The Impact of the Pandemic on Employee Training
By Tolu Ojutiku - Research Intern at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented global event, disrupting economies, reshaping industries, and altering the way we work. As businesses in the UK faced numerous challenges, one aspect that came under scrutiny was employee training and development.
The pandemic's far-reaching consequences extended to employer investment in training across the UK. According to the Learning for Work Institute, training expenditure saw a steeper decline during the pandemic compared to the financial crisis. The sudden shift in priorities and financial constraints compelled businesses to re-evaluate their training strategies, leading to fluctuations in training levels across various sectors.
Reports also show that the pandemic exposed and reinforced existing inequalities in training participation. Occupations and sectors where remote work was less prevalent experienced the sharpest decline in training rates. Skilled trades and plant operatives saw significant drops in participation between 2019 and 2020, indicating the challenges faced by hands-on workers during the pandemic. Additionally, primary industries, utilities, and transport sectors were most affected, highlighting the pandemic's impact on essential services.
Similarly, young people, especially in the private sector, faced significant challenges in maintaining access to training during the pandemic. With a higher proportion of furloughed workers, training participation for young employees experienced sharp declines. As young workers play a crucial role in the future workforce, these disruptions may have long-term implications on their skills development and career prospects.
The Greater Manchester region witnessed a notable impact on training levels during the pandemic. Estimations indicate a decline in training participation in GM and the wider UK in 2020, with GM experiencing a more pronounced effect. Like the general trend in the UK, people in certain lower-level occupations were disproportionately impacted by this decline. The proportion of people getting trained in Greater Manchester declined the most in administrative, elementary and machine operative occupations. Interestingly, sales and customer service occupations saw a significant increase in training during the pandemic. This could be linked to the rise in demand for e-commerce during this period and the corresponding increase in demand for online customer service assistants during this period.
Across most industries in GM, the proportion of the labour force that got trained declined significantly with the exception of the construction, hospitality, and finance industries where training rates increased. Although the increase in training rates in the finance industry was in line with findings for the rest of the UK (i.e., reports showed that industries/ occupations where staff were more likely to work from home were expected to receive more training), the increase in the hospitality and construction industries within GM was less expected. A potential explanation for this could be the slowdown of on-site jobs in these industries during the pandemic as restaurants and construction sites were closed to curb the spread of the pandemic. This resulted in employers within these sectors registering their workers under the furlough scheme. Given that the furlough scheme allowed employees to participate in training, employers could have utilised this opportunity to train staff.
Furthermore, certain local authorities within GM, such as Oldham and Rochdale, exhibited an unexpected increase in training levels during the pandemic. The furlough scheme also likely played a role in explaining this, as employers in these areas may have seized the opportunity to provide training to furloughed employees.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Greater Manchester has shown resilience and progress in training levels since then. There have been indications of a positive trajectory post-pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, training levels in GM rose by 6%, to levels similar to that of 2016. This positive trend suggests that businesses in GM may be adapting and prioritising learning and development once again.
However, comprehensive data on whether business investment in training or training quality followed a similar pattern, is currently lacking for GM. National level data reveals that business investment in training has continued to decline even after the pandemic. Assuming GM’s performance mirrors the national trend, this begs the need for continued focus on staff training and investment in GM. This is particularly important because increased training volumes does not translate to the upskilling required for improved productivity if relevant and quality training are not being provided. By continuing to prioritise quality learning and development initiatives, businesses in GM can empower their workforces, fostering adaptability, and enhancing productivity in the face of future challenges.
Trend of Training Levels in GM and England
To listen to Tolu's podcast about employee training trends in Greater Manchester, click here. To find out more about our research conducted as part of the Local Skills Improvement Plan for Greater Manchester, contact our team via firstname.lastname@example.org.