In business circles we normally talk about disruption with excitement and expectation. Of doing things differently and revolutionising our offer to better serve new or existing markets. In many ways, the pandemic has been the biggest mass disruption event ever seen – just not in the way that any of us would have wanted or expected.

That’s why, after a year of unparalleled disruption and loss, firms are looking to the future with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and a successful vaccine rollout have given many of us hope. But for businesses owners desperate to reopen their doors, many will wonder what environment they’re reopening into.

Will demand reach pre-pandemic levels? Do customers want the same kind of service and engagement? Do we need the same physical space to function? An economy can’t be switched on and off like a light switch – and the latest warnings from economists confirm we face a bumpy ride ahead.

The pandemic has given us an unwelcome crash course in workforce agility. Firms across the country have done incredible things to pivot operations to continue servicing customers. In sectors devastated by the pandemic, like hospitality, leisure and tourism, we’ve also seen many workers make the switch to roles and firms less impacted.

That level of agility has only been possible because of brilliant, resilient people willing to get stuck in. Sadly, goodwill and positive attitude alone won’t keep Scotland’s workforce ahead of the curve. Developing talent is a process, and its one we all have a stake in.

With the world of work in constant flux, and technology accelerating the process like never before, firms need greater certainty about accessing the people and skills they need to succeed. For individuals, it’s a battle to stay relevant and attractive in a competitive and fast-moving jobs market.One major thing we can do to bolster Scotland’s skills system is ensure funding better aligns with industry needs. A truly demand-led skills system can help Scotland compete with the best. As can striking a better balance between undergraduate learning, work-based learning and short, sharp provision to support continual upskilling and rapid retraining.

With the era of lifetime jobs and linear career long gone, Scotland needs to embrace a culture of lifelong learning. Learning can’t just stop at age 22, as the current system would seem to suggest. Instead, we have to support and incentivise people to keep investing in their skills throughout their career. By expanding the current Individual Training Account model, we already have a template to work from. We also need to focus on the soft and digital skills that are needed in every sector. By embedding those skills across all learning, and setting specific targets for digital skills adoption, we can make sure that no individual falls behind when it comes to versatility and employability. It’s also important to build on our strengths. Let’s offer our more flexible funding options to the universities and colleges that make up our amazing education sector – enabling them to do more. Let’s help them to deliver more short, sharp, industry-led courses that will help people rapidly upskill and retrain. And lets expand our apprenticeships system to make it more demand-led and open to a wider array of subjects and sectors.

Rebuilding Scotland’s economy from the devastation of the pandemic will be difficult. But with determination, and government and industry working together to lead the way, we can build back better than before. Scotland’s future is people-powered, so let’s equip those great people with the skills they need now, and for many years to come.

Tracy Black is director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland