The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the unemployment rate has risen to 7.1 per cent, jumping by 1.3 per cent since the third quarter of last year.
Over the first three quarters of the current recession, the number of people out of work has grown by 530,000, currently standing at 2.2 million.
This is a larger rise than was seen during previous recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, when unemployment rose by 434,000 and 304,000, respectively.
If there was ever a time to turn your attention to improving qualifications and gaining new skills, it is now, as continuing redundancies and rising numbers of people out of work make the jobs market increasingly competitive.
“I think it’s crucial because people need to look at the skills they’ve got. If there is any way they can improve their current or future employability by retraining and upskilling then it is essential that they should do so,” says Frances Wilson, human resources advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
“The whole adult education system provides a really good social outlet for people as well,” explains Ms Wilson. “It probably helps people to have less stress and to be healthier, have more hobbies and be more sociable.”
Sarah Van Der Heyden, public policy advisor at the CIPD, suggests that the onus is on the individual to seek training, whether that means undergoing a bookkeeping course or aiming for a secretarial diploma.
“It is worth taking personal responsibility to develop, both for yourself and for your business, and for any change that may happen in the future as well,” she insists.
Experts continually stress to businesses how important it is to retain and recruit trained staff in order to prepare them for the economic upswing as well as see them through the downturn.
Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, confirms:
“Skills development is essential if organisations are to be well placed when the economy eventually turns a corner.”
The results of a recent survey would suggest that attending courses run by a private company could be preferable to government-funded providers.
Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) revealed that two-fifths of employers using the Train to Gain programme said it had “no impact” on their business and three-quarters of respondents rated the training brokerage service as “poor” or “mixed at best”.
Word 2007 courses and Microsoft Office courses in London may also be worth considering, as over half of the employers surveyed by the CBI said they were worried about IT skills within their workforce.
When it comes to being an Executive PA, standing out from the crowd is going to be particularly important, according to one expert.
Derek Smart, chair at the Association of Executive Recruiters, says employers are setting their sights higher when it comes to shortlisting candidates for interview.
“There are a lot of quality people out there and if you go back a year ago, they would be struggling and probably some placements would be made on ‘the best choice we’ve got,” he explains.
“Now they are certainly going to be upping the ante and looking, quite rightly, in a much more bullish market as far as candidates are concerned, and they will be expecting to find better quality.
Their sights will be upwards,” Mr Smart asserts.
Meanwhile, Martin Birchall, managing director at High Fliers Research, whose recent survey of graduates found that university leavers are aiming for jobs which provide better security, says people looking to upskill must choose their qualifications carefully.
He suggests that most employers do not take any notice of masters courses if they are not relevant to the role being applied for, which suggests that specific training such as touch typing courses may be a preferable option.