Category Archives: unemployment

Tech North’s Northern Digital Jobs Strategy

Executive summary

The ‘digital skills crisis’ is never far from the headlines in most digital economies across the world today. Companies in the UK say they need ‘talent’ more than anything else to help them grow – and they need it yesterday.

Likewise, the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ concept continues to gather both positive media mentions and probing questions in near-equal measure. Regional groupings in the North now span the public and private sector, looking at everything from infrastructure to education within increasingly formalised structures. These groups are currently arming themselves with the information and supporters they need to cement the success of this political project.

At Tech North, one thing we wanted to understand was how we might solve our region’s skills challenges, in order to shore up the North’s future. Unlike a city like New York, which leads the world’s innovation measures because its political leadership is willing and able to act on this issue, the North has no one leader and is instead a patchwork of local governance with little or no control over education.

We know that digital jobs pay more, but from our work with the IPPR North on its Devo Digital skills report, we also know that all of the North’s regions have substantial digital skills gaps for those workers educated to undergraduate level or equivalent.

But our region kickstarted the industrial revolution, is the home of cooperative business, led the women’s suffrage movement and created the first computer – which makes a great basis for the North to lead on building a collaborative and diverse digital sector.

And with good salaries, great jobs, jump-for-joy house prices and awesome quality of life, our region has things that many other cities across the world simply cannot offer.

This Northern Digital Jobs Strategy has been created using research from Manchester’s Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the IPPR North think tank to create eight themes under which our efforts can be grouped.

These eight themes were then consulted on with the community at Tech North’s Digital Jobs Action Summit, supported by EY. The document explores a range of ideas for local, regional and national initiatives for action brought forward at the event. They include creating a regional digital skills network, building a regional digital jobs portal and launching a jobs campaign.

Tech North is set to launch a new platform that aims to provide the most accurate measure of the scale of the ‘digital skills gap’, by number, vacancy type and skill.

This will help policymakers, employers, parents, teachers and learners make decisions about how and where they invest their time or money.

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Zero-hours Contracts – The Underemployed

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius

Imagine a world where everyone springs out of bed each morning knowing they are heading to a workplace they love.

It’s not easy.

Lives lived on the rubbish tips in Lagos, in clothes factories in Bangladesh and on the manufacturing lines of our best-loved tech brands in China leave an incredible stain on our consumer conscience.

And even in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, the zero-hours contracts that have become the norm for upward of 1m people working everywhere from local councils to large chains, are another blemish. They leave many employees uncertain, uninvested in and ultimately underemployed.

Consider this: strolling to work knowing that representatives directly elected by you are happily working alongside those chosen by your employer. You’re looking ahead to your first sailing holiday, taken at the retreat owned by your firm, and your future is assured by the company pension scheme. In fact, you even know you’ll get six months off, paid , when you reach 25 years – who wouldn’t stay at a place like this? And in the meantime, you’re able to take paid leave to work within your community. Not to mention, your company bonus has been on average an extra 15 per cent of your salary for the last five years.

A fantasy? A work of fiction? Or one of the UK’s most well-known stores?

Unlike many workers in the UK, this is a reality for employees, not just ‘partners’ working at John Lewis, one of the UK’s largest chains of department stores. A successful British brand, and an employee-owned business, not failing, but actually bringing in more profit than many years pre-recession, in spite of, or rather because everyone has a stake in its success.

Profit rose too at McDonald’s this year, increasing 3.7 per cent to $1.4bn. The same McDonald’s that has used zero-hours contracts since it rocked up here in 1974, underemploying 90 per cent of its 92,000-strong workforce. At Sports Direct, profits soared 40 per cent to more than £200m. But 90 per cent of its 23,000 staff, those working with zero guarantee of hours or workplace benefits, won’t be sharing in it. The Queen’s very own Buckingham Palace has likewise taken people on with no guarantee of work and pay. Although the nature of the latter’s jobs are seasonal, surely managers at each of these large employers can be sure of how many people they need from one week to the next?

Zero-hours contracts, the increase in part-time and casual work, the failure of the minimum wage to deliver anything other than the bare minimum and a lack of a true living wage are symptoms of a sick system. They symbolise a short-sightedness where cynical employers see their workers as a cost, not a valuable resource, merely something that could one day be replaced by a machine.

We know that executive pay and bonuses go up in both the corporate and public sector, while the gap between the rich and the poor widens and 700,000 public sector workers are laid to rest. Agency staff, guaranteed no paid holiday, sick days, bonuses, job security, or even working hours, obligingly take their place. ‘At least I have a job’, they think.

This is typified in care work, where the modus operandi should, of course, be caring, but instead councils cut corners by buying cheap private sector services where workers are badly paid, poorly trained and are ultimately replaceable. Those at the top call it ‘flexible’, they say it’s a ‘buyers’ market’ for employers – workers are a commodity to be bought and sold after all – so turnover of staff doesn’t matter. There are plenty more where they came from.

New Labour called this globalisation, while the Coalition is now pitting ‘us’ (British Nationals) against ‘them’ (Illegal Immigrants) with vitriolic ‘Go Home’ messaging, omitting the fact that we welcomed in immigrant workers to ensure there would always be someone more desperate to do it for less. Meanwhile our education system, failing on maths and languages, left us ill-prepared to be able to go and do work elsewhere.

Our global economy failed. That’s what the Conservatives have been blaming on Labour for the last three years while further deconstructing workers’ rights and our public institutions. Labour has looked on, knowing full well it sold out the hard-working people that made its name and bought into the kind of corporate thinking that helped get us to where we are today.

No one has the right to a job, many will argue, much less one they like, but every unemployed person could become the next benefit claimant, the next person seeking help for depression from the NHS or the next crime statistic. The next member of the ‘undeserving poor’ scrounging from the tax payer.

There is no getting away from the fact that the UK’s economy has a few broken cogs that have contributed to the failed system, like the minor detail that many big corporations don’t pay taxes. And, the in-work benefits system – a supplement for low wages – is used by more people than the amount spent on welfare for the unemployed. A policy which incidentally also serves as good ploy to ensure unemployment figures are within ‘acceptable’ levels come election time.

Perversely, our rotten economy actually depends on people having money to spend. These same businesses that pay their workers poorly need consumers to be able go out and buy things just as much as their staff need security in work. With wages held down and little confidence in the future, the tills are unlikely to be ringing as loudly as shareholders and pension fund managers would like.

Like the environment, tax avoidance and housing, our politicians have failed us on ensuring we have the jobs that we need, and we have, knowingly or not, left ourselves with very little means of protection. While the Trade Union Congress has recently analysed the phenomenon of the casualisation of labour, falling union membership and successive government attacks on organised labour have left them in little position to bolster a meaningful fight back.

For every John Lewis, it appears, there are many more McDonalds. And there is always a high-paid exec who argues that their industry will go elsewhere if pay and bonuses are curbed, while millions have to wait silently for a call into work that might never come.

We consider ourselves world leaders, but how can we lead the world’s workers into secure and meaningful work when we can’t even guarantee it for our own? The Government not only tells us to get on our bikes and find a job, but also knows that there may be zero work when we get there, even if we’ve signed a contract.

In a world where a contract means nothing, where work means nothing, where next?

Illustration by Sky Nash

Written for Let’s Be Brief.

Generation Wireless – Will women and unconnected majority lose out?

Generation Y Millennials – aged 18 to 30 – will be led by a group of tech savvy, switched on young people who believe they can change the world, says Telefonica survey of 12,000
Telefónica UK has released the results of the largest ever global survey of Generation Y Millennials, broadly seen as those aged 18 to 30 that have lived most of their lives with access to the internet. The mobile operator, owner of O2, spoke to more than 12,000 people across 27 countries in six regions. 
Given the tech focus of the report, it is clear that many see the global internet revolution as empowering, useful and necessary for future personal and global success. The research found that 76 per cent of this group now owns a smartphone, highest is in Asia thanks to hugely tech-savvy populations in Japan and South Korea, at 83 per cent, and lowest in Central and Eastern Europe at 60 per cent. Look to your left and right. No matter what your political leaning, and whether you think it is always a positive thing, it is clear that we are always-on, media gorgers. 
Much of what they found won’t come as a shock. In North America, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and Asia, all of these young people agreed that the economy is the number one issue. In Latin America and the Middle East and Africa the answers differed – with social inequality and terrorism topping each list respectively.
A significant majority, 63 per cent of Millennials globally, believe it is difficult for their generation to progress from school to adult life. With unemployment rates in many of the countries surveyed highest among 16 to 24s, this comes as little surprise. And news of the consequences of ageing populations has clearly reached our young people too – 39 per cent expect to have to continue to work indefinitely and not have enough money to retire. When asked whether they thought employment was a right or a privilege, 55 per cent said that having a decent job was the former versus 45 per cent who picked the latter. A bit of a leading question? It is an economic imperative – we all have to eat. More positively, and hopefully without delusion, 68 per cent of those surveyed believe that they have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur.
Telefónica claims to have identified a new kind of elite – 11 per cent of Millennials globally – who are not defined by metrics like socioeconomic status, but by their access to technology and opportunity. While their immediate priorities are the same – family, school and friends come first – 44 per cent of these leaders believe access to technology is important to success, compared to 30 per cent overall. “These people are at the cutting edge of technology and highly interested in what happens around them from a political standpoint,” said José María Álvarez-Pallete, COO of Telefónica on launching the results. “Politicians around the world must see that technology is going to influence the future. But this is not just for government but for business leaders too,” he said. 
Speaking in a keynote at the launch, Julian Genachowski, former chairman of the US telecoms regulator the FFC and head of Obama’s tech strategy during the 2008 election, said that the world is now engaged in a “global bandwidth race”. As healthcare, tech, government and people move increasingly online, countries are now concerned with giving companies and citizens the quickest access. But given that only one in six of the world’s population actually has access to the internet, 1bn people, it is clear that socioeconomic status, which gives people access to technology and opportunity, is likely to still dictate who the winners will be.  And while many young people are switched on, politically speaking, as Álvarez-Pallete mentioned, many aren’t. Recycling is the acceptable face of the green movement in developed nations but sustainability goes out the window when you see flights to Barcelona for £49. Meanwhile, literacy and access to basic human rights and services, let alone internet, are also hopelessly lacking in large parts of the world too. 
The UK’s young people appear to be are more tech savvy than their global counterparts, the survey found, with 49 per cent here saying they have an excellent knowledge of technology compared to just 30 per cent worldwide. Tech is now seen as more important than any other subject, with 25 per cent saying it is critical to future success, compared to economics and science both at 18 per cent or languages with just eight per cent. There are certainly jobs to be had in tech, in fact, there is a skills shortage. On top of that, 76 per cent believe technology makes it easier to get a job – many jobs are only advertised online  – so job search, application and even doing many of your average Western jobs is an increasingly digital pursuit.
A “new gender gap”, as if we need one, was also outlined by Álvarez-Pallete, with men around the world much more likely to consider themselves at the cutting edge of tech – 80 per cent vs 69 per cent. Those that believe that tech is the most important factor to ensuring future success also saw a contrast – 42 per cent vs 29 per cent. It appears that women, yet again, are likely to be left behind.
But why would a company like Telefónica want to know just what little old us think of our future anyway?
“For a company like us,” Álvarez-Pallete said, “we need to understand what’s going to happen for our industry and for our customers. This is the largest technological revolution in human history and Millennials are the drives.  We deeply believe that we need to understand what’s going on to have an idea of what the future will look like.”
Take that to be altruistic, after all Telefónica has its own start-up accelerator and is working with the EU to create a young entrepreneurial community of 300,000 people, along with many other worthwhile initiatives. Or look at it with a keen eye. We are a huge target market for advertisers and will continue to be so into our later years – more than 90m of Telefonica’s 316m customers worldwide is a Millennial. Companies like this need our custom, our data and actually depend on our success. But given how events have unfolded around PRISM and GCHQ, I’m just surprised they didn’t have access to all of our vital statistics already!
My favourite stat from the report was that 89 per cent of everyone surveyed believes that the best days of their country are yet to come. In a world of economic uncertainty where we fumble from one political problem to the next, I’d like to hope that they’re right!

It’s a Girl Thing: why are there so few women work in tech and what can we do about it?

Veteran mobile journalist Tim Green called this year’s Mobile World Congress “so ludicrously mono-demographical it’s almost funny”. And the most largely represented group, in case you were wondering, was “middle-aged, white males”.  

Look within the tech industry, and at leadership roles across other sectors, and funnily enough, this story isn’t unusual – LadyGeek calculates that the number of UK technology jobs held by women actually dropped from 22 per cent in 2001 to 17 per cent by 2011. Only 22 per cent of MPs are women, and despite a drive following the Davies Inquiry to reach a pretty reasonable target of 25 per cent female directors in the FTSE 100, the number is stubbornly stuck around 17 per cent. Six of the FTSE 100 boards are still all male. 


Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, and clearly one of the most powerful women in business, has caused a stir that even she says she hadn’t expected on the launch of her book, Lean In. Pragmatist and feminist, she argues that often women hold themselves back, uncomfortable with the decisions they make in their career. You cannot wait for the institutional barriers to fall down around you, she says. 


A year ago, and before Sandberg’s book had even gone to press, Women in Wireless (WiW) London launched to promote and develop female leaders in the UK’s mobile and digital industry. The four founders, Jen Macrae, Rimma Perelmuter, Rhian Pamphilon and Jen Hiley, have a formidable combination of expertise, killer contact books, drive, vision and a bit of humour between them. 


Today, the network has more than 700 members, and within its first year, hosted eight events across its Connect, Develop and Promote streams within its first year.  The London branch was established after Macrae, who is currently working as VP, digital wallet market development, at MasterCard on the UK deployment of its Masterpass payments system, was approached by one of Women in Wireless’ global co-founders about setting it up. “Although there were many networking organisations, there was an opportunity to create something member-led, targeting career development needs, and serving to promote and support the development of women to more senior roles,” she says.  


Things kicked off with a launch led by former Nokia CMO Jerri DeVard, followed by an entrepreneur debate hosted at Telefónica’s Wayra Academy, and then an international careers event with leading female executives at QTel and Microsoft.  At the end of last year, WiW London commissioned its first (if not the first) survey into women working in wireless in the UK, with the help of Telefónica and Diffusion PR. The study sought to understand the barriers and opportunities for women in the industry, to raise awareness of diversity issues, and set priorities for their work. The survey garnered more than 600 responses. 


Mobile is a young industry, with, the survey found, many younger women working in it. 43 per cent of those surveyed were aged 25 to 34 and a further 9 per cent are in the 18 to 24 age group. Just 14 per cent are 45 to 54 and only 2 per cent are 55 to 64. Not surprisingly, as stereotypes go, the most popular career for women in wireless is marketing – while just 5 per cent work in product development or innovation, 4 per cent are engineers, and only 2 per cent have financial roles.


While there are many initiatives to encourage more young women to get coding skills and take-up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, Jen Hiley, who is currently a senior consultant at Infosys Lodestone and social coordinator for WiW, says it is the myth of all tech jobs being “techy” that can deter women in the first place.  “There is a mystique of it being a very technical field, whereas, in fact, there are so many non-engineering career paths in the industry,” she says. “Today’s marketplace for technology is no longer about meeting the internal needs of big business. It has shifted to meeting the ever-growing demands of the everyday consumer, which in turn is driving innovation and creativity, and opening up masses of new opportunities.”  


Many of the women surveyed are yet to make it to senior roles – just 15 per cent currently hold one – fewer still – just 10 per cent – have directorships. Rimma Perelmuter, who has worked in mobile for 13 years and is now CEO of MEF and co-chair of the WiW development stream, believes it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the causes of why women are under-represented in senior industry roles. “The survey reveals some surprising results,” she says. “83 per cent of respondents between 35 and 54 believe that it is harder for women to succeed in their careers than it is for men, with 36 per cent identifying ‘a male dominating culture’ as the reason they are under-represented at senior levels. While culture is clearly a challenging issue to address, the survey is a wake-up call to the Industry to take action.” 


“The survey shows a stark reality,” says Dereck McManus, COO of Telefónica in the UK and board lead for diversity and inclusion, who helped to analyse the results. “The majority of people we spoke to believe it is harder for women to succeed in their careers than men, and two thirds seeing culture as a barrier to the progress of women to senior positions. I believe that businesses have a responsibility to do more to ensure that women are represented at all levels in business. At Telefónica, we’ve launched a number of initiatives, including our Women in Leadership programme, to do exactly that. “One finding that I found interesting, but perhaps not that surprising, was the fact that flexible working was seen as one of the top ways companies can support women in their career. Just last year we ran the biggest ever flexible working pilot, with 3,000 of our people working remotely for a day. It sounds ambitious, but the pilot showed what’s possible when flexible working is done properly.” 


While some businesses clearly see the benefits of helping employees manage their career and busy home lives – just 11 per cent of survey respondents said they have an excellent work/life balance – Yahoo’s first female CEO, Marissa Meyer, recently banned her staff from working at home. All of the WiW founders emphasise the need for personal initiative as a means to success – whether that’s finding mentors, sponsors, networking opportunities or going to educational events. 52 per cent of those asked said they had never tried to find a sponsor, while 41 per cent had not identified a mentor. 


“At our inaugural event, inspirational speaker Jerri DeVard made a poignant remark that’s stuck with me: ‘We all stand on someone else’s shoulders’,” says Peremulter. “It speaks to the importance of going beyond ‘superficial’ networking to building relationships with mentors, sponsors and colleagues that you can learn from and that are there to support you.   

“Equally, it is important to take the time to share your experience with others and give back. I’d like to see more leaders in our industry take the time to live up to this ideal regardless of whether they are women or men.” 

It is natural networking abilities, Jen Hiley believes, that should bring success to younger women. “We are widely recognised to be more empathetic, task-orientated and extremely thorough. Women are born networkers, with the ability to forge strong and lasting relationships, seeking out opportunities and alliances. Creating groups like Women in Wireless will hopefully inspire more C-level women to share their extensive knowledge, whilst providing a forum for ladies who can feel comfortable asking for support.” 


Self-belief and confidence was highlighted in the survey as one of the top enablers to support career progression. But what happens when that takes a knock? Jen Macrae says: “Our survey respondents have told us, and we have all experienced it, that when personal initiatives fail, it can have a negative impact on career opportunities and confidence. Our challenge now at Women in Wireless is to provide a support structure that helps those wanting to progress to overcome their own internal barriers.” 


Telefónica’s McManus concludes: “As an industry, we need to do more to turn this around. Whether it’s running mentoring schemes to support women throughout their career, or using positive role models of successful women in the industry – all businesses can make a difference. If we don’t take action, we run the risk of missing out on the vital skills of a generation of women.”


Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/it%E2%80%99s-girl-thing#KLXduxDsrktJQkfx.99

Send in the Clown- ‘Up for Hire’ at AOL

My time in the spotlight on BBC3’s ambitious first live show ‘Up for Hire’ was certainly an eye-opener. A crash course in how not to rise through the ranks. Not exactly how I imagined doing it, but who needs dreams when you’re unemployed, right?

It hopefully wasn’t ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’ as I struggle to get the first step in my real 40 year climb up the ladder. And I promptly got a lifetime’s experience, made 40 years’ worth of mistakes in just three weeks.

Which was tough.

In many areas- management, delegation, negotiation- I did not have confidence in the skills I have. I was terrified of getting it wrong. And I learned an awful lot.

We are Tony’s children- lavished with ‘education, education education’, promised that ‘things will only get better’ all by a man obsessed with his legacy.

But how would he reflect on this?

We were promised jetpacks.

When it was decided 50 per cent of young people should go to university, we all ‘raised our aspirations’.

But where was the clear national strategy on what would happen afterwards? Wouldn’t it be novel if when you finished training, you could get a job and were well-placed to do it?

Despite the biggest democratisation of education we have ever seen, social mobility has gone backwards and we do not have enough people skilled in the areas demanded by our changing economy.

Or at least there aren’t the jobs there for one million young people looking for work in the UK today. The highest number since records began.

What we decided when we were 14 dictated what we could choose to do when we were 16 and 17. When we were children in the eyes of government.

Had we been advised on the future jobs market, we would all be international business people, working in green technologies or launching our own 21st century start-ups.

We had high expectations. Unfortunately, there isn’t much received wisdom.

The lives of many of our senior politicians read something like a manual of ‘how to get a quick win in politics’. Come from money, go to a top school, go to an elite university, work as a political junior, bam. Sometimes I wish I’d been in the loop!

You don’t learn much from winning all the time. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on? And this becomes all the more clear as our self-governing politicians appear constantly in breach of the rules.

They have 20, 30, 40 years on us and are still making classic errors.

Feeling empowered to speak is something that never really gets a mention. But what is it that makes some people compelled to put their hat in the ring?

I met a girl who was going to Oxford. I was jealous. Until she said they actually just teach you how to get a first, not how to think for yourself. But they can’t half talk.

This, amongst many others, is a basic skill that everyone leaving school should have, are we giving it to them?

I ended up leading a group of young people through a spelling challenge with some Year 11s up north. E-a-s-y. Easy?

They immediately dismissed the exercise- one girl was going into hair and beauty- to which I tried to explain that she would still have to fill in forms, and generally communicate… Deaf ears.

We compartmentalise education- if you do English, you won’t need maths. But your education builds the whole foundation for your life, you never stop learning, it doesn’t finish at school.

Here, I was reminded of Jamie’s Dream School ‘Bored’, ‘Don’t know how to listen’, ‘Not disciplined in their thinking or behaviour’ ‘Too high an opinion of themselves’.

Hm.

I know a lot of bright young people. And there are nearly one million without work. This is a shame. We are keen, hardworking and somewhat unpolished. But isn’t everyone when they start out? People speak fondly of a time when young people worked hard and got jobs. What’s changed?

We are modern consumers and as such we should be as picky about the courses we choose as we are about the clothes we wear and the places we go out. If employability is your goal, then choose wisely and demand better.

Why are we selling courses in Mickey Mouse to the people who will run the future if they don’t give you something to take away with you?

If young people aren’t ‘ready for work’- graduates or non-graduates- that is a problem. Languages, sciences and business skills are all in demand- if we need more skills, then we need jobs, training and mentoring.

Free work isn’t the same as having a job- with varying levels of responsibility and support. We are also competing with experienced people for vacancies and it’s almost understandable that can’t win.

Right now, many young people are being paid to do nothing, and the longer that this is the case, the more of a drain we become.

I am a good graduate who studied at a reputable university for the job I wanted to do. I have done internships, applied for further study and even tried to make it on my own.

If my participation has to raise awareness of a complex but very helped real problem for our society, then I am very glad and the producers should be congratulated.

But we were promised jetpacks, so where are they?

If you are interested in joining a discussion on the future- including youth unemployment- Occupy London are hosting ‘Occupy Half-term’ from 2-4pm every day this week at St. Paul’s in London which aims to give young people the opportunity to develop skills and get information. There is also a family fun day on Saturday.

Choose Youth are inviting young people to lobby parliament against cuts to youth services this Tuesday from 11.30-4pm. There is also a national student demonstration on 9th November, supported by the National Union of Students.

Be the change.