Lancashire's long-term furloughed 'will need training' for return to the workplace

Training should be made available to Lancashire residents who could be set to spend a full year on furlough - so that they are fit for the new world which may await them on their return to the workplace.

By Paul Faulkner
Friday, 20th November 2020, 6:23 pm
Updated Friday, 20th November 2020, 6:26 pm

That is the message from one of the county’s leading educationalists who has warned that people need to be primed for the new sectors that may emerge when the county finally comes through the worst of the pandemic.

Bev Robinson, principal and chief executive of Blackpool and Fylde College, told a meeting of the Lancashire skills and employment advisory panel that the end of furlough was a “car crash waiting to happen” for some of those who had spent the longest time away from work - and that efforts needed to be made to ensure they remained “economically valuable”.

The government support system - officially known as the coronavirus job retention scheme - began back in March and has seen employees paid to up to 80 percent of their wages for hours not worked.

At the peak of the pandemic, almost a third of the Lancashire workforce was furloughed

It had been due to end late last month, but the second wave of Covid which hit the country during the autumn prompted the chancellor of the exchequer to extend the scheme until the end of March 2021 - meaning some people may have been away from their usual roles for 12 months.

“Furlough was a great idea originally, but the problem we have now is that people are staying at home and remaining unskilled,” Ms. Robinson warned.

“When furlough comes to an end, people will have an old skill set for an old world.

“We really need to spend a huge effort on working out which sectors can recover and grow and which will be the new and emerging sectors - and line things up in terms of training and education to [reflect] the new world.

“We can do anything, we can turn round on a sixpence - but we’re desperate for intelligence [on where the focus should be]”.

The meeting heard that training for young people and reskilling of adults could be embedded into the “social value” elements of the shovel-ready Lancashire projects which received £34m of government funding back in August - including schemes to build a new care and community development in Chorley and extend the Houndshill Shopping Centre in Blackpool.

Panel chair and Nelson and Colne College principal Amanda Melton said she wanted to see the social value aspect increased across the full list of ten projects.

Heather Murray from the department for education said that a higher level of skill was going to be required in some of the likely post-Covid growth sectors - and that these were set to include green technologies and health and social care.

“We don't want [people] to find themselves unemployed for [any] length of time when they have got those skills and we just need to maximise the job opportunities. There are opportunities out there, it’s just making sure we do pivot those customers correctly.”

The most recent regional data on furlough dates back to the end of August when nine percent of the eligible Lancashire workforce - a total of 61,000 people - were on the scheme.

That was down from a peak of 31 percent of the county’s employees being supported by furlough earlier in the pandemic - and Lancashire remains below the North West and UK averages by that measure.

Its rate of 16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) has also fallen during the pandemic - from 555 in May to 450 by August. The county’s universal credit claimant count also fell to 6.6 percent in October - below the North West, but above the UK average.