High time to prepare workforce for post-pandemic era
Governments across the world are trying to save lives by preventing the spread of coronavirus through the implementation of various measures, such as social distancing guidelines and nationwide lockdowns.
Although these measures are put in place to safeguard public health, they do impede the production process of most industries and businesses.
In order to keep the economy up and running amid the current situation, governments need to reopen businesses, accelerate production hubs and maintain smooth supply chains.
However, recent reports show that most countries have not even considered what the working environment could be like in the post COVID-19 era.
The development of a vaccine that could help eliminate the coronavirus threat is already underway at several pharmaceutical companies across the globe but the process could take another two or three years, according the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It is also a very real possibility that a vaccine cannot be found and so, people may have to learn how to live with the virus forever.
Even in countries that seemingly beat the deadly pathogen, a second wave of coronavirus has begun to spread. Therefore, considering how the coronavirus fallout has already damaged economies worldwide, it is not feasible for governments or private organisations to discontinue their business activities for an indefinite period of time.
This means that employees will inevitably return to the workplace as they depend on the organisation's survival for the sake of their own livelihoods. Besides, in the case of a prolonged closure of economic activities, consumers would also find it difficult to obtain their daily essentials, such as food and clothing.
Considering the prevalent situation, it is of paramount importance for employers and the government to ensure a safe working environment for the years to come.
Therefore, before resuming operations, employers will have to raise awareness among their workers on the dangers of a coronavirus infection and how to avoid it.
The workplaces around the world will be very different to how they were before the pandemic.
Preparing employees for the 'new normal' might actually be challenging though in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.
Whatever ails the planet today may be replaced by something else tomorrow.
This means that no matter how well a firm may tackle the ongoing pandemic, the possibility for its business to be ruined by another unforeseen crisis in the future is very plausible.
That being said, it is still prudent to make the country's workforce adaptable to drastic changes.
Employees will remain safe and healthy in the workplace if they follow the social distancing guidelines and other measures when carrying out their duties.
However, educating workers on the importance of following such measures could prove challenging in Bangladesh as the general public seems reluctant to accept change.
As a result, the key approach for employers and governments is to provide training and information on how to use new technologies and raise awareness and motivation, allowing them to feel capable of learning new aspects of their jobs.
For example, training workers on how to use digital platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet as well as social media platforms in order to help them communicate with employers and other stakeholders is inevitable.
In Bangladesh, many employees lack technological awareness while others are even scared to use these platforms due to personal data security.
This scenario is not only common in Bangladesh but also in other poor, developing or developed countries.
Moreover, training in health and safety issues such as washing hands, sterilising office tools and altering work processes, could be effective in keeping them safe from any viral infection, whether that be the novel coronavirus or some different virus in the future.
Furthermore, resilience training could also be offered to employees to develop their emotional, physical, mental, cognitive and spiritual resilience.
This would also enhance employees' quality of life, decrease anxiety and stress, develop their views surrounding life's unavoidable circumstances which arose from the pandemic amid a VUCA world.
However, the types of training required will be different according to an industry or sector's context and organisations and businesses will inevitably need to adopt such training methods to prepare employees.
Besides, training would not only be effective in developing employees' competencies and motivation to use technology, but also raise their awareness regarding the use of those platforms.
Training from an employer perspective could be applicable to their current workers but millions of employees have already lost their jobs and many job seekers with qualifications will be looking for jobs but a lack of skills in how to use modern platforms could negatively affect and challenge their ability to enter the job market.
If current and future workforces cannot adapt to the new normal and are unable to gain new skills, unemployment will be higher due to the scarcity of jobs and inefficiencies in performance.
Furthermore, the 'internet of things' (IoT), including the integration of complicated operations of various departments, the continuous development of digital security for personal and organisational data, mental support, rewards for green practices, such as green human resource management (GHRM) practices and empathy could be effective for employees to adapt to any situation that could be worse than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, when looking into the IoT market, it can be seen that this vibrant marketplace, worth $150 billion in 2019, is now projected to be worth $243 billion by 2021.
As such, remote working, transmission chain tracking and contactless payments will be solutions in the post Covid-19 period to keep employees safe and implement social distancing in workplaces.
However, that will only be possible due to several IoT applications.
Therefore, developing IoT applications should be accelerated, particularly in developing countries, for economies to be able to adapt to changes in business environment due any pandemic.
Private organisations will be concerned about the cost of implementing training programmes while also developing technologies, such as IoT applications, to increase job performance.
But it is positive that all these initiatives will be beneficial in the long run as employee turnover will be reduced and production will be able to continue smoothly.
Governments could also arrange mass-training activities for job seekers and develop technological platforms for organisations to acquire IoT.
Not taking any such measure will result in a dip in production levels and surge in unemployment during the post coronavirus era.
However, poor and developing countries will suffer from financial constraints when implementing the training programs and developing technological bases as they are already struggling from a lack of funds due to the pandemic.
Given the situation, developed nations and international organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), International Labour Organisation (ILO), European Union (EU), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), should extend their technical and financial support, particularly for the poor and developing countries.
This would allow businesses in those countries to train their current and future employees and develop technological platforms.
In conclusion, a tech-based skilled group of employees should be ready to join together and perform in different work environments regardless of borders.
Md Asadul Islam is a lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak Campus) and Abu Naser Mohammad Saif is an assistant professor at Dhaka University.