How EdTech can help mitigate economic disaster

In times of quarantine, workers can use educational technologies to reskill, upskill, and emerge ready for a different economy.
3 April 2020

Why there’s a growing market for the ‘virtual office’. Source: Shutterstock

Businesses and governments have locked down major parts of the economy. Social distancing has become essential to public health.

Some companies have been able to transition employees to remote work arrangements – others are still struggling and many have already folded.

Humanity has faced terrible plagues in the past, before the economy became largely digitized and globalized.

Science was more limited in its understanding back then. Modern technology has contributed to the rapid spread of the virus and also to the rapid spread of misinformation.

But technology has also put us in a position whereby we can rapidly educate, adapt, reevaluate, innovate, and protect.

Retail and restaurants will take a direct economic hit. Although many tech companies don’t make physical products or engage in real-world marketplaces, they, too, are vulnerable to an economic downturn as consumers lose their livelihoods and change their behaviors.

An app is not immune and, depending on the type of app, it may even seem increasingly irrelevant or tone-deaf.

But even frivolous apps create jobs. How will workers themselves stay relevant in quickly changing, disrupted industries?

It’s a question that had already been raised and discussed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. For many years, technology, globalization, and climate change have been cited as the most formidable, near-term disruptors of the labor force.

A McKinsey Global Institute report indicated that approximately half of current work activities could technically be automated by customizing and implementing technologies that are already demonstrable.

The authors contended that digitization, automation, and artificial intelligence could potentially displace hundreds of millions of workers from their current employment by 2030 and also create new jobs.

But the transition for employees wouldn’t be seamless. The new and growing occupational categories will likely carry higher educational requirements than the disappearing jobs, according to McKinsey.

Automation hasn’t gone away. If anything, it seems even more viable as people reevaluate what needs to be done in-person and what needs to be done at all.

There is also a growing realization that the services that are deemed the most essential have been the most taken for granted.

Entire communities depend on the workers in grocery stores and healthcare centers, but if you were to look at those workers’ paychecks out-of-context, it would be hard to glean that sense of societal significance.

EdTech can prepare us for the change

It’s time for new perspectives, appreciation, and changes. Everything will seem very different when we all step out into the light again.

During these times of quarantine, workers can use EdTech to reskill, upskill, and emerge ready for a different economy. Perhaps this is an opportunity for individuals and organizations alike.

Steve Wainwright, Managing Director EMEA at Skillsoft, told TechHQ that some companies have been caught off-guard.

Although some employees are already accustomed to working from home a couple of days per week, that is very different from full-time, organization-wide remote working. An effective team strategy will be critical to success.

“This means maintaining relationships – not just with colleagues, but partners, customers and prospects, while also ensuring employees have everything they need to continue their professional development at home,” said Wainwright.

“Organizations can embrace this aspect of remote working with intelligent learning technologies that help employees sustain their productivity, collaborate effectively and take control of their own professional wellbeing.”

Education, on its surface, is about imparting a new skill or piece of information. But it’s actually deeper than that. It can bring teams closer together. It’s a way of showing appreciation. It’s an investment.

“In any time of instability or rapid change, ensuring employees are able to acquire and develop new skills is vital,” said Wainwright.

“This isn’t just about helping the organization navigate uncertainty; it’s about providing a sense of self-fulfilment to remote workers that their continued development is valued by the organization.”

And right now, EdTech could help to mitigate an economic disaster.

COVID-19 and the resulting financial crisis will inflict a vast amount of suffering. Priorities and investments will likely shift after it subsides. Technological advancement will be re-contextualized.

What will the historians think of us? Our societies struggled to produce basic commodities like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks during a desperate time… but we had the most intelligent mathematicians and engineers in the world, working tirelessly on augmented reality apps.

We poured billions of dollars into startups that didn’t produce revenue and technologies with dubious use cases, right before a severe economic recession. We might look hopelessly absurd.

Or, this might be a catalyst for needed change. Workers often need to reskill after they lose their employment, and if we’d addressed that faster and more completely after industrial decline and the outsourcing of American jobs, things would have gone a completely different way politically.

Maybe this is an equivalent turning point where society could reconnect economic activity with human needs, and reconnect the labor force with the required skills and roles. Education might mean survival.