Why we started a new business during a COVID-19 health pandemic?

I was recently asked why we started UniHaven during a worldwide COVID-19 health pandemic, with the question followed straight away by “you are brave.” To which I responded: yes and no. We are not brave, we did not look at the Coronavirus issue as a burden that would stop our plans – we looked at this as an opportunity.

Here is why I responded the way I did. In January 2020 we started hearing about this new virus called Corona. I think for most it was a concern, but nothing to be overly concerned about. After all, we had witnessed similar outbreaks of viruses over the years, SARS just to name one. However, as the months passed, the concern turned to a mild state of worry with the realisation that this virus was spreading at a rate faster than expected and that it was going to be around for longer than thought. Then the panic set in, countries started to shut down, international travel ceased and companies started closing their doors. Lockdown was upon us. In fact, at this very time, I was stuck in Cameroon, far from home and going nowhere fast. To make things worse, no one had answers to the questions that many were asking.

Suddenly employers were faced with having to make very difficult decisions, especially in the education sector. They had to make decisions fast, with no real evidence to help guide the process. Decisions had to be based on the unknown. To make things worse, the general approach was based on the very worst-case scenario, rightly or wrongly so. Some might say this is just human nature, thinking about the very worst case was not difficult to imagine.

While all of this was going on I was lucky and fortunate enough to spend time interacting with people from a variety of sectors gathering their own feedback and thoughts on what they felt lay ahead. The one thing that struck me was their vision for opportunity. So, while there was so much doubt and negativity within the market, these people were able to acknowledge the risk and negative fallout the virus was having, but also able to focus in on the opportunities. Let’s face it, at a time when the whole world seemed to be in a crisis, this was very refreshing.

I started looking at things differently and doing my own soul searching. Having been involved in higher education for most of my working career, it was not too difficult to focus on what I believe is important. And credit must be given where credit is due: the education sector responded quite swiftly, adapting and implementing changes where possible. All this change and innovation sparked a realisation, an epiphany if you will – this was going to fundamentally change how we, as a species, approach the way we interact, learn and work!

What I am about to say is not revolutionary, it’s quite simple: we need to keep up.

The world is changing at such a rapid pace that it can be difficult for many of us to keep up. Search the internet and there is a wide variety of research articles noting the global shift to a future of work being defined by an ever-expanding quest for new technologies, commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution that is leading to the looming possibility of mass job displacement and untenable skills shortages.

In 2014 I watch a talk by Mr Rainer Strack, an international human resources expert, who predicted a significant decline in the supply of talent worldwide. Strack’s Ted Talk topic addressed the Global Workforce Crisis of 2030 (Rainer Strack: The workforce crisis of 2030 — and how to start solving it now | TED Talk ) in which he highlights the troubling future of the German economy: as workers in that labour force begin to retire over the next decade, the nation will face an increasing demand for talent. One they simply can’t meet.

Not convinced? Consider this: Of the world’s 15 largest economies, responsible for 70 percent of the world’s GDP, 12 are projected to face a labour shortage by 2030. As emerging technologies replace low-skilled workers, the need for high-skilled ones will increase dramatically.

Strack’s talk struck a chord with me and I have since referred to or compared a variety of situations and problems to what Strack had highlighted in his talk. Quite simply put, Strack highlights “high-skilled people, talents, will be the big thing in the next decade”. However, they’re a scarce resource and businesses have to work to understand them better. Coming from both the private and public education sector, I have always believed that it’s not only business that needs to work to understand people better, but also the education sector which has a major role to play in this activity. Helping to develop and enhance human skills and capabilities through education and then being able to align this with meaningful work are key drivers of economic success, of individual well-being and societal cohesion.

This is the kicker and what motivated us to start UniHaven.

With the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the new global recession brought on by the COVID-19 health pandemic there is an even greater demand and need for a ‘Reset’. This pandemic has impacted us all, with millions of people having experienced changes that have profoundly transformed lives within and beyond work, changes to their well-being and their productivity. But it is also an opportunity for economic prosperity and societal progress through education and skills development that will lead to newer jobs, better jobs. What we can confidently say is that the need for highly skilled “high-skilled people, talents” is here and growing. While mid-term projections indicate a drop in job opportunities, this will most likely be offset by job growth in the ‘jobs of tomorrow’.

UniHaven looks to position itself as a pathway provider working in tandem with its university partners and employers to help provide education pathways, reskilling and upskilling opportunities, creating the talents that will be in demand for this new future.

For anyone looking to study, there are and will be many exciting pathways to choose from. But having such a wide range of choice can also complicate things. Thankfully, there is a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data available that examines the demand for future talent and skills. We are seeing, more so than ever, companies reviewing competency models by occupation and producing a clearer understanding of the skills and abilities they will need to recruit. Do your own research before deciding on the area of study you would like to embark on. Plan and research future employment opportunities and the future needs for specific skill sets. The data available is vast, though, you must ask the right questions. A few that are worth considering include:

  • What factors might influence talent supply and demand for your own job aspirations?
  • How can you find out what the labour market will look like in next 10 years for mission-essential occupations in your desired area of study or occupation?
  • How do your current skills or work experience match up to the skills needed to achieve your own goals?

It is important to seek out reliable forecasting resources. Most countries have their own labour statistics or occupational handbooks that provide a wealth of information by occupational groups and specific occupations that are in high demand or projected to grow, along with other useful data. Sites like The Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) provide a wide variety of country specific data for its 38 member countries, that include country overviews and economic snapshots. https://www.oecd.org/. While the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency also provide useful reports that cover Global Employment Trends for Youth. See 2020 report: ENG_ILO_Report_GlobalYouthEmployment_Layout_InsidePages_Final.indd

We have no doubt that the journey ahead will have some bumps in the road, but we are very excited. As a group of likeminded people that see ourselves as a team of futurists, we will strive to pursue a holistic approach, creating active linkages and coordination between ourselves, universities, and employers to ensure effective collaboration that promotes meaningful learning opportunities for all.

As my colleague Brian would say: “That’s it in a nutshell.” And hopefully you will agree that we are not brave. We are just aware, and able to spread this awareness, that we are all heading into exciting times. There is a great need for people who can think differently, who can look outside of the norms to find creative and innovative solutions. And, while many of these thinkers will come from established centres of learning, there are those who will look to educators like UniHaven to get the opportunities they need to rise into a new world, a changing world.

And that is why we started a business during a pandemic – because from great tribulations comes great change, and we see the potential for a new generation of thinkers and learners to use new ways of accessing education and, eventually, to move the world forward.

Article by: Laurence Foure

Online sources

Rainer Strack., The workforce crisis of 2030, and how to start solving it now, viewed 8 June 2021, from

Rainer Strack: The workforce crisis of 2030 — and how to start solving it now | TED Talk

International Labour Organisation., Global Employment Trends for the Youth 2020, Technology and the future of jobs, viewed 9 June 2021, from

9 Responses
  1. Mark Allan

    Great article, all the very best to you and Brian for doing this, been a pleasure watching you both develop the business and model through this period and I’m sure that it will be a success as a result going forward! “Palma Virtuti” (the reward is to the brave)

  2. Laurence

    Mark thank you so much for those kind words. Your guidance and advice over the years has been so valuable and a great lesson that we can all learn from each other and that collaboration is the way forward.

  3. David Anthony

    So good to see a positive story at a time like this. Congratulations on starting the business.

    Being in the IT industry I am acutely aware of the current skills shortage – education and upskilling is key to turning the trend around.

    I wish you all the best and much success with Unihaven.

  4. Laurence Foure

    David thanks for the encouraging message. Coming from an IT back ground I know the challenges of having to keep abreast with all the advancements taking place.

  5. Congratulations Laurence, I have always admired your “Glass is half full” attitude to life and business, your entrepreneurial spirit and look forward to more inspirational content on this new website!!

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