Sumair Dutta is senior director of customer and market insights at ServiceMax.
The age of exit from the labour market is lower today than it was in the 1950s. The ‘Silver Tsunami’ of seasoned talent leaving the workforce has been steadily progressing for about 30 years, but like everything else, COVID changed its trajectory. Pre-pandemic, many older workers had already planned to retire or move to a less demanding job because of their age. COVID simply accelerated their plans. An already an aging workforce saw an acceleration towards retirement to avoid health-related issues.
Older workers were more severely impacted by COVID in the early stages of the pandemic – especially in industries where working from home was not an option, such as field service engineers and technicians, who install, maintain and service equipment assets.
Because of the nature of their work, field service technicians were obliged to work through the most dangerous months of the pandemic to keep critical assets running. It’s a profession that’s been particularly affected, especially in the industrial and manufacturing industries where field service technicians tend to be older than workers in other sectors.
The problem for organizations isn’t just looming retirement of these key workers. There’s a lack of new candidates interested in replacing them. Millennials typically want to innovate and make a difference rather than maintain what’s already been built, and not as interested in “getting their hands dirty”.
Every industry has lost workers and valuable knowledge due to retirement – the only difference is the varying degrees. The four industries with the largest number of 50+ workers – health, retail, education, and manufacturing – account for approximately half (47%) of all 50+ workers in the UK economy. Likewise, in the construction industry, the total of workers over 60 has increased more than any other age group, while the biggest reduction is in the total of workers under 30.
Of course, the ageing workforce isn’t a surprise. Employers have known it’s coming for years now, but recruitment and knowledge transfer hasn’t kept pace, and now COVID amplified the problem.
The issue is further compounded by our global consumption. Businesses have had to adapt to service and support our industrial demand for uptime and outcomes. A ServiceMax / Vanson Bourne study found that Generation Z, those born between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, will be the last generation to remember a product-based economy as we continue to move to outcome-based contracts and business models.
Whilst industries are using AI, field service management and other technologies to capture and automate this type of knowledge before it walks out the door, there are some human insights that simply can’t be automated. Technology alone isn’t the answer.
Humans are critical in decision-making, especially in manufacturing and service. In a service context, AI will play a role in the near future to help categorize and classify issues, based on data ingestion and analysis, to assist and direct human engineers. Over time, when data collection is much more seamless, we still see the role of AI and advanced position as sifting through vast quantities of contextual information to place the humans in the right position.
But it’s not all bad news. Baby Boomers are actually reshaping the also the world of work, right before our eyes. They’re the first generation to work at older ages en masse with many choosing to work part-time with the right flexibility. This has the potential to transform traditional working environments, training and attitudes into something new that caters for older workers and paves the way for generations of older workers to come.
Older workers who choose to stay on past retirement age are typically motivated by different experiences than their younger colleagues. They are not as interested in money or career advancement, but rather look for gratification on the job and opportunities that allow them to “pay it forward” by passing on their knowledge to the next generation of workers.
Within field services, more senior workers tend to have stronger technical and ‘hands on” skills, while younger workers tend to be stronger on the “adaptive” skills, such as analytical thinking and innovation and creativity. Younger workers also have a greater understanding and expectation of technology which makes it easier to implement digital tools and solutions. Likewise, some more experienced workers – who are not at retirement age – are also willing to take on part-time or project-related opportunities as opposed to full-time commitments as they seek more flexibility and freedom, enabling more ‘job sharing’ opportunities for older workers.
By combining the technical skills of the older generation of technicians and their desire to pass on their knowledge to younger workers, with the creativity, resilience and willingness to learn of younger generations, companies can create a powerful workforce. The grey resignation doesn’t need to spell disaster for industry.
Using AI to support positive outcomes in alternative provision
By Fleur Sexton
Fleur Sexton, Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and CEO of dynamic training provider, PET-Xi, with a reputation for success with the hardest to reach,
discusses using AI to support excluded pupils in alternative provision (AP)
Exclusion from school is often life-changing for the majority of vulnerable and disadvantaged young people who enter alternative provision (AP). Many face a bleak future, with just 4% of excluded pupils achieving a pass in English and maths GCSEs, and 50% becoming ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) post-16.
Often labelled ‘the pipeline to prison’, statistics gathered from prison inmates are undeniably convincing: 42% of prisoners were expelled or permanently excluded from school; 59% truanted; 47% of those entering prison have no school qualifications. With a prison service already in crisis, providing children with the ‘right support, right place, right time’, is not just an ethical response, it makes sound financial sense. Let’s invest in education, rather than incarceration.
‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’ – the most commonly cited reason for temporary or permanent exclusion from mainstream education – often results from unmet or undiagnosed special educational needs (SEN) or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. These pupils find themselves unable to cope in a mainstream environment, which impacts their mental health and personal wellbeing, and their abilities to engage in a positive way with the curriculum and the challenges of school routine. A multitude of factors all adding to their feelings of frustration and failure.
Between 2021/22 and 2022/23, councils across the country recorded a 61% rise in school exclusions, with overall exclusion figures rising by 50% compared to 2018/19. The latest statistics from the Department for Education (DfE), show pupils with autism in England are nearly three times as likely to be suspended than their neurotypical peers. With 82% of young people in state-funded alternative provision (AP) with identified special educational needs (SEN) and social emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, for many it is their last chance of gaining an education that is every child’s right.
The Department for Education’s (DfE) SEND and AP Improvement Plan (March 2023).reported, ‘82% of children and young people in state-place funded alternative provision have identified special educational needs (SEN) 2, and it (AP) is increasingly being used to supplement local SEND systems…’
Some pupils on waiting lists for AP placements have access to online lessons or tutors, others are simply at home, and not receiving an education. In oversubscribed AP settings, class sizes have had to be increased to accommodate demand, raising the pupil:teacher ratio, and decreasing the levels of support individuals receive. Other unregulated settings provide questionable educational advantage to attendees.
AI can help redress the balance and help provide effective AP. The first challenge for teachers in AP is to engage these young people back into learning. If the content of the curriculum used holds no relevance for a child already struggling to learn, the task becomes even more difficult. As adults we rarely engage with subjects that do not hold our interest – but often expect children to do so.
Using context that pupils recognise and relate to – making learning integral to the real world and more specifically, to their reality, provides a way in. A persuasive essay about school uniforms, may fire the debate for a successful learner, but it is probably not going to be a hot topic for a child struggling with a chaotic or dysfunctional home life. If that child is dealing with high levels of adversity – being a carer for a relative, keeping the household going, dealing with pressure to join local gangs, being coerced into couriering drugs and weapons around the neighbourhood – school uniform does not hold sway. It has little connection to their life.
Asking the group about the subjects they feel strongly about, or responding to local news stories from their neighbourhoods, and using these to create tasks, will provide a more enticing hook to pique their interest. After all, in many situations, the subject of a task is just the ‘hanger’ for the skills they need to learn – in this case, the elements of creating a persuasive piece, communicating perspectives and points of view.
Using AI, teachers have the capacity to provide this individualised content and personalised instruction and feedback, supporting learners by addressing their needs and ‘scaffolding’ their learning through adaptive teaching.
If the learner is having difficulty grasping a concept – especially an abstract one – AI can quickly produce several relevant analogies to help illustrate and explain. It can also be used to develop interactive learning modules, so the learner has more control and ownership over their learning. When engaged with their learning, pupils begin to build skills, increasing their confidence and commitment.
Identifying and discussing these skills and attitudes towards learning, with the pupil reflecting on how they learn and the ways they learn best, also gives them more agency and autonomy, thinking metacognitively.
Gaps in learning are often the cause of confusion, misunderstandings and misconceptions. If a child has been absent from school they may miss crucial concepts that form the building blocks to more complex ideas later in their school career. Without providing the foundations by filling in these gaps and unravelling the misconceptions, new learning may literally be impossible for them to understand, increasing frustration and feelings of failure. AI can help identify those gaps, scaffold learning and build understanding.
AI is by no means a replacement for teachers or teaching assistants, it is purely additional support. Coupled with approaches that promote engagement with learning, AI can enable these disadvantaged young people to access an education previously denied them.
According to the DfE, ‘All children are entitled to receive a world-class education that allows them to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life, regardless of their background.’ AI can help support the most disadvantaged young people towards gaining the education they deserve, and creating a pathway towards educational and social equity.
Top 5 Retail Trends & Priorities 2024
Building agility and resilience in a recovering market – 2024 is the year to create new opportunities, stronger systems, and the ability to react fast to a market liable to change
Ed Betts, Retail Lead Europe, Retail Express
Recent headlines point to market improvement as the rate of inflation declines, but for most retailers the difficult times are not yet over. In many cases, retailers continue to suffer volume decline, with only discounters seeing any appreciable level of volume growth. The supermarket model is built on volume, so any amount of negative growth means a dip in turnover.
The challenge for 2024, as a sluggish market struggles to regain its footing, is to act to drive growth in volume, increase footfall, and expand market share, all while improving the agility and resilience of one’s business. The past few years have proven beyond doubt that anything can happen, and that retailers must ensure they carry the tools to react quickly when it does.
Top 5 retail trends and priorities for 2024:
1: Focus on automation
Retail margins are traditionally tight, and the pressing issue of recovery means 2023 has seen them getting tighter still. There is little wiggle room left to optimise margins under existing operational structures. It is time for change: streamlining processes through restructuring and automation will be a major shift in 2024, both on the shop floor and within head office.
The shift has already begun, and many more retailers will follow suit. 2024 will see new efficiencies found in the realignment of core functions, and a proliferation of automated systems which can adjust pricing, manage promotions, assist in media management, ensure stock assortment and create brand new innovations to improve efficiency and speed.
2: Exploiting AI opportunities
The rapid advancement of AI offers retailers new opportunities to strengthen, support and enhance inefficient processes – allowing staff the head space and breathing room to focus on driving business forward. While there’s pressure on retailers to simplify, they must be equally cognisant of the critical nature of innovation. Adopting the latest technology is the best way to be ahead of the curve and differentiate one’s offerings in a crowded market.
Used responsibly and transparently in line with the guidelines set out in the 2023 UK AI Summit, AI forms the basis for new ways of retailing. AI driven analytics tools offer the security of planning activity far in advance, the agility to work with suppliers quickly to meet sudden market demand, and the ability to respond confidently to rival activity.
AI’s labour-saving benefits support every core function: it frees buyers’ time to develop key relationships by negotiating automatically with regular suppliers; it can be a vital aid in marketing and merchandising, highlighting products which are eligible or suitable for promotion; its predictive models help on the shelf, pinpointing when a product should be launched or promoted.
3: Increased focus on loyalty schemes
Over the course of 2023 loyalty card promotions have become a crucial and successful driver of customer retention. Those retailers with the most established loyalty schemes have seen their customer base stay relatively steady, even against competition from discounters. A key focus of 2024, therefore, will be to build stronger loyalty schemes and foster a customer base which will not stray.
The powerful value of customer data, coupled with the proven retention benefits of such schemes, will make loyalty programmes a strategic essential in 2024. Driven by AI insights, these will spread their net further – retailers will implement deeper offers, linked cross-promotional sales, and a data-driven expansion of bespoke voucher programs targeted directly to individuals based on their buying habits.
4: Improved data mining
Data is king: it has become the most valuable resource any business has at its disposal. Retailers collect a huge amount of data, but to date this tends to have been improperly and inadequately mined. Less than half of retailers benefit from a complete picture of their data inventory. The battle to gain market share cannot be fought for free. Investing in data, however, pays for itself.
In a changing market, strong data management will become even more essential. Deep data knowledge will reveal new ways for mainstream retailers to differentiate themselves from discounters.
Accessing the insights offered and unifying siloed sources into a single body of data intelligence are therefore a vital part of any 2024 improvement plan. The more data is processed, the more insights are discovered, and the more effective a retailer’s offers can be.
5: Targeted media spend
Retailers are not the only ones rebuilding. Cost pressures are showing signs of easing on suppliers, and they are now eager to boost sales by applying the funding to make it happen. Retailers must ensure that every penny of that potential promotional budget works hard, because an ineffective promotion is a waste.
Exploiting these opportunities in the most efficient and valuable way demands the creative application of data. Greater command of their data will see retailers finding new ways to maximise traditional media spend in 2024, providing brands with the ability to advertise in the moment, reaching customers at the point that they are willing and able to make a purchase.
Navigating the satcom revolution to benefit your business
Dave Nicoll, Business Development Director of Milexia
Satellite networks are essential for providing global communication, navigation and observation services. But not all satellite choices are the same. Differing in altitude and orbit, as well as in price and latency, the various options present advantages and disadvantages according to the application you are talking about.
Satellite networks can be categorised into three main types: LEO, MEO and GEO.
First let’s take a look at Lower earth orbit (LEO), the newest kid on the block, and all about bringing faster and better performing internet connections to the masses. LEO satellites are the closest to Earth, orbiting at an altitude of up to 2,000 km. They have the lowest latency (time taken for a signal to travel from the ground to the satellite and back), generally of about 0.05 of a second.
The main players in this sector include SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon and Telesat, all busy developing mega-constellations of thousands of satellites in a ‘space race’ to bring faster and better-performing internet connections to the masses. It is claimed that LEO constellations will inexpensively bridge the digital divide and provide internet access to remote and rural areas that may forever lack terrestrial infrastructure.
Developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX initiative, Starlink’s growth, for example, has been nothing short of stellar. Within three years of commercial launch in 2019, it had put more than 4,000 new satellites into space, providing high-speed internet services to over 1.5 million customers in 50 countries worldwide. Media attention has been enormous.
A LEO security health warning
LEO networks look fine for low-cost domestic broadband and non-critical data applications, but when it comes to industry-specific constellations their capacity is limited.
But the biggest drawback of LEO constellations revolves around security. They present new opportunities for cyber criminals, since their services involve not just the physical satellite but also the ground station that effectively controls it. It is only a matter of time before attackers get up to speed with their methods and target LEO connectivity with greater intensity, going after traffic in space by targeting this Earth-based infrastructure. In fact, there is evidence that this is already happening. Take for example the cyberattack against the Viasat satellite system at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
The rapid growth we’ve seen in the LEO sector has been enabled by lowered barriers to entry in the form of ‘off the shelf’ solutions, reduced launch costs and advances in technology. But the uncomfortable truth is that for all the talk of ‘space as a service’, this rapid expansion has also created an easier attack surface for the bad guys.
Although superficially attractive for business use cases, LEO does not have the security and dependability of the other choices where anything mission critical is involved.
So, if LEO is not a sound commercial choice for mission critical data or always-on networks what are other industry options businesses should consider?
Medium earth orbit (MEO)
MEO satellites orbit at altitudes of between 2,000 km and 20,000 km, lower than geostationary satellites but higher than LEO ones.
MEO satellites are best suited to industries with remote terrain where fibre connection is not possible such as marine, energy, commercial maritime, mining, and humanitarian relief operations.
Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO)
GEO satellites orbit at an altitude of 35,786 km above the equator, where they match the rotation of the Earth. They have the highest capacity density and the lowest cost per bit of all satellite network options.
Geostationary satellites are very good for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint private closed networks because they have a fixed position relative to the Earth and can cover a large area with a single beam. This means that they can provide a stable and secure connection between two locations without the need for a vulnerable public internet connection or communal ground stations.
There are many applications for GEO networks where high reliability and secure communication are essential, like banking transactions, corporate connectivity, governmental and military operations and broadcasting, as well as disaster recovery first responder and tele-medicine uses.
Satcom as a managed service
Satcom delivered as a managed service is fast emerging as a valuable answer to the healthy competition being provided by Elon Musk.
Satcom as a managed service provides a model that enables businesses to stay connected without having to buy and build their own networks. This means that they can reduce the cost and burden of managing their own communication networks, while still enjoying the benefits of reliable and efficient connectivity. Satcom as a managed service delivers many benefits that maximise the potential of satcom infrastructure.
Simplification of management and support, increased flexibility and scalability, enhanced network performance, proactive monitoring, and cost-effectiveness are just some of the advantages of opting for a managed satcom service. By partnering with experienced service providers, businesses can enjoy reliable and efficient communications, enabling them to focus on their core operations while benefiting from the latest advancements in satellite technology.