EMBRACING NATIONAL CODING WEEK
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.
Budgeting the unknown, forecasting the uncertain
Tarka Duhalde, Vice President, Financial Controller, IRIS Software Group
Volatility and uncertainty are still looming large. In late March the Bank of England raised interest rates from 4% to 4.25%. While many think interest rates will peak at 4.5% in Summer 2023, no one knows for sure. Likewise, no one knows what the price of fuel or the price of energy will be in six months, despite the UK not falling into a recession, as announced by the Chancellor in his Spring Budget.
Nevertheless, the high level of uncertainty will not disappear overnight, making the tasks of budgeting and forecasting even more difficult than they normally are, as there are simply so many unknown quantities at play. However, senior business leadership are continuously looking to their finance team for clarity – often asking them to generate accurate forecasts at a faster pace. In many ways, this request makes sense. After all, in a climate of uncertainty, who doesn’t want visibility?
However, generating multiple forecasts can put a lot of pressure on already-overworked finance teams. What’s more, when it comes to budgeting and forecasting, speed and accuracy can be at odds with each other. Too often, finance teams feel they have to choose between turning around an accurate forecast at a slower pace or a less accurate forecast at a quicker pace. Obviously, neither option is ideal.
That said, hope is not lost. If the right tools are in place, it is possible to turn around accurate forecasts at a rapid pace.
Eliminate guesswork and assumptions
Businesses and finance teams should want their forecasts to be as close to reality as possible. Yes, forecasts are about predicting the future, but they’re not magic, they’re science.
There are many ways to generate an accurate forecast, but the first step should always include cutting out wishful thinking, guesswork, and assumptions. If this isn’t done, businesses run the risk of inaccuracies. The ‘single truth’ is the goal and a wildly conservative forecast is just as incorrect as a wildly optimistic forecast.
Instead of relying on wishful thinking, guesswork, and assumptions, finance teams and businesses should base their forecasting on robust quantitative and qualitative techniques, including strong research, reliable data, and facts. As well as assessing the accuracy of previous budgets and forecasts, looking at the business’ historical data, checking the latest industry analysis, and seeing how the competition is doing. All of this will help get forecasts as close to reality as possible.
Embrace artificial intelligence
In addition, businesses should consider investing in automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as the right tools will be less error-prone than humans. On top of this, they can help with eliminating conscious and unconscious bias and will spot data patterns finance teams cannot. They can also vastly reduce cycle times – freeing up team members’ time to focus on adding strategic value.
It is crucial to remember, the aim is not to replace employees with AI tools, rather the ultimate goal is for AI to work with people – helping to optimise the budgeting and forecasting process.
What’s more, the tools are only going to get more sophisticated as time goes on. Businesses and finance teams should seriously consider getting ahead of the curve and adopt these technologies sooner rather than later.
Adopt rolling forecasts
Instead of finance teams just generating a yearly static budget, they should also look to adopt rolling forecasts – ideally revisiting and reforecasting on a quarterly or even monthly basis. This will maximise visibility, giving leaders the crucial insight into how the business is performing in real time or near-real time, allowing more informed business decisions to be made. Especially in more uncertain times, it’s important to stay agile and rolling forecasts can facilitate this.
Whilst static budgets have their place, they cannot adapt to change. For example, if shortly after generating a budget, the business loses a major client or the wider economy takes a turn for the worse, the budget will already be out of date. However, rolling forecasts can adapt to change. In this way, they are more accurate and, by extension, more useful than static budgets.
Once a business is up and running, rolling forecasts can be highly efficient. What’s more, if AI and automation have already been embraced, there won’t be a need to sacrifice accuracy for speed.
If businesses and finance teams want to generate accurate budgets and forecasts during these uncertain times, they will need the right tools, the right strategy, and the right mindset. For maximum visibility, casting aside assumptions, embracing automation, and adopting rolling forecasts are three great places to start.
5 Often-Overlooked Investment Options To Consider Exploring In 2023
When choosing what to invest in, many people will initially focus on the stock market which is considered a more mainstream investment. However, investments are more than stocks, and there is a wide range of alternative investments you can add to your portfolio to not only add growth to your long-term returns but also to spread the risk. If you’re looking to diversify your investments or if you simply want to get started with something different, this guide will cover the overlooked investment options that you should consider in 2023. From investing in EIS schemes and commercial property to commodities and collectables, there is plenty to discover.
One of the first on our list of overlooked investments is EIS investment opportunities, one of many flagship policies developed by the UK government to support early-stage companies. With an EIS investment, you would be helping to support businesses in exchange for various tax reliefs. Depending on your circumstances, this could include 30% income tax relief, tax-free gains, CGT deferral, loss relief, or inheritance tax relief. To understand more about investing in EIS schemes and their benefits, head over to Oxford Capital, to learn more.
When property developers are looking to finance new commercial or residential projects, they typically do so with property bonds. These bonds are used to raise capital for the projects from investors and typically last for a fixed term, between two and five years. This form of investment is attractive due to the higher interest rates, ranging from 4% to 15%, offered in comparison to traditional government bonds, which generally perform at under 4%.
While there is a risk that the project could be abandoned due to external factors such as a rise in material costs, disruptions to supply, and a lack of finances, if the project goes to plan, you will see a return of your original investment as well as any interest accumulated. However, you can also opt to receive the interest payments monthly, quarterly, or annually throughout the course of the project, in which case, at the end of the project, your original investment will be returned with any leftover interest that has not yet been paid.
The term commodity encompasses a variety of physical investments you can make. Unlike traditional investments such as stocks, bonds, or funds, these investments have both a use-value and an exchange value. This is because when you invest in commodities, you gain ownership over a small amount of the resource you are investing in. As there is always a need for physical goods, these commodities are an excellent way to diversify your investment portfolio and hedge against inflation, market changes, and the depreciating value of different currencies.
Some of the most common commodities you can invest in include:
- Agricultural products.
- Crude oil.
- Precious metals.
- Diamonds and other precious stones.
- Spices, sugar, and salt.
When looking into properties to invest in, many people choose residential options as they can renovate and sell or rent these homes. However, as the property market can be particularly volatile, a great option when you want to invest in properties is to look to commercial options instead. When it comes to commercial property, there are many ways you can invest, and these include:
- Direct investment:This means buying a share or all of a property, which can then be rented out to businesses.
- Direct commercial property funds:Often referred to as bricks-and-mortar funds, this is the most popular way to invest in commercial property. With this fund, you invest into a scheme that invests directly into an existing portfolio of commercial properties, which pays out the interest of your investment monthly, quarterly, or annually.
- Indirect property funds:Similar to the direct commercial property fund, with this fund, you would invest in a collective investment scheme that invests in the shares of property companies in the stock market.
Peer-to-peer lending is a risky venture where you would invest directly into start-up enterprises in order to help them get off the ground. It’s an excellent way to help small business owners get going with their dreams while also creating a lucrative investment. When you choose peer-to-peer lending, you loan the start-up a specific amount with the promise to pay back with interest. You can determine a timeline for this, or you can also choose to have the interest paid back monthly, quarterly, or annually.
However, as already mentioned, peer-to-peer lending is a risky venture, as the company you invest in could fail, and in that case, they would default on your loan. With this in mind, before you choose peer-to-peer lending, you should always thoroughly research the start-up’s fundamentals first, as this will give you a better insight into the viability of the business.
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