The job market after Covid-19: OECD Employment Outlook 2021
The OECD’s most recently published report on the job market, the Employment Outlook 2021, points out how a slow rebound in jobs involves a high risk of long-term unemployment - and how governments’ answers have been to build on skills to contain the situation.
The data collected indicates that the youth employment gap, in particular, has increased drastically in 2020, with nearly 3 M more young people across OECD countries being NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) compared to 2019. Adults are not in a better situation: there are 14M more people inactive in the OECD countries today, compared to 2019: this means people who are neither working or seeking work. The average duration of unemployment has also grown in the 6 to 12 months category.
The positive note in this drastic pandemic situation is the response of national governments to the crisis, an increased awareness that this historical moment represents a unique chance to “rebuild more resilient labour markets, addressing long-standing structural issues that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis”.
The current reaction, which is very different from what was observed in previous crises throughout history, has not been to cut on resources: on the contrary, national governments have dedicated unprecedented funding to the recovery, ready for a 5 to 10 period of reconstruction work. The EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility is one notable example: €723.8 billion (in 2020 prices) in loans (€385.8 billion) and grants (€338 billion) available to support reforms and investments undertaken by European Member States.
The OECD’s survey shows that 53 % of countries in 2021 have increased support for jobseekers, and that 52% increased support for matching skill needs and talent. The upskilling and reskilling of the workforce is identified clearly in the OECD survey as the tool to help recover faster those at higher risk of chronic unemployment.
Good practices from European Countries
In terms of good practices, concrete examples of this approach are being implemented by Public Employment Services (PES) in some countries. In Ireland, for instance, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection created a site to connect displaced workers from recent business closures with jobs in health care, retail, life sciences, infrastructure and IT, customer support and other sectors facing short-term staffing requirements. Lithuania’s PES also partnered with the massive open online course (MOOC) provider, Coursera, to provide free courses for unemployed adults during the summer and autumn of 2020. The initiative involved already thousands of unemployed adults who participated in online learning. The PES in Brussels has also developed an active campaign on its website, using its newsletter to advertise training offers (in particular basic digital skills and language training) and encourage adults to use them. Italy’s government also set up a website gathering various short courses that can help managers and employees develop the skills and competencies to telework more effectively.
Several governments also partnered with education institutions to make quick progress in delivering online learning during the pandemic. France, for instance, has launched online VET courses free of charge for a period of three months, including the core curriculum of vocational schools and main training courses for professional qualifications. while in the Netherlands, in-person VET in small groups was organised for students who do not have sufficient digital resources.
Investing in up-skilling and re-skilling of unemployed and displaced workers has been recognised as a fundamental action to support job transition in the recovery, and respond to changes in the demand for skills brought by automation, digitalisation and structural changes. More than ever before, the current crisis has emphasised the importance of cultivating the skills needed to access various digital tools, including for job search and online training.
The current crisis has emphasised the need to boost digital skills
The crisis has highlighted that the continued development of online learning will be fundamental: due to social distancing policies, digitalisation trends have skyrocketed, and countries need to invest in digital training and skills.
This means basic digital skills but also advanced ones: some countries that had existing online training solutions were able to train quickly workers of all levels, and the past months have seen the creation of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) for all sectors worldwide.
Basic computer literacy training can allow low-skilled jobseekers to acquire digital skills that are now required in almost every occupation, as well as necessary for job search itself. Many countries have set up programmes targeting adults with very low ICT literacy skills.
Among the good practices mentioned in the OECD survey, Portugal is mentioned for its comprehensive suite of digital training programmes, to equip its workforce with the skills needed to succeed in the digital age, the Activar.PT programme. It has worked with private sector stakeholders to quickly identify skills gaps and create accredited training programmes for unemployed young adults and vulnerable groups in a range of training paths. It has simultaneously introduced the Digital guarantee to ensure that by 2023 all unemployed people have a digital training offer suitable for their level of qualification and skills profile.
In conclusion, the current crisis situation sees a strong and well-directed direction on behalf of governments in equipping the population with the necessary digital skills, as, the OECD report sustains, "failing to address inequality and exclusion now is likely to result in deeper social divisions and have a negative impact on productivity and the economic recovery.”