Worker redeployment has been a vital solution to many of the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed many aspects of our lives, particularly work. While some workers are able to work from home and others are furloughed, many are finding themselves redeployed, particularly those in sectors where business activity has all but ceased.

In the hospitality and entertainment sectors in particular, companies have found themselves facing a collapse in demand. Some of the most innovative companies have responded by redeploying their workers to an area that has seen demand increase.

The result is the biggest redeployment of labour since the Second World War. Workers and companies have had to adjust quickly to the new reality and lend their skills where they can be most useful.

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

A temporary change of career

In some cases, it’s obvious where people can make the most difference. Several airlines, with their planes mostly grounded, have redeployed flight attendants to work in healthcare. This makes sense because flight attendants are trained to work calmly in an emergency and, though they aren’t going to be treating patients, they also have first aid training.

Other workers have seen their skills redeployed without having to change employers or where they work. Many companies have pivoted during the crisis to provide essential products, such as ventilators or hand sanitizer. In these cases, workers have had to adapt their skills, rather than take on a completely new role.

Outside of the healthcare sector, other industries are seeing a surge in demand too. Supermarkets and grocery suppliers have been recruiting more people to cope with a change in shopping patterns that many have described as being similar to Christmas grocery shopping, as people stock-up for isolation. In the US, CVS Health has turned to furloughed workers from hotel chains Hilton and Marriott to fill 50,000 vacancies, while Sysco Corporation, which distributes food to restaurants, is loaning its workers to Kroger supermarkets.

In self-employed sectors, redeploying can be a trickier proposition as workers have to find openings themselves. However, many of those picking up shifts in supermarkets have been actors, singers and dancers, who were abruptly left without work when theatres closed. Meanwhile, gig economy firm Uber has created a Work Hub for its drivers to make them aware of possibilities for delivery work, freight transport and other options.

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Connecting skills supply and demand

Of course, not every worker who is furloughed or loses their job can immediately redeploy to an area where their skills are in demand. In just two weeks after the shutdown began in the US, for example, more than 10 million workers filed unemployment benefit claims. Not all of them would be able to find an opening for their skills and quickly take it up.

However, many third parties have created programs to help available workers find openings appropriate to their skills. The Adecco Group, for example, is working with clients and their staff to help them make the best use of their skills, and Accenture has created a platform that connects companies that are laying-off or furloughing workers with businesses that have hiring needs.

There have been private-public partnerships in some countries too. In France, Opération Mobilisation Emploi, launched by the French Ministry of Labour, pools jobs in essential sectors, such as healthcare, agriculture, transport, logistics, energy, and telecommunications, and has advertised more than 10,000 positions already.

The pandemic has given businesses an opportunity to demonstrate their agility and resilience in the face of a crisis. In cooperation with the public sector, they have provided vital solutions in difficult times. As we adjust to the new normal of the post-COVID world, we may see more emphasis on upskilling and reskilling to provide greater economic flexibility.


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