upskilling and reskilling, coursera
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Kevin Mills, Head of Public Sector Partnerships at Coursera, discusses how there is a wake-up call with COVID-19 about upskilling and reskilling needs for global workers

As businesses across sectors lay off workers due to the abrupt economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, the world faces the biggest unemployment crisis in the modern era. 2.7 billion workers globally are already affected, 81% of our workforce. Meanwhile, in the UK the number of people furloughed nears 9 million. McKinsey warns that countries with stimulus packages like the UK’s could face serious social unrest.

On top of this, the acceleration of digital transformation, as we transition to a fully remote workplace, calls for an urgent need to upskill and reskill employees. That’s why at Coursera we recently launched Workforce Recovery, an initiative to help employees whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic, to develop the skills they need to become re-employed. We’re doing this by collaborating with governments across the globe.

In just over a month we’ve launched more than 130 programmes. It’s a fantastic example of the crucial role public institutions can play in driving the economy back to prosperity through learning. Let’s take a look at what’s happening and how governments are helping.

1. In the short term: Upskilling and reskilling is becoming essential

Our next hurdle in the “future of work” will be how to solve the massive unemployment crisis that’s coming our way. Businesses like Virgin Media, have already announced that they are disappearing from the UK high street. Their 341 affected staff will have to move to newly created digital roles. Zara is also closing down 1,200 stores though reassuring employees that headcount will “remain stable” as they’re offered alternative positions. But, how do people with no background in tech train to become digitally-savvy fast enough?

One of the most efficient ways is by upskilling and reskilling through learning. However, a central question then becomes how to evolve learning structures to meet the new needs. In this respect, two parties can act as powerful drivers. Governments – making the offer available to citizens, and the right leadership from businesses – supporting universities with the surge in demand and encouraging employees to learn. Together, these two forces play key roles in helping adjust supply with demand in the new era of work.

2. In the long term: Lifelong learning will become the norm

For this to happen swiftly, we need leadership to pave the way. In essence, we all need to buy into the idea of lifelong learning as a necessity. As we do so, and the concept of “life-long learning” consolidates, we’ll notice changes. Even at Coursera, where we’ve focused on upskilling and reskilling learners globally since launching in 2012, these will be significant.

For example, we expect the average age of a learner – currently 29 for our enterprise learners, to rise. The industries in which lifelong learning is prevalent – engineering, education and data science, to expand to other areas such as healthcare and even retail. If done right, this will help enhance everyone’s understanding of the fast-changing world we’re living in, equip us with more and better opportunities and improve our quality of life.

3. Taking Action: Governments will play a huge role throughout

Let’s use our country as an example. In England, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) predicted last year that around 1.5 million jobs were at high risk of losing at least some of their duties. At present, we have an opportunity to turn this around. Investing in skills development, particularly in areas such as digital, coding, AI, machine learning and data science could play a massive role in our recovery. It’s for this reason that governments should all be taking action and it’s exciting to see so many doing so since the pandemic began.

Considering the urgency around the unemployment crisis, more than 100 countries are now engaged in the discussion to launch Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative for their citizens. It’s one of the many initiatives we’re doing as we embark on the powerful mission of upskilling and reskilling the workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. We’ve launched across 30 countries of the likes of Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greece, Mexico and Ukraine and 25 US states, of the likes of Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, Ohio and Iowa.

It’ll be interesting to see how these institutions continue responding to the challenge, the approaches we take, and the new resources we introduce to assist individuals and employers in moving our workforce in the right direction as the world of work evolves. This will no doubt determine how fast we recover from the global economic crisis that’s at our doorstep.


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