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University offerings to support ‘Career Changers’ will be critical to the post pandemic recovery

The pandemic is dramatically increasing the number of workers that will need to transition careers, disproportionately impacting women and underrepresented groups

Of many important trends highlighted by a recent McKinsey Global Institute report on the future of work after COVID-19, the most striking was that up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated will need to switch occupations.

Importantly, this fallout from the pandemic is not being felt equally. In both the US and Europe, workers without a bachelor’s degree, members of ethnic minority groups, and women are more likely to need to change occupations after COVID-19 than before. For example, in France, Germany, and Spain, women are 3.9 times more likely than men to have to change roles due to trends influenced by COVID-19.

It is a similar story in the UK, with sectors that have prospered through the pandemic, such as tech, having an underrepresented number of women and members of ethnic minority groups. Those in lower paying jobs and younger works are also significantly more likely to have lost their jobs or be on furlough.

Reskilling these workers for high-demand, high-growth career paths will be essential to their future and the broader economic recovery

Prior to the pandemic most job losses were being felt in middle income jobs, reflecting the impact of automation on manufacturing and some white-collar roles. Low and high-income jobs were continuing to grow. Where low wage workers did lose jobs due to automation, e.g. data entry analysts, they were able to source new low wage roles in areas such as retail and hospitality.

The pandemic has significantly shifted these trends. Where low wage roles are declining, they are not being replaced by growth in other low wage sectors. Instead growth is concentrated in higher wage occupations, such as digital technologies, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

These sectors were already suffering dramatic skills shortages, which have now been exacerbated by the pandemic. Research by the Learning & Work Institute published last week based on interviews with over 1,000 businesses warned that the UK is facing a “catastrophic” digital skills shortage “disaster”.

To avert this disaster and ensure that groups adversely impacted by the pandemic can find new opportunities, it will be essential that they can access educational pathways that support the development of new, in-demand skills, supported by access to employers to accelerate their careers in these growth sectors.

This represents an important and significant opportunity for universities to deliver on their mission of access, participation and success

One of the key roles of the university is to provide access to higher education for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, and through the university experience access to opportunities in highly fulfilling and rewarding professional careers.

The focus of this mandate has traditionally centred on school leavers, where the sector has made significant strides in recent decades. Yet the challenges brought about by the pandemic has highlighted the critical need for this mandate to be applied more broadly, underlining the important role for the higher education sector to support underrepresented groups throughout their lives and their career.

The unique challenges brought about by the pandemic represent both a challenge and an opportunity for universities to deliver a new category of career accelerators that combine new technical capability development, with the soft and enterprise skills needed to succeed in the digital economy and connections to employers desperately seeking digital talent. By supporting demographics most significantly impacted by the pandemic through this journey, universities can fulfil their mission and support the economic recovery.

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