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Adversely, though, the current crisis has established that we are truly living in 'One World'. The geographical boundaries are blurred and we are all in this current situation together. In the past, the human race has been through many crises of similar (or higher) scale and impact. The undying spirit within made it possible to survive and sustain. Crisis is often an opportunity to ponder upon what went wrong and what needs to be 'reset'.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways- for better or worse. It's aftermath will also see a myriad of changes. Prior to it, have we ever imagined the ‘distance world economy’ that we experience today? Behavioural scientists believe that COVID-19 will transform the way humans think and act.
While we are gradually and cautiously getting back or intending to get back from the slumber, the following questions arise- How did we fare? What are the lessons learnt? What role can we play in positively impacting our profession and what’s the way ahead. We have a choice to make- whether to stop and agonise or to keep moving. Can we not make a better world together? Let just the crisis not bind us together but progress...
Globally, there is a sentiment of uncertainty about the economy, overall unease about public health and cautious approach towards spending, with the global consumer confidence suffering record drop in Q2 (The Conference Board, 2020). The sudden jolt of this pandemic has send shock waves to certain industries that are direct and hard hit like travel and tourism, hospitality etc. These industries are the ones which were largely forced to cease operations as a result of public health measures. These industries being the major employers in many economies have in turn sent the ripples to the core of the societies.
A recent International Labour Organization (ILO) report notes, the four sectors hardest-hit worldwide are a. Accommodation and food services b. Manufacturing c. Retail and business services and d. Administrative activities. The closure of workplaces and implementation of other containment measures, combined with the rapid deterioration of economic conditions, led to immediate and massive losses in working hours over the first half of 2020.
In Australia, for instance, approximately 3.5 million workers, or 28 per cent of all workers, are in these hard hit industries. Additionally, 17 per cent of people aged 15 to 66 live in a household in which the main earner is employed in one of these industries. Majority of those impacted tend to have low educational attainment with no post-school qualifications; low-wage workers, women and young people being the most vulnerable to the pandemic (Wilkins, 2020).
Interestingly, on the other hand, the crisis-led changing behaviour and habits are triggering the growth of multiple industries like healthcare, E-commerce marketplaces, pharmaceuticals, logistics/delivery, online entertainment, gaming, digital technology companies to name a few. These industries are growing and hiring and there is a growing skills needs.
Given the above context, how difficult it would be to re-skill manpower? In 2019, even before the onset of the pandemic, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work stated, “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.” The commission strongly recommended establishing lifelong learning systems as a joint responsibility of governments, and employers’ and workers’ organizations.
But how long does reskilling take? Though there are a few theories ranging from 480 hours to 10, 000 hours, it seems to vary from person to person and also the complexities of the new skills that are typically expected to be acquired (Chopra-McGowan & Reddy, 2020). A sincere reskilling effort might help combating the fallout from the crisis, sooner.
A recently released research report rightly notes,“Countries vary in their approaches to containing the pandemic, managing the direct impacts on employment and income, and the trust populations have in their governments, which all influence consumers’ confidence that a recovery will take hold” (The Conference Board, 2020). Thus, three key factors will impact how quickly we get back from the current slumber- First, how well the pandemic is contained and right public health measures are taken at the right time, Second, how employment and income of the country’s population is protected and c. Third, how much trust populations have in their government’s policies and innovative solutions to the current situation.
There is also perhaps a fourth and a fifth factor.Fourth being as to how well the individuals themselves are handling their own situations by making rational decisions in the face of crisis. For instance, let’s take the case of Super Early Release Scheme. Recently, the Australian Government introduced the Scheme to help Aussies if they found themselves in financial hardship due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. The scheme allows eligible citizens to withdraw $10, 000 from their superannuation last financial year and a further $10,000 current financial year. So far, over 3 million Australians accessed a total of $ 28 billion in savings. However, an analysis revealed that those using the scheme spent nearly $ 3000 more than normal in a fortnight with majority being spent on non-essential items including gambling, alcohol, furnitures etc. (Wright & Yeates, 2020).
The Fifth factor being how well a clean economic recovery is achieved while combating organised crime groups that prey on vulnerable during this time of crisis. Such activities have the potential to prolong the effect of the crisis. Any such disruption of economic activity and labour markets has the potential to jeopardizing an employment recovery. The following note of caution made by Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director, Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) make it very clear, “The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and created new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge. Economic and financial crime, such as various types of fraud, money laundering, intellectual property crime, and currency counterfeiting, is particularly threatening during times of economic crisis. Unfortunately, this is also when they become most prevalent”.
Finally, it may be said that with an undying spirit and right effort we can surely make a better world together. The quote by Prof Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, rightly summarise, “We are at a turning point of humankind - we should not underestimate the historical significance of the situation we are in"….The show- it must go on!
Chopra-McGowan A & Reddy, S B (2020), What would it take to reskill entire industries?, Harvard Business Review, July 2020 issue, Available online at <https://hbr.org/2020/07/what-would-it-take-to-reskill-entire-industries>
International Labour Organization (ILO) (2020), ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Fifth edition Updated estimates and analysis, 30 June 2020.
The Conference Board (2020), Global Consumer Confidence Suffers Record Drop in Q2, July 15, 2020
Wilkins, R (2020), Who’s hit hardest by the COVID-19 economic shutdown?, University of Melbourne
Wright, S. & Yeates, C. (2020), 'We give money to people on their say so': ATO admits no checks on early super access, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 30, 2020.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those by the contributors alone and do not represent the views of any other organisation, the forum moderator or that of Aei4eiA.
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Dr. Jayantee Mukherjee Saha
Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability