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Business growth in the post-COVID-19 economy

With lockdown restrictions having eased, businesses are now refocusing on their business plans. Dawn Duggan, Head of People Skills and Talent at GC Business Growth Hub, considers the skills, training and support your workforce will need in order to return to pre-pandemic growth. 


By considering your route out of lockdown and establishing a clear strategic plan, you can build long-term resilience and successfully transition from the recovery phase to the growth stage.

I recently chaired a webinar, which brought together an expert panel to explore this topic, reflecting on the learnings of the past year and offering insights on the future of work, with some of the key learnings captured here.

What does the future of work look like? How can we build back better?

Ali Nowroozi, Director of Masumi Headwear (Avakino Ltd) opened the discussion with the reality of the pandemic – a huge shock for any business regardless of size or sector. This, coupled with the UK’s exit from the EU, has brought a lot of uncertainty and evolution in the way that businesses work. Ali said that the digital world has transformed his business and making use of the digital capabilities we already have is the key to success going forward.

Masumi Headwear design and produce stylish headwear for women who are affected by hair loss due to cancer or alopecia and the pandemic forced a big change in their operations. Suddenly, the business lost a big chunk of their service as face-to-face interactions were limited. This prompted the business to make the decision to divert to online platforms, investing heavily in a website, ensuring they could still reach their customers.

For many businesses, online platforms and working from home has become essential, with communications, meetings, tutorials and training sessions now taking place via platforms such as Zoom and WhatsApp. The use of digital capabilities has allowed Masumi Headwear to reach more people internationally. Businesses can now be anywhere in the world through digital means. The future of work is much smarter, more resilient and more ready for change. It’s a challenging and exciting time, and businesses must think differently and react quicker to change depending on what’s happening in their markets.

Speaking on the future of work, the panel discussed what they had learnt from the pandemic and how these lessons need to be applied to broader challenges. Improving social inclusion, creating more diverse workplaces, globalisation, seizing the opportunities presented by EU Exit and mitigating the challenge of climate change. These are the fundamental drivers that are going to influence all businesses going forward.

The future of work means we can apply the lessons of the pandemic, including digitalisation, to those challenges.

Skills gap – finding and retaining the right people in uncertain times

Pamela Dodd, Group HR Manager of the Hyde Group is an experienced Development Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the aviation and aerospace industry. This sector has traditionally had a very tight labour market and there are usually only a couple of good candidates per job advertised. Since the pandemic, she has found that recruitment has been easier than usual due an increase in candidates looking for work due to redundancy in their sector. Hyde Group has recently built on apprenticeship schemes, upskilling existing employees through training and redeployment to retain them within the business.

Jen Leggat, Business Development Project Manager at GC Education & Skills, a specialist in recruitment, and learning and development strategies within organisations also highlighted the need for businesses to look for internal opportunities to upskill or utilise schemes such as the apprenticeship levy or co-investment.  A wealth of funding opportunities is available for apprenticeships including the new incentive payments for hiring a new apprentice that were introduced to support businesses during the pandemic. Utilising apprenticeship or skills support for the workforce funding can be the key to growth as it presents a great opportunity and the adult education budget can help finance internal upskilling, as seen within the NHS.

Tom Pickford, Partnership and Integration Manager at Skills for Growth shared his own knowledge and experience of the skills gap. For the last six years, Tom has worked in commercial training, focused on helping organisations in the private and public sectors implement training programmes and learning interventions to address organisational challenges and barriers to growth or change.

Tom highlighted that apprenticeship starts were down a third since the start of the pandemic, although there have been increases in higher-level apprenticeships, in comparison to lower-level apprenticeships. However, even though this is the case, there are still high levels of youth unemployment. Government incentives can help to overcome this challenge, but organisations need to look at where they are, mapping talent within their organisation, upskilling people into different roles so they can be flexible and adapt to the challenges and environment they’re working in. There is a real need for organisations to be multi skilled which in turn creates a sense of security for employees.

Mike noted that while the construction sector is buoyant right now with major regeneration projects taking place across the city region including Manchester’s 20,000 home Victoria North, Trans Pennine Rail, North Manchester’s General Hospital and Etihad Campus’ revamp, businesses are finding it increasingly hard to secure the required skills to meet the demand.

Finding and retaining employees is a challenge and businesses should try to ensure they keep people on board as much as they can with apprenticeships and upskilling being key to this.

Long term impact on young people

Jen highlighted the large unemployment rates amongst young people at present, explaining that opportunities for them to enter the workforce and receive training to build their skillset were vital. Recently, with the help of government backing, programmes like Kickstart are enabling businesses to bring in young people, to upskill them and carve a career in their sector. Digital transformation presents a real opportunity for young people to enter work and further their careers.

Tom agreed on the benefits of the Kickstart scheme, as it acts almost like a probationary period before moving onto an apprenticeship programme. It allows both the employer and employee to establish if they are right fit for an organisation or sector which can lead to further upskilling and development that benefits the business and the individual.


Looking at ways of working, we also saw remote working affect younger workers in different ways. Research conducted during the pandemic found that while some experienced wellbeing gains, some others were more likely to feel lonely and disconnected. How to manage feelings of isolation when working from home is a challenge many organisations will have to navigate. Putting measures into place, being aware of what businesses demand of employees and creating that inclusive culture will be of the utmost importance going forward.

Managing health and wellbeing – agile working and returning to the workplace

Managing employee mental health and wellbeing is important as we move towards a post-pandemic world. Businesses need to understand that people working for their organisation do so for the benefit of the organisation as well as for their own improvement.

People usually want to work hard and give it their all because of their own motivation their own values, goals and desires. However, under the wrong circumstances, this could lead to burnout, so employers should take this into consideration and seek to promote work life balance both for the good of their workforce and their organisations. As Ali, very precisely put it, it is important to not only work hard, but to also live hard.

Arup implement a culture of flexible working, driven by a desire to do the right thing for the project but also to look after one’s own wellbeing. Having flexibility promotes inclusion and allows people to choose their working hours around their work life balance, their faith, their children and other external factors. It’s a necessity to have that flexibility if you are to encourage more diverse people into the workforce.

There have been growing calls for senior leaders to be open about their own mental health and encourage others to do so too. Talking about depression, stress and anxiety, and how to deal with it, creates a culture of openness and means more employees will be quicker to seek support. If leaders can do it, everyone can, and this really helps an organisation.

Speaking about mental health, Pamela highlighted the Hyde Group’s proactive approach of training up Mental Health First Aiders. Employees now know there is someone they can talk to if they need a sounding board, and if they need further support, recommendations to an appropriate professional can be made.

Skills for Growth has also taken a targeted approach with two designated Health and Wellbeing specialists, who go into organisations performing a diagnostic to establish if a robust health and wellbeing strategy is in place. This is because there are tangible financial implications for an organisation without this – absences, staff turnover and staff wellbeing all affect productivity and the success of a business. A specialist will help manage mental health within the workplace, advising on topics such as stress awareness and managing anxiety effectively.

Going forward, businesses need adequate training in resilience, stress awareness, conflict management and the separation between work and home life. These all need to be understood thoroughly and an effective strategy should be implemented to ensure a happy and productive workforce.

As we move into a post lockdown world, there are a number of considerations all businesses have had to make and will continue having to address in order to adapt to the changing landscape and needs of both the markets in which they operate and the workforces and people they employ.


For support and guidance on upskilling your workforce contact GC Business Growth Hub’s People, Skills & Talent team 


This article was first published on the GC Business Growth Hub website. The Hub is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of a project designed to help ambitious SME businesses achieve growth and increase employment in Greater Manchester. The Hub is also supported by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Greater Manchester local authorities.



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