The long-term impact of COVID-19 recession on human capital

More experienced business leaders need to help younger, more disadvantaged workers with career and mentoring opportunities as a result of the COVID-19-induced recession, says UNSW Business School's Professor Gigi Foster

Professor Foster: So one area that I've been concerned about since the start of the COVID epidemic is this problem of the impact of the recession being regressive. It's regressive in the sense that those who are feeling the largest negative impacts of the COVID-19-induced recession are those who are already disadvantaged relative to others. And in the workforce, this means junior workers – those without as much experience, those without as strong networks, those who are less established.

And the reason why this is a group that I'm particularly worried about also has to do with the online work transition. Because if you're a young worker and you're going to the office every day, it's frequently the case the people you run into in the hallway or happen to bump into in the elevator, or whose door you can knock on – those are people who are extremely busy, who have lots of other things to be busy with that are good for their own careers, but that you can benefit from hugely because you are junior [and] you need to tap into those networks and tap into their knowledge.

And it's much harder for a junior worker to knock on somebody's door, virtually, when that person is extremely busy – and particularly in with all the disruptions, is probably being called to all manner of other activities that junior person feels hesitant. And they're sitting at home alone without the sorts of networks that more established workers have to draw on.

So I worry about the longer-run sustainability of that in relation to succession planning for roles to be filled by younger people gradually over the years. We need to have on-the-job training, we need to have on the job apprenticeships happening to have a sustainable future workforce that is just as productive as what we had coming into COVID-19 – if not more productive, hopefully.

So those kinds of dynamics I'm very concerned about and I think business leaders should be very focused on how they are going to support the optimum and effective transition of important roles within their companies to junior workers, younger workers over time [and] how they're going to support mentorships, on-the-job training and other kinds of face-to-face linking of experienced established workers to those who are less experienced, less established – but have just as much potential.

Professor Gigi Foster is Director of Education for the School of Economics at UNSW Business School. For more videos and the full article read Navigating the next phase of COVID-19: three critical issues for business leaders.


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