Source: Education Times
It is imperative for the finance function to bring in agility, adaptability, efficiency, increased collaboration, and understand the big picture, writes Kamlesh Vyas, partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP
The Covid-19 pandemic is arguably the biggest disruptor of the human way of life. From professionals to graduating students aspiring to enter the world of work in the finance field, chances are that everyone may need to upskill themselves to stay relevant in the post-Covid era.
On the functional front, the business is relying more than ever before on its finance professionals to help steer the organisation in these uncertain times. The purview of the finance function, too, has increased in terms of complexity, nature of contracts/ transactions and broader responsibility. While skills in accounting, budgeting, tax, auditing, preparing financial statements, treasury management and financial reporting are necessary, they may not be sufficient. Businesses are increasingly leaning on finance for critical facets such as cost management, working capital management, financing strategy, regulatory compliance and inputs to business strategy and long-term enterprise-level decision making.
Technology as enabler
Today, finance skills are incomplete without the enabling role of technology. Access to the right data at the right time can prove to be the differentiator in driving business strategy. Businesses are turning to their finance teams to augment and triangulate their financial data with other sources of internal and external data. Leveraging data science skills, this data can then be used to deliver insights for shaping strategy. Further, proficiency in data analytics and in using business intelligence and data visualisation tools such as Power BI and Tableau are increasingly in demand. According to Deloitte’s 2021 report titled ‘CFO Signals’, on CFO’s expectations and on broad issues that affect them and their organisations, when they were asked to name one particular skill set or expertise they could bolster their finance team with, “it would overwhelmingly be data analytics and forecasting”. Technology is transforming most business functions and the pandemic has accelerated the pace of technology adoption in finance. The other key finding from the study was that CFOs evangelise newer technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and digital transformation with their teams to better understand and use technology both for the information it can provide and the efficiencies it can deliver. Other key technology skills needed for financial professionals are Enterprise Resource Planning and Blockchain.
While FinTech may feature as a core skill set for any finance professional, these skills need to be applied in the business context to be of value. Therefore, understanding the business across all its functions is important. This is particularly relevant since there is hardly any business that has remained untouched by the pandemic. Thus, finance professionals don’t just need to understand businesses, they need to keep pace with the change therein.
It is imperative for the finance function to bring in agility, adaptability, efficiency, increased collaboration, and understand the big picture. With most business functions being carried out remotely, we are all a part of an ecosystem that is collaborating more than ever before. Working in functional and cross-functional teams with effective communication has led to problem-solving, and interpersonal skills becoming essential. The role of the finance function has clearly become more of a facilitator.
While Finance students and professionals will be able to tide over emerging skill gaps by upskilling themselves through self-learning during the pandemic, a concerted effort is also required from the Indian education system and the training/ skill development ecosystem over the longer term. Necessary reforms in curriculum, paedology, faculty, industry partnerships etc, are the need of the hour to meet the demands on finance professionals of the future. Regardless of how we approach the problem, the resolution continues to lie in building an ecosystem where the transition from a classroom (physical or virtual) to an office (physical or remote) is near seamless, and the opportunity costs incurred in gaining the skills are optimal.
How schools can improve employee experiences amid the cost of living crisis
By Dr Angelina Sun, Workforce Management Solutions Director at WorkForce Software
It is a grim fact that the cost of living crisis is hitting some of our most crucial workers the hardest. With reports this month finding that a third of primary school teachers are struggling to afford essentials due to soaring prices. For example, the rise in fresh produce costs broke records at 12.1% in September, putting the impact of inflation into stark context. Similarly, researchers at the University of Portsmouth recently warned that the cost of living crisis is seeing schools lose teaching assistants to better-paid roles in supermarkets, which not only pay more but also offer other benefits such as flexible working hours.
It is no surprise that the National Education Union (NEU) has issued a fresh warning of strikes as teachers demand an above-inflation pay increase. As the Union warns, if poor pay and conditions continue, the trend of 1 in 3 teachers in England leaving within the first five years will only get worse. Similarly, it has been found that 1 in 8 college staff leave within a year.
There is no doubt that the question of teachers’ pay must be addressed, but it is also clear that there are broader barriers to recruitment and retention in the education sector. Across other industries, there is an increasing awareness and appreciation of the importance of delivering a rounded, positive employee experience. Beyond remuneration, this encompasses other aspects of work-life from flexible working to support for wellbeing. Education has struggled to adopt a similar approach, both for practical reasons (the nature of this work often prevents certain flexibilities from being offered) and because culturally, the profession has often been slow to adapt.
However, this must change. There are ways to allow educators access to similar elevated employee experiences enjoyed in other sectors, and these must be considered if vital teaching staff are not to be lost to other competitively placed professions.
Flexibility in practice
The nature of the school day may lead educators to assume that flexible approaches to working are off the table. As a recent report from the NASUWT-The Teachers Union found, more than half of teachers (52%) say that their school/college does not offer flexible working and is now calling for flexible working to be a day one right for all teachers. As its General Secretary, Dr Patrick Roach highlighted, “There is a great deal of evidence showing that some schools continue to believe that flexible working is not compatible with delivering high educational standards for pupils. This is patently false.”
There are ways to explore more flexible working arrangements and schedules that give teachers greater autonomy over their time. In fact, the government has shown support for flexible approaches, recently announcing investment of £750K in a ‘culture change programme’ to embed flexible working in schools and multi-academy trusts, such as offering compressed hours, adjusting start and end times based on personal needs, and removing the requirement to spend non-teaching hours at school. When teachers can complete planning, preparation and assessment tasks at home, and even run parent conferences online, there is no reason they cannot be offered the same kind of remote flexibility as others.
Schools also enjoy the rewards of flexibility – retaining experienced staff, recruiting from a broader pool, promoting wellbeing and improving work-life balance, which leads to more engaged, productive teams.
There are also options to apply flexibility to financial rewards. While schools’ hands may be tied when it comes to salary uplifts, there are ways they can support staff to manage finances more flexibly. For example, pay-on-demand gives educators access to wages when needed. Staff can access money as it is earned, meaning there is no waiting for payday. This can make managing personal finances a lot easier, alleviating some of the financial stress that teachers increasingly find themselves under.
Delivering such elevated employee experiences across a school or college workforce can be a challenge. However, there are successful examples of similarly dispersed, deskless workforces that have adopted intelligent workplace management technologies to help manage flexible working and pay-on-demand. Using cloud technologies educators can access streamlined, personalised digital processes that mirror the technology-enabled employee experiences now enjoyed across private sector roles.
For example, modern workforce management technologies that utilise sophisticated AI and machine learning, alongside user-friendly design, can reinforce better working practices for all staff, whether frontline in the classroom, or supporting staff in the back office.
As highlighted by the Shared Headship Network, “schools need to be smart about the use of technology to enable certain aspects of school life to be more flexible.”
Modelling effective communications
If flexible working is to become a workable, embedded culture in education, it must also be supported by a foundation of effective communications and dialogues between teachers, staff, managers and leaders. For deskless workforces, such as teachers and lecturers, maintaining communications can be a challenge, – even simple administrative tasks such as leave requests can become burdensome and protracted.
Automating routine management tasks can save time, streamline workloads and improve efficiency while also allowing managers and leaders to focus on supporting teachers with the real work. Workforce management solutions are an easy win in this regard. Not only that, but they can also help leaders take the temperature of their organisations in the moment. For example, ‘pulse surveys’ can pick up on work dissatisfaction very quickly. Achieving consistent two-way communications through technologies can give the individual employee a voice while empowering employers with the insights they need to address trends affecting their larger workforce groups.
Seeing the bigger picture
There is no single solution to the issues facing recruitment and retention of teachers. Technology is not the panacea, especially when teachers are rightly fighting for better pay. Teachers deserve salaries that reflect their vital role in society. However, pay is not the only issue facing the profession. Too often educators are looking at their workplace experience in comparison to private sector roles and seeing a whole host of tempting benefits they do not have access to.
Digital provision, innovation and modern workplace cultures that are increasingly embraced in the private sector are not often available to those in the public sector. Again, this serves to highlight inequity of experience beyond the figure on the pay packet.
It is time to use all methods we can to create educational workplaces that reward staff. From how we engage technology, to pay, to employee experiences, it is a holistic approach that will save our schools and ensure teaching talent is rewarded and secured.
Closing the digital expectation gap in higher education
Ben Murphy, Client Partner, Great State
Digital education has been a long talked about topic, trialled across universities and schools for many years, alongside traditional classroom learning. It was when the Covid pandemic hit that higher education in particular faced scrutiny and backlash on how digital services were run – both in terms of academia and student wellbeing support – and how effective this method of teaching really was. This raised concerns from both students and parents about value for money in terms of the quality of the university experience delivered, causing a crisis confidence in these institutions.
With digital experiences weaved throughout our daily lives – from food shopping to checking the live bus schedule all by the touch of a button – this generation of students have high expectations of what universities can deliver digitally. Every university has ‘gone digital’ to varying degrees, but some universities are simply not set up to deliver the high-quality digital services and experiences at the pace required. Yet expectations of service delivery and the wider campus experience are becoming increasingly important factors in students’ eyes.
The consequence of this is an emerging digital experience gap between what students expect and what universities offer. Some HE institutions are already making the necessary changes to ensure digital experiences for students are slick, effective and useful – some still have a long way to go. A recent report by Jisc found more than a third of students rated support for online learning to be average or worse. Universities must act now to develop high-quality, inclusive digital experiences which will not just satisfy, but serve the TikTok generation of today.
Using digital to support academic learning and mental wellbeing
Students are looking for more than just learning support when it comes to using digital platforms at university. Previous experiences of digital may have been capped at submitting an assignment through an online portal or joining a society page on a university forum. Now, this has moved on to being able to reserve library computers easily, access lecture notes online, book university accommodation, and schedule video calls with university support staff. These all require well-designed, user experience informed interfaces to function well and actually be of value to the students using them.
Students expect the digital experience to support them not just academically, but also socially and mentally. With our research showing that 90% of students believe a good digital experience can help them perform better academically, create a greater feeling of belonging, and help maintain mental wellbeing – digital services need to incorporate every aspect of the student experience.
For those studying within a hybrid model or even fully remotely, digital can offer a way to feel connected with peers through a digital community. It’s these social connections which play an important part in the university onboarding process in place of, or enhancing, the physical experience.
And this doesn’t have to stop at graduation. Digital services offer the opportunity for graduates to feel connected to the university and their alumni far beyond learning and into their working lives.
Leveraging data for digital experiences
There is a big opportunity to leverage the data provided by students in more intelligent ways. Collecting data from digital services provides universities with an opportunity to learn more about students’ mindsets and behaviour, allowing them to tailor and drive the student experience towards positive outcomes. Data patterns can establish what makes each student tick, what learning style works best for them, and what their motivations are, to allow the university to provide better individual support in the best way possible.
Data can also provide an indication about the utilisation of services based upon segments of the student population within the university. Data implementation doesn’t need to be large, intimidating or have an organisation-wide impact – it can begin with delivering pockets of personalised content or communications, centralising some data and making small steps towards a single customer/student view.
Closing the digital gap
Given it takes two to three years to implement a digital strategy across a large organisation, complacent HE organisations may not act fast enough to close the gap as student patience runs out and expectations increase.
Universities that fail to act now may be left behind, creating an opportunity for challenger universities – such as former polytechnics and newer institutions – to close the gap or overtake ‘premier league’ institutions within the Russell Group, for example. Challenger universities have had to work hard to attract and retain students. Getting the digital experience right could provide the USP they’ve been searching for and put them ahead of the game.
Universities must understand the specific needs of their student cohorts by identifying where student needs are not currently being met, and the areas of the experience they most value, as these might not be the ones they expect. Whilst most of the student population are digitally native, it should not be assumed that they all are. There are important differences in the way that students from differing socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds have access to and use digital, and universities must consider all of these demographics when designing digital solutions to serve all.
Embracing “customer-centred” design thinking and service design principles to make sure that services are designed around students – rather than what is perceived as best practice and to suit the traditions of the organisation – is crucial to closing the digital experience gap.
The Benefits of Edtech
EdTech is an up-and-coming prospect for society today, and the rise of new EdTech companies could change the education market permanently. Since almost everyone on the planet will go through some form of education in their lives, it is an industry that you cannot hide from.
EdTech has been booming since the covid pandemic. Lockdowns worldwide changed the education industry entirely for two years. Since most educational institutions were closed over lockdown, education had to be provided remotely. This opened the education industry to a new range of technology that has made a permanent impact.
In recent years, EdTech has focused more on providing quality education without individuals having to come on-site. This technology is also being gradually improved by opportunities such as the Metaverse. Education is changing for the better, and this is bringing a heap of benefits.
Many EdTech companies strive for this change, but if you’re involved in the education industry, you’ll want to know how this can benefit you. Read on to find out more about EdTech and how you can benefit from its advancement.
What is EdTech?
EdTech is short for educational technology. This means it refers to any business that is working on improving or introducing technology into the education industry.
Nowadays, technology is more deeply integrated into technology. Instead of old-school notepads and heavy books, students opt for sleek laptops and tablets to take notes on. This form of educational technology is pretty evident as most students in lecture halls no longer take notes on paper.
However, EdTech also refers to improving communications and distribution technology to make learning more inclusive and accessible to everyone.
For example, some companies are starting to integrate the Metaverse with education. DAN.IT is transforming the education industry by introducing learning based purely on the Metaverse. One of the co-founders, Kseniia Stoblovaya states, “Educate about tech. Most people still think that Tech is about programming only, which is far from the truth. Very talented UI/UX designers, Product Owners, Digital Marketers are women. And great FullStack developers as well. Encourage women to try themselves in Tech. This is about short courses or long programs which can help master tech skills or professions.”
Stoblovaya and her team are providing interactive and immersive education to provide qualifications for highly-demanded tech roles.
Newer forms of education provide a massive range of benefits for students, teachers and educational institutions.
Benefits of EdTech
More Inclusive Education
Many people worldwide do not have access to highly respected schools and universities. They will likely have to migrate to other countries if they are looking for high-level education. Moving to a different country is a huge and incredibly expensive commitment, especially when factoring in tuition fees!
Therefore, technologies such as the Metaverse allow more individuals to attain the same qualifications. This increases equality worldwide and ensures talent is not wasted simply because of financial circumstances.
Furthermore, more opportunities to provide education would lead to a larger and more productive workforce, benefiting the whole economy.
Better Online Learning
Throughout most of 2020 and 2021, students had to engage in online learning as this was the only substitute for attending physical lessons. Although this may have been sufficient for a few students, many students found problems with online learning.
Teaching through a webcam is pretty tricky, and it’s also challenging for students to stay engaged. Furthermore, a lack of direct interaction can get pretty draining over long periods.
Teaching in the Metaverse provides a much better substitute for physical learning. As students are in an immersive virtual world, it is more engaging and interactive.
Better Learning Experience
Technology in education has made the whole learning process a lot smoother. A few years ago, most learnings was based on pen and paper, resulting in loads of loose notes flying around and general inconvenience.
Nowadays, nearly all students will have access to things such as IPad’s, where all their notes can be kept neatly in one place. This prevents annoying inconveniences and the possibility of losing all your notes. Furthermore, this technology is still advancing, and now students can write on tablets as if it was pen and paper.
It is now a lot easier for students to reach their teachers and each other. This means students have the opportunity to gain almost instant feedback from their teachers instead of having to wait to contact them in person.
It also means students can collaborate with each other a lot more easily. All it takes is a straightforward message on the class group chat, and a student can reach all their fellow colleagues.