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WHAT BUSINESSES CAN LEARN FROM STEM TRAINING IN THE FINANCIAL SECTOR

Tony Virdi

By Tony Virdi, head of UK banking and financial services at Cognizant

A subject of much debate over the last few months, the CBI and many of its members agree that there is a severe shortage of advanced and technical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills and that this shortage needs to be addressed imminently. The 2013 Education and Skills Survey showed that 39 per cent of UK firms struggle to recruit workers with the appropriate skills. Even though the 2013 Autumn Statement announced an extra £185m for more technical subject teaching at university level in England, seeing real progress might still take some time.

For now, the latest round of graduates busy applying for jobs are still likely to face barriers due to a lack of experience, average university exam results or simply being put off by the STEM sector altogether. In order to introduce more and better skilled graduates to a STEM career, especially women, it is not just government and the education sector that will play a big part; the wider STEM sector has a major role to play as well.

Tony Virdi

Tony Virdi

However, some sectors are doing better than others in addressing the skills’ shortage. Financial organisations, for example, are already addressing the issue directly by providing more in-house technical training schemes, and other sectors could adopt a similar approach.

Firstly, it is about communicating the opportunities and benefits of working in IT and technology- related fields to attract more graduates. As those who work in IT know, technology is a fast-paced and constantly changing sector and one in which innovative and entrepreneurial individuals thrive. Secondly, recent research for the Complete University Guide also indicated that graduate salaries within IT have increased compared to an overall decline, an obvious incentive to move into this sector, as well as the sheer number of jobs available: the European Commission estimates that Europe might face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020. However, with many still lacking the skills and training required, what can be done to boost the number of applicants as well as boosting their confidence?

In the banking sector, we have already started to see some businesses take the initiative by encouraging and supporting school-age pupils to consider STEM careers, eventually leading to potentially becoming the graduate intake of the future. For example, Cognizant is working closely with Teach First, a charity with the vision that no child’s educational success is limited by their socio-economic background. As one of the charity’s primary focuses is on encouraging young people to take an interest in STEM subjects, a number of our senior executives are volunteering some of their time in the classroom to support the charity’s emphasis on STEM subjects. By connecting our employees with teachers and their pupils, we can help tackle educational inequality and encourage higher education whilst providing tangible business benefits, particularly in STEM related subjects.

This early stage, collaborative approach to entry-level IT and business training is fairly unique across all industries at the moment. However, we expect to see greater demand for this, as more and more businesses start to realise the benefits of addressing technical skills’ shortages directly. Having this control also means they can tailor the training programmes with their selected partner to ensure the candidates are better prepared for their specific roles.

In addition to mentoring and teaching technical and business skills, graduates should be exposed to different markets early on. Global companies are in the best position to offer work opportunities in different countries. Learning about different cultural practices and business models will not only enrich their careers and allow graduates to stand out from the crowd from the beginning, it also benefits companies themselves. It allows individuals in different regions to impart knowledge and skills relevant to their markets and, at the same time, it gives graduates the opportunity to understand national differences and gain valuable insight into the organisation’s own culture. The value is all about increasing enterprise knowledge and skills.

The industry should also focus on promoting more prominent women to encourage more female graduates into STEM careers. Although women now make up 46 per cent of the UK’s work force, only 15.5 per cent of the STEM workforce is female[1]. More can be done to fill this gap and having strong role models will help with this. Once on board, it is also important to ensure that women are given equal opportunities and support throughout their careers.

Although the STEM skills shortage has already been acknowledged by the education system, the CBI and industry itself, organisations should take the lead to ensure they get the best talent entering the business which is then equipped with the right skill set according to the industry’s requirements. After all, in the digital age having the right skills within the business will help them run better and give competitive edge by supporting and nurturing tomorrow’s innovators. The banking sector has already made good progress in introducing graduates to IT and technology expertise. It is up to other sectors to follow suit and assess their approach now, to address their own skills shortages.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 36

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   37

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 38

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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