By Liam Butler, AVP at SumTotal
National Coding Week is an awareness initiative that is led by volunteers, aimed at building people’s confidence with digital skills – namely coding. The UK is currently in the middle of a growing digital skills crisis. According to a recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce, when hiring, two-thirds of businesses believe tech knowledge is key – and yet alarmingly, a quarter of these firms report digital skills shortages.
With Brexit threatening to stifle the flow of labour between Britain and the wider continent, and the effects of an ageing population becoming more pronounced over the next decade, the UK could be facing a job deficit of almost 3 million by 2030.
Industry needs to tackle this issue head-on. A fundamental starting point is to encourage more people to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) areas. This applies to students, as well as those individuals already in the workforce. It will require both training, and re-skilling, but it will be key to closing the digital skills divide. Left unchecked, by 2030 the global talent shortage could amount to more than $8.5 trillion in unrealised annual revenues.
Supporting women in STEM
One solution may be quite simple: get more women into STEM. Currently, women make up just 23% of STEM occupations in the UK, and therefore closing the diversity gap in these fields will naturally help to close the wider digital skills gap. Women are an untapped resource of digital talent.
The reasons for such a stark diversity divide are complex. We’ve come a long way towards increased awareness for gender equality in the workplace in recent years, but today women are still paid less than men, represented in fewer board positions, and hold fewer leadership positions in companies.
A recent report by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) and the High Pay Centre revealed that just seven of the FTSE 100 companies’ CEOs are women. FTSE 100 chief executive officers are as likely to be named Dave, as they are to be female. At the current rate of one new female CEO each year it will take another 43 years for women to make up 50% of the FTSE 100 CEOs. The report also reveals that while women make up 7% of FTSE 100 CEOs, they earn just 3.5% of total pay.
Fortunately, this disparity is gaining attention, and companies are beginning to take action to rectify the situation. But despite progression in gender equality, women are still grossly underrepresented in STEM. Those women who do enter STEM careers are more likely to leave for other industries than their male colleagues, with more than half leaving by the 10-year mark. The challenge, therefore, is two-fold: get more women into STEM, and keep them there.
Encouraging coding in schools
From a practical standpoint, encouraging girls to get into STEM ultimately starts with education. In school, coding should be mandatory for everyone; complex problem solving and critical thinking should be part of everyday life. This will go a long way to defusing the myth that STEM is for boys. Coding is great because it develops different parts of the brain, so even if children don’t go on to study STEM subjects, coding will still be useful from a skills perspective – particularly as the workplace becomes more reliant on technology.
One of the biggest blocks to making this change will be teachers. Some teachers are unconsciously biased about girls and STEM. As children, boys are told they’re smart whilst girls are told they’re beautiful – right from an early age unconscious bias is instilled and this still happens in primary schools today. This translates beyond childhood and into exam years and the world of work. The cycle perpetuates the age-old view: that women are better suited to social and artistic careers and would struggle making tough leadership decisions or solving complex math problems.
Awareness drives such as National Coding Week are crucial. Many teachers will also not have the skills to teach coding themselves and it’s important that individuals with the skills have the opportunity to pass on their knowledge to those who need it most. Businesses have a crucial role to play too – communicating which digital skills they will need from the future workforce and providing training and resources to schools to support better education in these areas. Skillsoft, for example, works with various charities across the world, donating digital skills learning content to their members and leadership teams – including Code like a Girl and Tech Sassy Girls – to help them gain the skills they need and pass on this knowledge to others.
This is a change that must happen; teachers, businesses and individuals all need to adapt. If nothing changes, we’ll continue to see both a gender and a skills imbalance in the workforce.
Ultimately, to be something, you need to see something. This issue is reflective of the lack of female role models in technology and STEM as a whole. Male leaders dominate the field; we need more of them sponsoring women’s career development and advocating for their advancement if women are to have long and rewarding careers in STEM. Diverse teams are shown time and again to be more creative, innovative and effective. It’s time to make diverse teams the norm, rather than the exception – and National Coding Week is a great starting place for this change.
TIPS FOR BUSINESS EXPANSION
Alan Sutherland, CEO of Kind Consumer
Every successful business had a beginning. Its founders usually looked for ways to gradually expand, attract new customers and increase monthly revenue. From the outside looking in that type of success often feels as though it requires some form of magic or hidden formula.
So how do you drive success? There are two which are fundamental to success. On first glance they may seem obvious, but they are often neglected.
Do you have a strong team?
No matter how great your business or idea you will not drive it to its full potential without a strong team behind you.
The process of recruiting and finding the best talent is never easy. You must over-invest time in the process as it is a fundamental investment and future growth driver. Two principles I have learned over the years when looking at recruitment are, to surround yourself with people who are better than you and do not be afraid to recruit someone who could make you redundant.
If you can achieve these, the benefits are clear. Better business results, stronger talent pool, and with capability future fit plus built-in succession planning.
Have you created a road map?
Strategy should not be complicated, as it is the set of choices you make to help you deliver your goals. It is your roadmap.
In thirty plus years of corporate life I have reviewed many. Countless textbooks have also been written on the subject, but there are some basic principles that I firmly believe work best. Namely, the vision should be clear, motivating, and understood by all in the organisation. In addition, it’s important to remember ‘less is more’. Too often strategy papers can be voluminous and complex. The best strategy work I have seen is on one piece of paper with clear, simple articulation of the choices you will do and equally what you will not do. It is very empowering to tell a team what you are not going to do.
Have you established a core market?
In any business, the “core” needs to be healthy before you divert any significant level of resource to expansion, there are thousands of examples where enthusiasm to grow has caused companies to fail.
As you evaluate expansion, having an array of ideas and opinions needs to be balanced with a clear brand that consumers feel they relate to. Whilst adding new products or services is an organic part of company growth it needs to be tempered, so you do not drift too far from your core market.
Therefore, before ploughing resources into new markets, you do need to ensure that new product and services will be of value to existing (or new) customers. You may need to ask some critical and challenging questions such as, is there a clear need for this? Is it marketable? Does it sit within the brand equity? How much will consumers pay for it?
If you conclude that the demand is there, only then should you move onto executing that new idea because it will require a significant amount of investment of time, resources, and money. If the market entry cost is potentially high, you should also evaluate a test & learn approach by launching in a limited way and, if early traction is good, then expand.
Once you have revised your existing offering, you need to engage with these new consumers to increase brand recognition. If your business is not online, add this to your to-do-list because in today’s era, convenience is key.
A website is the shop window to your brand and, done well, can allow you to build up a direct one-on-one relationship with your customers. If it was already an important criterion before, the impact of Covid-19 will make it indispensable.
With social media and the abundance of mobile technology, it is not difficult nor expensive to drive traffic to your site, so you need to ensure the site is engaging, easy to navigate, informative with a call to action to purchase. Loyal customers who return to your site are worth their weight in gold!
Do you have a healthy working capital?
Finally, a healthy working capital is essential not just for growth but for the day-to-day operations of running a business. Even as you start to see your business develop, you must keep a scarcity mindset with cash and make sure you have some reserves for when something goes wrong. This has caused thousands of start-ups to fail as they hit unexpected turbulence and had no contingency in place.
In today’s global economy, there is a lot of uncertainty so there has never been a more important time to maximise liquidity to meet short term obligations and avoid going bust. Not to mention, flexibility is key when a business is looking to expand and without enough working capital a business can lose this flexibility.
BITCOIN COMES OF AGE
Katharine Wooller, Managing Director, UK and Eire, Dacxi
The Bitcoin halving event, which occurred on the 11th May, has been a watershed moment for the industry. It has been a deafening theme for crypto narrative in recent months, and more recently has caught the eye of professional investors and conventional media alike, with some predicting it will be the catalyst for a substantial boom. It appears bitcoin, finally, has a hard-won place in the mainstream.
Halving: In a nutshell
Bitcoin has a key feature; there are a fixed amount available, and, crucially it has a pre-programmed supply reduction built in. The miners, who maintain the bitcoin network, validate transactions and add them to the blockchain when they are verified. They do this at considerable electrical and computing cost and thus are paid in bitcoin. Periodically, the reward for doing so halves. In the past this supply reduction, which previously occurred in 2012 and 2016, has coincided with a strong run-up in its price.
Bitcoin has now been in existence more than ten years and has survived the doubters, the scammers, the hackers, government attempts to quash it, and along the way it has given rise to new innovations using the blockchain technology that underpins it. To overstate this amazing “survive and thrive feat” as well as the innovation it represents would be difficult. Bitcoin, conceptually, has exceeded expectations. Alas the 5,000+ crypto currencies that have sprung up alongside it include the good, the bad, and so very ugly. Nearly all of these should fall away as Bitcoin dominates; at time of writing it is 67% of daily traded volumes. Understandably, there is a very short list of 3 what we call blue-chip coins (LTC, BTC, ETH) that the institutional investors have shown interest in.
Solving some our largest problems
There is a clear appeal of digital currencies to the cashless internet economy based, including 24/7 price transparency that is available, cross border usage, divisibility to many decimal places, as well as third party oversight and controls. Bitcoin has been on a roller coaster ride over the last two years and has held its value throughout the current dramas and even increased in value as governments have stimulated their economies on a massive scale via printing cash endlessly to avert a market meltdown. This is likely to create a massive inflationary environment into the future and sets the stage for Bitcoin to make its next move upwards after stocks and real estate prepare to reset valuations and attractiveness.
A new gold?
A lot of the dialogue around bitcoin talks about an improved version of gold, as a medium to convey value. Improved by virtue of the technology being quicker, and cheaper to both store and move. Indeed, a recent transaction of $1.1bn worth of bitcoin, by bitfinex, cost $84. Unsurprisingly this has caught the imagination of the financial infrastructure industry. Some market commentators postulate a 10x increase in prices in the next 12 months, based on a few % of the global appetite for gold switching to crypto, with bitcoin being the heir apparent.
For the industry as a whole, it is great news that bitcoin is now demonstrably decoupled from traditional markets. It is apparent that the price of Bitcoin is outside the traditional assets’ ecosystem, and the market is determined by a new set of criteria. Bitcoin now has the crucial “social proof” that it cannot be altered by external forces, no matter how powerful, bringing much joy to the libertarians and retail investors alike. Indeed, google searches for ‘bitcoin halving’ hit an all-time high in the late April, suggesting firm interest from newbies. Further, the quality of exchanges available to both retail and institutional investors has improved substantially in recent years, providing a much-needed ease of entry into the market.
Indeed, leviathan investors, such as Paul Tudor Jones, coming out in praise of bitcoin, as a viable hedge against inflation, saw bitcoin enter – unexpectedly – stage left to a much broader financial audience. Bitcoin is viewed as what gold was in the 1970s, thus driving increasing interest from his fellow baby boomer cohort. Indeed, Dacxi, a digital exchange focusing on educating retail investors, saw some of its busiest weeks in the run up to halving. The addition of global pandemic and imminent worldwide recession has been the perfect storm for the world to crave safe new assets. Crypto is firmly out of the niche and into the zeitgeist.
In my opinion, crypto has reached critical mass in terms of adoption. There’s no going back. I was delighted to wake up in London on the 12th May and see the BBC reporting on halving – it doesn’t get much more mainstream than that!
As digital currencies become the increasingly dominant technology, anyone with an interest in markets and investing would be well placed to educate themselves on this seemingly unstoppable asset class. With the recent momentum gained from the halving, crypto is likely to be a broader theme of daily life for decades to come.
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