The Covid-19 pandemic will reshape the nation’s economy, industries and our society in a fundamental way. Senior figures from industry, education and local government have joined the West of England economic recovery taskforce, led by the Regional Mayor, Tim Bowles, to work together on a recovery plan to get the region moving safely again.
Poku Osei is a member of the taskforce focusing on young people, skills, employment, equal opportunity and inclusion. He is the founder and CEO of social mobility enterprise, Babbasa, which supports underrepresented young people into employment and enterprise. He is also the Founder of the World Economic Forum initiative – Global Shapers in Bristol, and Co-founder of The Black Professionals Network.
Here he talks about how inclusive recovery should be at the heart of our economy, as we work towards sustainable growth and increased resilience beyond Covid-19.
“This disease has had an impact on all lives – black, white, rich and poor. But it has particularly reminded us that inequality kills. It continues to decimate the lives of people living in poorer communities, simply because they are over-represented in frontline jobs, living in overcrowded housing or holding a less secure employment contract. On the other hand, even though young people are considered less physically at risk from coronavirus, it is important to note that they are some of the most vulnerable to its financial aftershocks.”
The impact on young people and work
“National ONS figures show that 408,000 people in the 18-24 age group are unemployed, while data from the Resolution Foundation research indicates that the crisis could push a further 600,000 young people into unemployment, unless support is provided. Tens of thousands of internships, work experience opportunities and entry-level employment roles could also be cut for those new to the job markets – depending on how we choose to respond.”
How businesses can respond
Poku says the impact of Covid-19 on the business community cannot be underestimated. “In many businesses, challenges have led to the response: ‘Yes, we understand the inequalities that ethnic minorities and inexperienced young people are facing, but now is not the time to talk about diversity and inclusion. We need to protect the essentials first and keep our business afloat.’ This is a mistake.”
He believes that organisations that recognise that Covid-19 has created not just an economic crisis but a people crisis stand a better chance of recovering. He outlines some of the skills and practices that could help recovery.
- Cultural competence – Business leaders need the cultural competence within their teams to deal with a returning workforce affected in a multitude of ways; experiencing new demands of balancing work and care with feelings of grief, loss, isolation or ‘otherness’, and a need for connection.
- Diversity of thought – Senior management teams will need diversity of thought to accurately assess the political, economic, social and technological opportunities available, to develop effective strategies for growth.
- Diverse front-line staff – a diverse frontline workforce can show empathy and offer reassurance to build trust with customers from various backgrounds who may fear to return to habits that were ‘normal’ before Covid-19.
- Intercultural communication skills – Supervisors will need the intercultural communication skills to manage teams and foster the sense of shared mission through teleconferencing and messaging apps.
He also believes the general workforce will need the diversity to understand the social sensitivities and impact of the social inequalities that have been magnified by the pandemic to build a sense of shared belonging.
Can we afford inclusive growth?
Poku thinks it would be particularly shortsighted for companies to deprioritise the recruitment of young people based on their inexperience in the world of work.
“They are the generation of digital natives and subsequently represent the architects to plan the new building for the fourth industrial revolution even as the firefighters work to save the old one.
The best leaders and organisations will recognise this fact about young people and minority candidates. Some will do so because it will be the advantage that helps them sprint away from competitors. Others will see that the profound social and economic transformation needed as a result of the pandemic cannot be achieved by any Government or any local authority alone.
The question, therefore, cannot be whether we can address the post-Covid-19 economic crisis and provide inclusive growth at the same time, but rather, whether we can afford not to do so. We cannot jump out of the frying pan of the pandemic and into exacerbation of inequality and social immobility.”
How Babbasa is responding
To mark the recent Queen’s Award For Enterprise, Babbasa has launched two initiatives to support young people living in Bristol’s ethnically diverse communities in inner-city Bristol. They include:
- An urgent appeal to support those affected by the pandemic, in the short term.
- A vision to support at least one person from each household to secure a median salary job by 2030.
This vision aims to lift individuals out of poverty and enable them to support their families, serve as role models in their community and contribute to the growth of the Bristol economy in the long term.
Poku says: “We believe the ripple effect of this vision for equality, particularly in the aftermath of this pandemic, would be profound.
Inclusive recovery programmes should be at the heart of economies that are working towards sustainable growth and increased resilience beyond Covid-19. As we rebuild, we have to open our eyes to both the risks and opportunities on the horizon. What we do now will not only reshape our economy and society, it will also reshape humanity’s future. Making a fairer, inclusive and sustainable recovery is the only bridge to a more resilient future.”