Digital channels are playing an increasingly important role in helping workers during the during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a new ILO policy brief. Since the pandemic hit, national Public Employment Services (PES) have been working to mitigate the impact on the labour market. Measures such as unemployment benefits, often combined with other cash transfers and enterprise support schemes, have played a central role in preserving jobs and skills, supporting employment in essential services and production, and protecting disadvantaged workers, particularly in the informal economy.
The new brief, COVID-19: Public employment services and labour market policy responses , found that digital technology has played a key role in maximizing the impact of such help. Countries that had computerized their worker support services prior to the pandemic and those with a clear digital transformation strategy, have responded more effectively to the challenges posed by COVID-19. They have been able to use remote delivery channels to ensure their services continued during full or partial lockdowns. Additionally, they have used digital services to continue providing online registration, automated job-matching, and guidance ‘chats’ and webinars.
To help the growing number of people who lost work because of COVID-19 find new employment, or to reallocate them to new occupations, sectors and regions, governments need to guarantee easy access to good labour market information and skills development options. Technology has played a determining role in ensuring this is done quickly and efficiently.
Digital channels have made support services accessible outside normal office hours, and to more people. They also allow for more transparent systems for matching vacancies and jobseekers. Examples include:
- During the lockdown in Spain local employment offices relied heavily on the online jobs portal, a toll-free number for jobseekers, and the ‘virtual office desk’ that was activated to adapt services to the restrictions caused by COVID-19.
- The Chinese PES adopted remote interaction between counselors and clients using an online chat system, “WeChat Official Accounts”, which was introduced prior to the pandemic.
- The Indian and Uruguayan PES encouraged the registration of jobseekers and the listing of vacancies using online job portals, which also provided access to training and online job fairs.
- During the pandemic lockdown, the PES in the Netherlands arranged video meetings and conducted webinars with clients.
- The Moroccan PES used mobile units, staffed by counselors specifically trained to serve groups of the population not able to access the PES remotely, to reach clients in remote rural and urban areas.
The COVID-19 crisis is likely to have lasting effects on jobs, enterprises and skills, the brief advises. The expected recession is likely to make it more challenging for employers and workers to navigate the labour market, particularly in economies with large informal labour markets. In these circumstances, technology can be an increasingly important tool to help those who need it most, the brief concludes.