Wednesday 1 July 2020 12:11 pm

Let's not miss this opportunity to upskill our dormant workforce

Jo Causon is chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service

Today, we mark 100 days since lockdown began — and for many of us, that has meant three months of unforeseen “me-time”. 

As our economy begins to reopen and recover, some may be regretting not yet having taken the chance to finally learn to juggle, play the trumpet, or simply get out and jog more regularly. 

All of us, however, should regret the disappointingly low levels of training offered to those put on furlough. What a missed opportunity to keep skilled professionals engaged, and to prepare our nation for the challenges ahead.

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According to our research, nearly four fifths of those furloughed from their regular occupations have to date been offered no training at all. 

I am sure it was not the intention for those furloughed to be forgotten and neglected when the scheme was announced in March. Indeed, in May the government announced that it would explore ways to offer additional training and opportunities to learn new skills for those affected by Covid-19. 

But while lockdown has presented a unique opportunity to give millions of people the time and headspace to train, I fear there has been a mismatch between intent and action.

The cynic might say that hard-pressed businesses are keen to cut costs and unlikely to invest any time or money in those on furlough. I refuse to believe that. In fact, we’ve seen some great examples of individual companies taking the lead on training — such as Electrolux, which created online training to help boost specialist skills.

Sadly though, these remain the exception. And the government’s own offering provides only foundation skills. The majority of free online courses available via the Government’s Skills Toolkit focus on digital and numeracy skills — absolute basics.  

If Britain is going to be in a position to rebound from the economic shock of Covid-19 we must go further.

Our research shows that employees who receive regular training — particularly in personal skills such as confidence, innovation, or dealing with customers — are more productive, more engaged, and able to provide better customer service. With the crisis making front-facing roles more important than ever, these skills will be crucial as we rebuild our economy.

Investing in training and development for the nearly six million furloughed staff across the services sector in particular is also a show of support. It is an opportunity to keep them engaged and ready to step back into the workforce, equipping them with the skills they will need to stem the severe decline in customer satisfaction we have seen in the past few years. 

We must not let the lack of a physical workspace put the training and development of our people on the backburner. As an institute familiar with dealing with disparate remote working teams, we’re used to delivering development through a variety of channels, and have adapted our training and qualifications to meet increased demand from our members for virtual delivery, both now and in the future.

The fight is far from over — but if we are to recover successfully, service training must be a priority at both organisation and government levels. 

We must act now to stem the missed opportunity to upskill our dormant workforce — arming them with the tools required to fuel the service nation and rebuild our economy. 

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Main image credit: Getty

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