Upskilling and reskilling: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employers and their training choices

Skilled workforce Digital disruption Vocational education and training Workplace training Australia

The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted a profound impact on Australian employers as a result of the social and economic restrictions imposed by governments to control the spread of the virus. To address this, governments have adopted a range of measures to support individuals and businesses. The initiatives most relevant to employers were the JobKeeper scheme, funding for infection-control training, a wage subsidy to support apprentices and trainees, an incentive to boost apprenticeship commencements and the JobTrainer scheme.

Businesses of all sizes reported needing to modify their operations due to the pandemic. The most prevalent adjustments related to the way in which they provided their products and services, along with changes to staff roles or duties. For many employers, the changes induced by COVID-19 in the way products and services are provided have accelerated the digitalisation of business operations. Data collected by the National Skills Commission (2021a) reported that around a third of businesses in Australia adopted new technology due to the pandemic, although this varied according to the industry. Factors driving this change were the increased use of digital technologies as a consequence of social restrictions; increased online shopping; businesses increasing their online footprint; and an increased proportion of the workforce working from home or remotely.

The nation’s post-pandemic economic recovery, with the transition to new ways of working, offers opportunities for the VET system to address these ongoing concerns of employers, as well as meet new requirements such as:

  • the need for employers to meet COVID-19 safe operating regulations
  • new skilling needs due to technological change and the accelerating digitalisation of the workplace
  • blended methods of training delivery (striking the right balance of online and face-to-face).

The VET sector’s ability to respond to these challenges will play a key role in determining the future competitiveness of Australian employers in a post-pandemic world.

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