Upskilling post-covid: Creating pathways to employment

Dr Parves Khan discusses the importance of post-pandemic learning pathways.

Across the globe, the impact of the massive dislocation and disruption of the labour market caused by the pandemic is falling disproportionately on low-skilled and young workers – it’s a double whammy if you’re low skilled and young.

In the UK, a study carried out by the Prince’s Trust and National Learning and Work Institute found that since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, those aged 25 and under have accounted for three in five jobs lost [1]. Those hardest hit have been low skilled and with fewer qualifications.

Demand for employees with lower-level qualifications is projected to fall in the short, medium and long-term, raising concerns that the employment prospects of young people who lack higher level qualifications will be further negatively affected.

This sombre outlook is reinforced in a report by the Institute for Employment Studies which highlighted the more significant labour market ‘scars’ of long-term unemployment which affect future job stability, income levels and wellbeing [2].

To avoid a looming youth jobs crisis, it’s critical that upskilling opportunities are available to young people to help them find jobs aligned with the future-skill trends of our post Covid-19 world. But we know they are also one of the hardest groups to engage with formal educational settings.

Here are some of the questions that might shape our thinking as learning and training providers approach the challenges ahead.

  1. How do we recognise learning wherever it happens? During this pandemic, many young people have engaged in volunteering activities and social organising through community centres, clubs and civic engagement, learning and sharing new and vital skills like collaboration, communication and creativity skills that businesses need.  But most of that learning is invisible. A recent UK study revealed that two-thirds of recruiters are drawn to candidates who have volunteering experience. How can we help recognise and showcase that learning? And not just for employers, but for the individuals who often don’t recognise just how valuable their own skills are. Can we develop digital credentials to define and recognise the skills people learn outside formal educational and working environments?
  2. What more can we do to make learning connected, not just digital? The lockdown has seen an explosion in digital learning. But people soon came to appreciate that access to learning content and progression in learning are very different. A series of parent surveys I led during the lockdown last year at Pearson found that as time passed by, parents became increasingly concerned over how well their children were engaging with the online learning provided by their schools, citing frustration that their children were ‘switching off’ from simply staring at a screen with little teacher interaction. In the adult learning space, the high dropout rate for online courses is widely acknowledged. The results flag up the huge importance of human feedback and encouragement in motivating learners when the learning gets tough and especially when set against a context of social distancing and social isolation. What more could we be doing to enable educators to provide strong online presence and offer continuous connections with their students, using multiple forms of online communication?
  3. How do we make sure learning stays relevant? The world moves fast. We need the capability to rapidly respond to changing needs in the economy and society. Given technologically driven changes, the shelf life of many technical skills is shortening rapidly. Even before COVID-19, it was estimated that within a few years, 40% of skills required for a given role would be obsolete [3]. If new skills or knowledge are required within a local economy, we need to find faster ways to work with employers to rapidly build out credentials that capture those skills. Do our current qualification frameworks allow for this responsiveness, speed and agility?
  4. What more can we do to build the idea of learning as a pathway rather than just doing a course? Adult participation in learning, particularly among those in the lower socio-economic grades, is low. In the UK, for example, the 2019 Adult Participation in Learning Survey recorded the lowest participation rate in the 23-year history of the survey. The lack of perceived benefits of the learning is a key barrier to adoption. To help young people move from lower skilled jobs to more in-demand jobs, learning needs to support their career goals and provide learners with the skills they need to succeed. Once the destination is identified, learners need to be offered a way to get there. Providing learners with a pathway that showcases the skills they’ve gained and create routes to employment, is something that many traditional courses lack.

Now more than ever, we need connected and agile learning systems which recognises learning wherever it happens and builds pathways to employment.


About the author

Dr Parves Khan was previously Global Director of Research at Pearson. She joined INTO University Partnership in April this year as Global Vice President of Market Research & Insight.



[1] Facing the future. Employment prospects for young people after Coronavirus, March 2021. National Learning and Work Institute and Prince’s Trust.

[2] An Unequal Crisis: The impact of the pandemic on the youth labour market, February 2021. Institute for Employment Studies

[3] Future of Jobs, World Economic Forum, 2019


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