Adult re-skilling during COVID-19: a global scan of government policies

Global map showing strength of policies for workplace closures

To deal with the mass closure of workplaces across the world during the pandemic, national governments have introduced different policies to upskill and re-educate their workforces. This survey of policy responses has been compiled by the International Network for Government Scientific Advice and the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker

This survey of 87 countries establishes three key themes

With widespread lockdowns aiming to lower transmission of COVID-19, strong economic pressure has been felt by many nations worldwide. The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) currently suggests that at least 60% of countries have had broad workplace closures at some point during the past 12 months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (see map above, showing the strength of policies regarding workplace closures and highlighting the potential for mass unemployment).

Accordingly, in 2020 the world economy was predicted to have shrunk by 5.2%, with the World Bank predicting a post-COVID recession similar to the end of the Second World War. Unemployment in OECD countries rose by 2.9% during April 2020, leading to a total unemployment rate of 8.4%. In order to remobilise the workforce and maintain economic growth until 2030, it is predicted that a large proportion of workers will need retraining and upskilling.

In order to deal with this mass closure of workplaces across the world, national governments have introduced different policies to upskill and re-educate their workforces. 

This research scan on adult re-skilling during COVID-19 includes information collected by contributors to both the OxCGRT and International Network for Government Scientific Advice (INGSA) research groups. A total of 87 countries were surveyed across all regions of the world. From these, 17 countries were found to have adult upskilling policies, while in 70 countries no relevant policies were found (see map below, showing the countries that were scanned by OxCGRT and INGSA contributors).

Global map showing countries scanned by OxCGRT and INGSA contributors

The policies in this global evidence scan can be grouped by key themes:

  • additions to and development of online vocational training platforms;
  • online training via live streams; and
  • additional monetary support to encourage vocational training.

1. Online education via Massive Open Online Courses/educational platforms

A key strategy which has been utilised by governments worldwide during the pandemic is the expansion of vocational platforms which provide Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These MOOCs provide specific short training programmes and classes in order to develop vocational skills. These open-access and large-scale online higher education courses use a variety of online resources (such as videos, talks, eBooks and message boards) in order to provide a range of work-related skills and academic knowledge. They generally encourage peer-learning networks in place of more conventional (synchronous) learning and academic instruction.

In China, the government launched an online vocational training programme as well as measures aimed at matching graduates with employment opportunities. In February 2020, the government started a new cloud-based online learning platform for the COVID-19 pandemic period. It provided free skills training to more than 5 million people between March and June last year, in areas such as data science, AI and worker relations. A total of 54 platforms were made free to the public over the course of the last 12 months, offering university-style training in subjects ranging from fundamentals of engineering and aviation, to design and artificial intelligence. In addition to training, the government cooperated with five major employment portals to offer free services to higher-education graduates via a Campus Recruitment Service Campaign, and a 24-hour employment service hotline for graduates.

In Colombia, the Institute of District Tourism in the city of Bogota provided free virtual training courses on tourism, hospitality and business topics to bolster the city’s tourism sector in the midst of the pandemic. The programme encourages online learning and professional development for those affected by the pandemic.

In Canada, the government of Ontario increased investment in micro-credential programmes (eCampusOntario) so that workers could retrain and gain new skills. This new investment has a particular focus on STEM education (data analytics, computer science, chemistry, knowledge translation and dissemination, physics, engineering), as well as business skills (accounting, corporate service culture, marketing, litigation procedure, logistics, eCommerce).

In Costa Rica, the Ministries of Labor and Foreign Trade and the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency, with the support of the International Development Bank, cooperated with Coursera to train 50,000 people free of charge, ‘to energise the Costa Rican economy post-COVID-19 and insert itself into the economy of knowledge’. In addition, more than 250 Costa Rican citizens, both students and adults seeking to improve and retrain their skills, will be offered scholarships for online training in cybersecurity, with classes on topics such as threat assessments, data analysis and behavioural analysis. These scholarships, provided by the Ministry of Science and the Inter-American Development Bank, also include an opportunity to partake in a ‘virtual apprenticeship’, which entails some 250 hours of on-the-job training experience in roles such as Information Security Officer in a partner company.

In Estonia, existing adult education programmes were bundled in a new platform (#õpimekodus) in April 2020, where every citizen could find free and paid resources on diverse topics such as programming, nutrition sciences, forensics, and supporting elderly victims of violence. Another platform launched by the government, Education Nation, compiles myriad free tools (of both private and government origin) for children’s as well as adult education. Options for training cover a broad range of topics, from start-up simulations, entrepreneurship and language to media & communications training.

The Indian mass education SWAYAM platform, launched in 2017, provides access to free open courses across a variety of topics, which can later be (partly) turned into college credits. These MOOC courses cover the education range between grade 9 and post-graduate level. In the course of the pandemic, this platform was expanded with new video lessons, worksheets, textbooks and assessments. The app is available to use offline via iOS or Android and is available in many different languages.

In Mexico, new courses were developed for MexicoX, an already existing platform. MexicoX was developed in 2015 to provide the public with free MOOCs in partnership with Mexican universities and technical schools on topics such as risk management, public budgeting, gender mainstreaming, and programming. Due to the pandemic-induced shift towards distance learning in grade school, MexicoX has made online courses in Digital Knowledge for Teachers and Design of Virtual Education Experiences available to support teachers and instructors.

In Norway, grants were given to institutions dedicated to developing flexible vocational and adult education programmes and increasing study places.

In South Africa, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies partnered with Coursera to offer free courses to unemployed young people on data science, coding, app development, digital marketing, and artificial intelligence. The National School of Government also offered online courses aimed at those who work, or want to work, in the public sector. The range of topics included ethics, policy procedures and management skills.

The United States’ Department of Education has signposted adult learners to free resources around seven life goals. There are also resources for educators to incorporate topics such as technology and digital literacy into the curriculum. Hours spent on the resources were credited towards vocational qualifications (either micro-credentials or as a modules for a larger professional qualifications), with additional short online courses developed with employer participation.

2. Online education via live streams

In lieu of in-person lessons, some countries have started to offer live-streamed video classes online or on television to aid in the retraining of the workforce. Lessons cover vocational skills such as IT, sales and marketing as well as academic training in subject areas such as engineering or computer science.

Azerbaijan launched a televised online vocational education and training resource for vocational students in March 2020. The online courses – which launched on the Culture TVchannel and other platforms – include 26 lessons across eight Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) specialisations, including electrical engineering, construction, mechanics, automobile engineering and IT.

Bangladesh launched Facebook Live classes in 34 technologies for first-year students, with additional provision for second- and third-year students in certain fields such as computer engineering. Fifty polytechnic teachers in eight divisional cities are delivering lectures on a rotational system. TV stations are showing TVET classes, while online literacy classes have also been made available.

In Bhutan, the Ministry of Education made provisions to broadcast educational content through TV/radio, YouTube, and Google Classroom while vocational schools were closed. Responding to an inquiry by teachers, the ministry also utilised print media to reach adult students without access to devices. Teachers were trained on IT and supported by the Ministry through social media channels.

By July 2020, apprentices in Italy working in tourism and retail could follow distance learning; however, some practical contents were suspended due to the impossibility of delivering them online. ‘Close And Connected’ is an initiative which collects offers from organisations working on online commerce, logistics and technological assistance to support small and local sellers to improve their businesses. Some of these offers include training to enhance their sales and improve their marketing and logistics.

3. Financial support to adult learners or TVET providers

Reskilling is financially expensive: purchasing the education itself is costly, while taking the time off work to undertake the classes further increases the financial burden. Several countries in this evidence scan were found to have offered financial support to incentivise adult learners and TVET providers to lower this financial barrier, and hence increase incentives to reskill.

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute, a government-run electricity and telecommunications services provider, doesn’t charge users for accessing ministry of education websites.

The Land Bank of the Philippines, a government owned bank, has a new loan programme to buy electronic devices so that older adults are able to retrain themselves via online learning.

In Slovenia, the Ministry responsible for education allocated new funds for information & communications technology to public higher-education institutions in November 2020. Consequently, all schools and apprentices were given devices (if necessary), and distance learning classes became mandatory for all students using the new equipment provided.

Finally, Sweden launched a crisis package for businesses and jobs in March 2020. In a subsequent measure, extra funding to provide more distance learning courses at higher-education institutions was provided. Internet-based education providers also received extra funding, to widen free and low-cost education platforms for the unemployed.

List of authors

Andrew Wood, Tim Nusser, Helen Tatlow, Ariana L. Detmar, Anthony Sudarmawan, Jiayi Li, Shiwen Lai, Ariq Hatibie, Nicole Wu, Xingyan Lin, Qingling Kong, Akhila K Jayaram, Tiwalade Ighomuaye, Victoria Cavero, Israa Mohammed.

Summary of policy initiatives

AzerbaijanLaunched a televised Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) resource for students.
BangladeshFacebook live classes in more than thirty subject areas as well as TVET classes on national television.
BhutanRemote vocational training through Google Classroom, TV/Radio, Print, and YouTube.
CanadaMicro-credential programme focused on STEM and business education.
ChinaFree online vocational training programme and skill matching undertakings such as online recruitment events for recent graduates.
Colombia30 virtual training courses on tourism, hospitality, and business available for free to strengthen the tourism sector in Bogota.
Costa RicaPartnership with Coursera to train 50,000 people free of charge. Cybersecurity training and on-the-job experience for more than 250 people. Enhanced internet connectivity and access.
EstoniaAdult education platforms that cover both vocational and academic topics.
IndiaNational online vocational training platform that covers vocational and academic content expanded.
ItalyMentoring programme and vocational distance-learning for apprentices.
MexicoNew courses on MexicoX online platform, with both applied and academic options.
NorwayLaunched a grant scheme for local initiatives to support vocational and adult education.
PhilippinesLandbank’s Loan Program allows trainees and vocational students to borrow money to buy internet-capable devices.
SloveniaIT Funding for public higher-education institutions.
South AfricaFree applied online courses offered to unemployed youth through Coursera. Additionally, National School of Government offered online courses on public service.
SwedenMore funding for existing distance learning at higher education institutions and internet-based learning centres.
United StatesProvided online resources around life goals, technology and digital literacy.