform their responsibility well.

This is especially poignant considering that one of the IT industry’s most important technical qualifications, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), has recently been accepted as a qualification equal to that of a Masters of Arts (MA) degree in both the UK and across Europe. CISSP rewards work experience and on-the-job technical understanding rather than requiring a costly investment, as the exam costs a fraction of the price.

Though a traditional four-year university education is considered desirable when entering the workforce, it's not necessarily the right fit for many jobs right now, especially when opportunities in IT and, specifically, cybersecurity will continue to be in demand and desired by new talent. Being properly certified for the job has never been more important.

Robert Chapman, co-CEO and co-Founder, Firebrand Training (opens in new tab)

Robert Chapman is co-CEO and co-Founder of accelerated digital skills certification provider Firebrand Training. Rob started his career as a Systems Engineer for IBM back in the '80s before climbing through the ranks at numerous hardware and software companies and finally co-founding Firebrand in 2001 during the dot com burst. Going from delivering courses to 11 people when the business first started, today Firebrand is a £25M market leader, with leading customers such as the BBC, BT and Lloyds.