Author Profile Picture

Sarah-Jane McQueen


General Manager

Read more from Sarah-Jane McQueen

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Why flexible learning of critical skills is key to the UK’s economic recovery

The UK is suffering from serious skills gaps – L&D needs to address this now.

While we’re all relieved that 2020 has finally come to a close, many of the problems we faced in the past year continue to exist. For L&D professionals, addressing critical skills gaps is one of them. This isn’t a new problem, however – indeed, in the Open University’s 2019 Business Barometer report, 63% of the UK’s business leaders said that their organisations were experiencing a skills shortage. Despite the fact that millions of people are currently looking for jobs, senior leaders say they still can’t recruit people with the skills they need.

In an uncertain and frequently changing working environment, the ability to flex, adapt and pick up new skills quickly will be essential. 

L&D professionals can help close these skills gaps by giving employees access to the right kinds of training and helping to focus their attention on the key areas that are lacking. So where are the gaps?

Digital know-how

Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella recently noted that the Covid-19 crisis was responsible for two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months. The impact of this transformation has been an increase in demand for digital skills, with 56% of employers are already saying that digital skills need to be improved in their organisations to keep up with their increased use of technology.

Some of the most in demand digital skill clusters, according to government research, are:

  • Productivity software skills including Word, Excel, project management software and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
  • Software and programming skills including languages like Java, SQL and Python.
  • Computer and networking support skills including setting up, supporting and managing computer systems and networks.
  • Data analysis skills including big data, data science and analysis tools like R or Stata.
  • Digital marketing skills including using analytics tools such as Google Analytics, as well as social media skills.


The hospitality sector, in particular, is in need of a skills reboot in light of recent events. When Covid-19 hit the UK, the industry ground to a halt. Despite some signs of recovery over the summer, the sector is struggling again, thanks to winter restrictions. To survive, organisations will need to focus on rebuilding trust and boosting customers’ confidence, which means that employees will require specific skills.

Technology skills

Throughout the pandemic, hospitality venues such as restaurants have relied on technology to communicate Covid-19 guidelines, share updates and stay connected with customers. When those customers emerged from lockdown, technology enabled them to make online bookings, order food, and pay remotely.

As hospitality continues its gradual recovery, professionals who want to work in the industry will need to develop their tech skills, so that they can master the apps, tracking systems and remote solutions that will keep customers coming back.

Health and safety

Spacing and mask wearing are just two measures that will play a vital role in encouraging customers to return to their favourite venues. Consumers will be looking for scrupulously clean surfaces, regularly santised touchpoints and clear health and safety guidance.

As well as having ultra high standards of cleanliness, every employee working in the post pandemic hospitality sector will need to be quick at picking up new health and safety guidelines, systems and infection control measures. They’ll also need to be confident when it comes to using protective equipment.

Care and education

When Covid-19 arrived in the UK, life changed dramatically for employees in the care and education sectors. Caring became a high-risk job, as employees were exposed to a dangerous virus without effective PPE. School closures meant that teachers were suddenly expected to deliver high quality e-learning.

At first, these changes were disastrous for recruitment. By the end of April 2020, the trade union GMB was reporting that one in five carers were thinking of quitting. At the same time, estimates revealed that teacher recruitment was down by 50-60%.

As the public grew to appreciate their reliance on the country’s frontline workers, however, they began to understand the importance of carers and the value of the teacher/pupil relationship.

The result has been that education has already benefited from a 91% rise in teacher training applications, and care work has been thrust into the limelight, increasing the likelihood of better conditions. This being the case, there are two key skill areas both of these sectors need to adapt over the coming months and years.


Within a week of the first lockdown being announced, large parts of the social care workforce began to communicate online. Adaptability became essential for care home staff, who were able to download infection control guidance and complete online PPE training.

Meanwhile, in the education sector, adaptability has always been part of a teacher’s toolkit, but the pandemic took this to another level. Overnight, they had to master remote teaching via Zoom or Google Classroom. Some teachers were even expected to teach online as well as teaching key workers’ children on site.

Adaptability will continue to be essential for carers and educators. When it comes to care, Covid-19 has demonstrated how technology can transform the way we look after people. As a result, carers can expect to experience new ways of working.

Schools are also likely to make changes, as tools and techniques that have proven successful during lockdowns become part of our daily existence going forward. Education technology will become more important as tech savvy teachers become adept at delivering online learning.


Digital innovation isn’t something you’d associate with the care sector, but there have been stories of care homes responding creatively to lockdowns. They’ve connected families via Zoom, set up WhatsApp groups for residents, and so on. Some care homes have even created videos that have gone viral on TikTok!

Educators have been equally creative, often experimenting with new approaches. For example, economics teacher Tulia Peters, was just one educator who moved to a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, in which students learned the basics via videos, then came online to work together.

Throughout the pandemic, creativity has pulsed through the education and care sectors, spurring change. As recovery gathers pace, professionals who have the skills to re-imagine traditional approaches will become highly valued by employers.

A culture of continuous learning

Whatever sector you’re in, it’s essential that L&D professionals encourage a culture of continuous learning going forward. In an uncertain and frequently changing working environment, the ability to flex, adapt and pick up new skills quickly will be essential. Flexible, modular learning will be at the forefront of this, as it allows learners to work online and at their own pace, fitting around their work and lives. This self-directed approach to learning empowers professionals by allowing them to choose their own goals and set their own training schedule. Ultimately, if we’re going to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to invest in skills and continue to prioritise learning in future.

Interested in this topic? Read How organisations are bridging the Covid-19 skills gap.

Author Profile Picture
Sarah-Jane McQueen

General Manager

Read more from Sarah-Jane McQueen

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to TrainingZone's newsletter