Employees fear coronavirus restrictions are creating ‘career lockdown’, poll finds

Experts say younger staff in particular need access to training and mentorship as remote working increases concerns about progression

More than half of office workers are concerned about how coronavirus restrictions will affect their career prospects, with experts warning younger employees in particular still need access to training and mentorship, a study has found.

A poll of 6,000 office-based workers across Europe, conducted by Sharp, found half (51 per cent) of all those surveyed were anxious about a lack of training and keeping skills up to date – raising concerns of what the research called a ‘career lockdown’.

It found that under-30s in particular were looking for additional learning and development support from their employers.

Nearly a third of respondents in this age range (63 per cent) said that upskilling and training opportunities had become more important to them since restrictions came into force, while 41 per cent said employers should still be offering opportunities for staff to learn new skills online.

Younger workers also felt isolated from their companies during lockdown, the poll found. More than half of under-30s (55 per cent) said they felt cut off from their teams while working remotely.

Rob Davis, solutions and services business manager at Sharp, said there was a “clear concern from younger people in our workforce” about the long-term impact of the pandemic on their career development.

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“As businesses plan for the future of work, it’s important to make sure the fundamentals of work that are key to career development aren’t left behind for the ‘digitally savvy’ generation, and ensure technology is used to support this learning and collaboration as the way we work continues to change,” he said.

The poll is the latest in a series of studies to highlight the impact the coronavirus outbreak is having on young people. Research by the CIPD in December found that a quarter of employees were not planning to hire any young people or trainees next year despite a number of government incentives – including an £1,000 bonus for every new traineeship, and up to £2,000 for every new apprentice – on offer.

The Sharp survey also found younger people were experiencing some positives from the increase in remote working. More than half of under-30s (51 per cent) said they felt more productive working remotely, while two-thirds (63 per cent) said the technology that has enabled remote working has also enabled them to do their job more effectively.

However, Viola Kraus, an organisational psychologist who worked with Sharp on the research, warned employers not to fall into the pitfall of assuming younger workers did not need training on technology. “There is a growing trend that the youngest generation of workers, as ‘digital natives’ who know how to use tech, can be left to their own devices… [but] this generation not only needs to be taught the skills to get the best from technology, they need to be taught general business skills to progress in their job,” she said.

Kraus added that remote working created a “lack of connection and direction” for younger workers from their teams and senior colleagues, which could be adding to concerns over career progression. “It’s important to ensure that while we continue to work virtually, employers provide guidance and a formalised platform where peer-to-peer learning is encouraged, and eventually it happens naturally,” she said.