Smart tools for workforce transitions

The disruption to jobs caused by Covid-19 has hit a lot of people hard across different industries in Scotland.

The pandemic saw large numbers of people put onto government-supported furlough in 2020 and many have since lost their jobs or seen their businesses fail.

Covid-19 has caused an acute and unpredictable shock to the labour market, which has been further complicated by the ongoing changes to trade and economic migration due to Brexit.

And there are further, predictable disruptions to come. The necessary move away from emissions-heavy industries and the impact of the continued growth in automation are disruptions that could have a deeper and more devastating effect on jobs, livelihoods and Scotland’s economy than both Covid-19 and Brexit – unless we act now to mitigate these consequences.

We have the advantage of knowing these things are happening so we don’t need to wait for the shocks to take effect before we act. We can develop tools that allow industries, businesses and people to predict how changes will affect them so they can plan for the future.

Nesta’s sustainable future mission is to accelerate the decarbonisation of household activities to support the UK to reach net zero targets, and to improve levels of productivity across the country.

Since 2008, productivity in the UK and many industrialised nations has stagnated. The road to net zero provides both challenges for carbon-intensive industries and opportunities for new jobs in areas such as sustainability, low carbon and decarbonisation. This is likely to be one of the most significant structural changes to the economy over the next thirty years.

New areas of economic activity will emerge, creating opportunities for productivity growth if innovation and investment are encouraged, while some existing sectors will have to change their operations significantly or face decline.

Demands for skills will also change and the ability to understand the changing labour market and match people with vacancies will need to keep pace.

Nesta’s previous work in this area has explored how to support people who have lost work to upskill and find jobs that fit their experience and abilities. Projects like the Open Jobs programme, the Mapping Career Causeways report and data visualisation tools have helped us explore how best to support the UK in solving its productivity puzzle.

This summer we commissioned researchers at Rocket Science to map job losses in Scotland caused by Covid-19 against job opportunities identified in green and growth industries. Looking specifically at three areas in Scotland, we wanted to understand the impact in different sectors and the different kinds of skill development transitions it may be possible to support, encourage and promote. Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, and Edinburgh were selected to provide a range of distinct local circumstances to examine and use as case studies for designing potential reskilling pathways. Our new interim report, Covid and the jobs of the future sets out preliminary findings from the project.

Covid and the jobs of the future

Read our report with Rocket Science mapping Covid-19 disruption into sustainable growth industries in Scotland


Understanding the local context

This research shows that there are significant differences in each local authority area and the interventions, approaches and support need to be tailored to the specific regional labour markets. It makes the case for an employment transition tool in which live data could be used to bring real-time insights from the labour market to aid active decisions that could avoid job losses and long-term damage to local economies.

With such a tool, a local authority could identify where young people are struggling to find work in their area and are moving elsewhere, taking their skills and lifelong income with them. They could identify growth sectors in their areas that have a good number of early career opportunities and support the young people into these career pathways and roles.

Alternatively, a skills provider such as a college could see the predicted growth sectors through the analysis of live job advertisements and the skills they are looking for to fill these roles. They could use this information to update and reframe their course provision to better meet the needs of prospective employers and attract more students. For example, Dumfries and Galloway College has recently announced their Green Skills Academy, a collection of new and existing courses that they have refocused on sustainable practices and the green industries.

The opportunity for a smart and green labour market

Nesta has also been working in partnership with the UK Department for Education as part of the Career Tech Challenge to build the Open Jobs Observatory; a pilot project that shares insights on UK skill demands.

The Open Jobs Observatory searches databases of job ads then matches them to sectors, areas and skills groups to help build a regional picture of the labour market. It demonstrates how it is possible to build new data infrastructure to inform national policies, local authority decision making and the design and delivery of local skills provision that better meets the current and expected future demand.

There is potential to use the Open Jobs Observatory project to make faster, smarter and more informed transition planning that is tailored to the labour market profiles of each region and avoid job losses and long-term damage to the local economies.

The Open Jobs Observatory

Explore the Open Jobs Observatory - a pilot project that shares free, monthly insights on UK skill demands.

OJO data viz.png

We have the necessary information to develop and use a tool such as the Open Jobs Observatory to make real world decisions that help people to transition in their roles. To do this we need actionable insights and to identify the early trends that could have long-term implications for the labour market.

The Scottish Government recently committed to a skills guarantee for workers in carbon‑intensive sectors to be delivered through the Green Jobs Workforce Academy. This is in addition to a £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray and a £100 million Green Jobs Fund.

At Nesta in Scotland, we would like to work with partners who have an interest in better understanding the labour market to improve job transitions and reduce job losses, such as Local Authorities, skills providers and employers.

Reaching net zero and making the transition away from an emissions-heavy economy in a way that improves productivity and helps people to prosper is possible. But we need to take action - developing innovative tools that help us to make informed choices - now.


Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Mission Manager (Scotland), Innovation Programmes

Kyle is Nesta’s Mission Manager for Scotland working on the A Sustainable Future mission and based with the Scotland team in Edinburgh.

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