The entrepreneurs upskilling in furlough

Opinion By James Egan

With the long term effects of the Covid-19 yet to be quantified, in the short to medium term millions of workers across the country remain furloughed as part of the UK government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, currently in place until at least June.

While this has provided a lifeline to businesses and people nation-wide, it is only a temporary measure. As the lockdown continues, small and medium sized business owners in particular will quite rightly begin worrying about what a return to “normal” is going to look like, or whether it is even possible.

How are we supposed to prepare ourselves for what might lie ahead when the only certainty is uncertainty?

The answer lies in education. In building a foundation of knowledge or a skillset that prepares you not just for a specific future problem, but that makes you more personally and professionally resilient to any eventuality.

With the extra time that the government’s job retention scheme has given UK workers, and with education more easily accessible than ever, this period may well be looked back on as the calm before the storm as the economic impact of pandemic begins to fully reveal itself.

our Diploma in Social Media Marketing, is receiving 11 times more applicants than before

The importance of preparing for an uncertain future shouldn’t eclipse the day-to-day realities of what is happening right now. Taking care of your family, and taking care of your mental and physical health are obviously all important during the lockdown.

But for those using this time to better fortify themselves for the post-pandemic world through education, there are some questions you need to answer for yourself to make sure you are maximising this time.

The first is whether you need to focus on upskilling or reskilling. This will largely depend on how you expect your business and wider industry to fare following the lift of the lockdown. This is a time to be realistic in your expectations.

Some industries will recover from this crisis at a slower rate than others. Some will see a surge in business. Some may not even recover at all. If you are operating in the retail or travel sector, for example, the impact of this will likely affect business for years to come. In light of that would you benefit more from building on your existing foundation of knowledge or from pivoting your business to a new focus entirely?

Expanding your knowledge to adjacent topics can be just as beneficial as focusing on your core knowledge

If you already have a foundation of knowledge sufficient enough to be running your own business then you likely already know where to go to build on it. But this isn’t the only way to upskill.

Expanding your knowledge to adjacent topics can be just as beneficial as focusing on your core knowledge, and goes a long way to making you more adaptable. For example if you are a physical retailer you could massively benefit from a knowledge of photography, photoshop or graphic design.

Even if you don’t become proficient with these skills the knowledge of the topic lets you better understand what to ask for, how possible it is, and you stand on much surer footing when negotiating with anyone you hire to work in this space.

The same can be applied to the essential parts of your conversion funnel, such as marketing or web design. While many companies are very good at selling their product, they can find themselves limited by not bringing in enough new customers.

Understanding how marketing, social media and your website fit together to create an effective sales funnel – and how to optimise that – is a skill any business can benefit from, regardless of sector.

Even if you don’t master it, understanding the nuts and bolts of what goes into creating an effective online presence will give you a much clearer idea of what is possible, and how best you can allocate your resources to achieve that.

As an online global education institution, we at Shaw Academy have seen a huge spike in interest from people looking to upskill and reskill in the past few weeks.

While our students’ motivations remain fairly evenly split – between wanting to start or grow a business (28%), self-improvement (27%) and professional improvement (24%) – what they choose to study gives us a glimpse into the specific skills people think will be useful in the post-pandemic economy.

For example, our courses teaching leadership skills, digital marketing and graphic design have each seen a three-fold increase in students. But by far the most popular course is proving to be our Diploma in Social Media Marketing, which is receiving 11 times more applicants than before – underscoring just how integral an understanding of this topic has become to businesses and individuals of all types.

The strictures of lockdown could end up having another impact on the SME space. More SMEs. For many people this will be the first time in their adult life that they have had the chance to take a step back and ask themselves “What do I really want to do?”.

A number of those people are going to decide that ultimately they want to work for themselves, economic headwinds be damned. As a founder myself, I got the opportunity, in a climate much like today, to evaluate what I wanted to do. I am often asked would you do it again – the unequivocal answer is yes.

But my decision was made possible by understanding the limits of what I already knew, expanding upon it and applying a solid foundation of knowledge to my own company. The current abundance of time and available education options for people to use will be the catalyst for many more people to do the same.

In these unprecedented times, people will ask themselves ‘can broadening my horizons and going after what I have always wanted to do possibly make my circumstances worse?’.

In fact, a surprising amount of the time, it can make things a whole lot better.

James Egan, Founder & CEO at Shaw Academy