This latest report from NCVER, released in early February 2022, reports on how Australian employers have been affected by the pandemic and how, in turn, this has affected their current and future training requirements.

The report found that nearly a third of employers are expecting to increase the amount of training they provide to their staff in the next 12 months. Digital skills are a key training need, as are health and safety and infection control.

The report and some related products

This 56-page report, authored by Ian White and Toni Rittie, is entitled ‘Upskilling and reskilling: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employers and their training choices’. It adds value to a range of other reports published by NCVER over the last year or so, looking at the impact of COVID-19 on industry innovation, skills and the need for training, the impact of COVID-19 on student outcomes and what VET can offer young people in the recovery of youth unemployment bought about by the pandemic. NCVER has also taken a look at the increased use of online delivery as a result of COVID. Another report on that topic is due out in the next month or two.

The findings

The pandemic and its associated restrictions have had a significant effect on employers and the way they do business. These restrictions and effects on business have not been uniformly felt, however with some sorts of businesses affected much more than others, for example accommodation and food services. Pivoting the business to address the challenges faced was the obvious solution adopted.

While there were the obvious Government responses like Jobkeeper, businesses also made other changes to the delivery of products and services, for example moves to digitise their operations. Drawing on NSC (National Skills Commission) research, the paper points out 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.”

Remote working was one of the big changes, and it’s yet to be seen to what extent things will return to pre-pandemic ways of working. One possible downside the paper points to is “fewer training, development and promotion opportunities as a result of their decreased visibility to managers.” It also points to a change in the sort of training required not only in terms of digital skills, but also in health and safety and infection control measures. These latter training needs were particularly strong in industries with a high level of social contact. A smaller proportion of employers reported new training requirements in sales and customer service (25%), and computer and data literacy (about 18.5%).

So, how are employers meeting these training needs?

The paper tells us that around half the employers tended to use informal or ad hoc training and unaccredited training, provided either in-house by the organisation (about 50%) or delivered by an external provider (22%). They chose this type of training “because of an immediate need to respond to rapidly changing training needs (52.1%) and because of its availability (34.4%).” COVID also forced a lot of this training online and “the consensus among employers was that the increase in this form of training delivery was here to stay — they viewed it as a time-and cost-effective way to skill their workforce.” The key question, though, is whether it is as effective as in-person training.

Finally, one of the other interesting features was that, as restrictions eased, there was a significant uptick in employers looking to recruit. However, the employers’ problem was finding suitable candidates, and that was particularly so for larger companies. Employers also expect the amount of training to go up in the next 12 months to address organisational changes and to broaden or upskill their staff. VET providers therefore need to be responsive to needs and innovate and adapt their offerings.