Category Archives: Deep Dive

Levelling Up the Labour Market and the Impact on Firms

Britain’s recent fuel crisis, owing more to a shortage of lorry drivers rather than fuel itself, symbolises the wedge between supply and demand for labour within the economy. While the fact that the number job vacancies in Britain between July and September rose to above one million for the first time could be due to a fall in migration since Brexit, a walk around Dublin – with vacancy signs in almost every shop or restaurant window – shows that this labour market shortfall might not be nation-specific.

Supply Shortages

While Ireland’s job vacancy rate is not as high as in other European countries like Belgium (4.2%) or the Netherlands (3.8%), it rose nonetheless in Q2 of 2021 to 1.1% (from 0.7% in Q2 of 2020). However, perhaps most concerning is the OECD’s recent report which suggests Ireland will not recover to pre-Covid unemployment levels until the middle of 2024, putting its labour market rebound among the worst in Europe. This is likely due to labour market tightness alongside a fall in the job finding rate, with those unemployed prior to Covid only returning to their job search now. Meanwhile, this is aggravated by a reshuffle of the employed, as many have reevaluated their career paths, or find out their jobs no longer exist. In fact, in Ireland, almost 30% of the hospitality sector have moved into other job roles since the pandemic began. Ultimately, the current shortage of workers, most acute in hospitality, healthcare and agriculture, is likely to have a large impact on firms and businesses. To solve this mismatch between supply and demand, it is helpful to further explore the causes of this situation.

Why So? 

Covid-19 gave workers a chance to re-evaluate their job roles and career paths. Despite the fall in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the rise in nursing applicants in England this year illustrates a re-evaluation of career prospects and perhaps a wish for some to enter more rewarding job roles since the pandemic began. Higher expectations of worker satisfaction has caused a huge shift in the labour market as people move away from jobs which do not suit their lifestyle. The fact that the catering industry is particularly vulnerable to shortages is not surprising given the unsociable hours that bar staff and chefs work alongside the heated and stressful kitchen environment for minimal pay. Similarly, despite the evident shortage of truck drivers plaguing Britain, the UK has 600,000 people with an HGV licence who do not drive for a living. This is largely due to the poor working conditions, the negative health impacts of lonely work away from home, and poor pay that truckers face; all these factors are pushing many out of the industry.

The roles that people are shifting out of were arguably always unpopular. However, only now after the pandemic – in an economic environment of rising inflation – has the bargaining power shifted towards the supply of labour within these struggling industries. This suggests that those working in these industries have been under-remunerated for their work; only now can they bargain for higher wages as supply becomes scarce.

The pandemic has also uprooted the housing market, with house prices in rural areas increasing as people sought more green space during the various lockdowns. This means that commuting times for workers are rising, adding another factor to account for when applying for and accepting jobs; this also affects their willingness to work in certain job roles. Indeed, jobs in industries such as catering often require late nights, which, in the absence of nighttime public transport to rural areas, becomes an issue for those living outside urban districts.

Finally, the transition to a high-skilled economy is also a factor impacting the supply shortages. The ability for individuals to shift from a low to a high skilled job role can be challenging, particularly if firms begin asking for too much from candidates. For example, in Ireland the requirement that a waiter have their HACCP qualification, alongside 1+ years of experience is often seen, which is a huge barrier to entry for new workers. The mismatch between workers who think they have the right skills for a job and employer expectations means that firms are oftentimes inadvertently worsening their own supply shortages.

What Does This Mean for Firms?

These barriers to entry for roles which are facing particularly acute shortages are only furthering the labour supply crisis. This means that firms could be more proactive in filling the shortages. This would be through accepting unskilled or newer workers into the industry and train them with the necessary skills for a role. Therefore, firms could work to improve training programmes and lower their own barriers to entry to reduce the shortage.

Perhaps the most obvious way to address this shortage would be to increase wages and add additional benefits, such as a scheme rewarding/providing bonuses to non-salaried workers who work over-time for a firm. However, this rise in costs for firms is likely to exacerbate the current period of rising inflation. While consumers are likely to feel the pinch of this cost-push inflation, a rise in general cost of inputs for firms, many of whom’s balance books are already struggling post-Pandemic, is likely to bring additional accounting challenges.

While increasing pay for workers will help to bring the labour market to a new, temporary equilibrium level, whether through seeking capital replacements for labour, using their staff more productively and efficiently (while also maintaining staff health and welfare), being willing to implement new training schemes or changing their business structure, firms need to use innovation and knowledge of their business environment and industry in order to react to this changing labour market.

Big Tech: The Precarious Balance Between Algorithmic Governance and Democratic Accountability

by Rachel Carr

Over the past months Amazon and Alphabet have reported phenomenal earnings for the second quarter of 2021. These figures were largely driven by Google skyrocketing advertising revenues, which grew by 69%, along with Amazon’s advertising income which increased by 87% from the year ago quarter. These results reflect the central role that social media and technology have played in society over the last year, not only in offering a much-needed escape from the boredom of COVID-19 lockdowns but also in their newfound role as public forums. Last April, when the Italian Prime Minister decided to address the nation on the latest lockdown measures, he elected Facebook as his chosen medium of communication. Similarly, the British government requested Amazon’s assistance in distributing emergency medical supplies and Google leaped at the chance to assume its role as a mouthpiece for public services announcement across the globe. 

However, as the “Gordian Knot” that entangles Big Tech with its societal consequences tightens further, we should consider the motivations behind the growing presence of these tech heavyweights in our lives. What exactly are these  tech giants selling to their customers and what are the potential consequences?

To understand what triggered the phenomenal rise of Big Tech superpowers we must first cast an eye back to April 2000, when eager dot com investors watched in horror as the stock market imploded and the value of their portfolios plummeted. As the mirage of many of Silicon Valley’s superstar valuations began to evaporate, it became clear that in a text-book case of irrational exuberance, venture capitalists had been so blinded by the lure of the internet’s potential, that they had wildly overestimated the intrinsic value of their investments. 

Surviving tech firms, struggling to justify their value to furious investors, began to search desperately  for a port in the storm as the turmoil raged. Amongst them was Google, today’s search-engine giant,  which had been incorporated a mere two years prior. According to Shashona Zuboff, the Harvard Business School professor and author of ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,’ the dot com bubble triggered Google’s understanding that its true value lay not in the licensing deals it had been selling, but rather in its vast stores of behaviourally rich data. Despite the company’s founders previously condemning search engine advertising as “inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers”, the firm went on the capitalize on just that, with Facebook, Amazon and Twitter soon following suit.

Zuboff has coined this commoditization of the data of individuals into behavioural products that can be sold in ‘predictive futures markets’, as surveillance capitalism. In recent years the cautionary tale of “if you aren’t paying for a product you likely are the product” has been widely circulated. Of this the general public seems to be reasonably cognizant: an hour spent on Skyscanner will likely flood your feed with holiday advertisements and a trip to the ASOS homepage will litter your desktop’s ad space with outfit ideas. However, it was what the “FAANGS” discovered next, and the lucrative source of the last decade’s soaring tech valuations, that is likely to induce the most surprise. Google and its peers deduced that while it could use its data to predict the future behaviour of users with reasonable accuracy, the easiest way to guarantee the precision, and thus value of those predictions, was to influence the behaviour of users to match the algorithm’s forecasts.

An example of the application of this insight was the addition of a number of emotional reactions to Facebook’s ‘like’ button. While this modification poses as a harmless quirk designed  to allow users to further engage with the platform’s content, it also assists Facebook’s algorithms in accurately identifying and collating data on human emotions. The opportunities resulting from the utilization of this data are massive. Users can be shown posts designed to induce feelings of discomfort or sadness, followed by sponsored content intended to take advantage of this vulnerability. Along a similar vein, Google has been known to display ads for a specific restaurant and then reroute a user’s map  journey to take them past the suggested establishment: a perfect example of the use of surveillance  and behavioural modification to maximise profits at the expense of individual autonomy.

The implications of these privacy infringements extend beyond the encouragement of the occasional impulse purchase. In 2017 the autonomous hoover ‘Roomba’ came under fire when the company announced its proposal to sell floor plans of customers’ homes, scraped from the device’s mapping capabilities. Later that same year the curtain fell on the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, revealing the role the data analytic firm had played in manipulating the data of 87 million Facebook users to manipulate the outcomes of both Trump’s 2016 Presidential the Brexit vote. This proof of intentional cyber manipulation, designed to promote the so-called ‘splinternet’, revealed the power of Big Tech behavioural nudging to distort democratic processes. In fact, in 2019 Mark Zuckerberg’s former advisor Roger McNamee publicly criticized Facebook for its relentless pursuit of  customer data through increasingly illicit means claiming that the company’s algorithms were, ‘’honed to manipulate user engagement with practices that were eventually commandeered by bad actors to infiltrate the national (US) consciousness and disfigure political discourse.” Earlier this year Zaboff subtitled her New York Times article with the ominous statement, “We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we can’t have both.”

Whilst the extent of the influence of Big Tech on the democratic process is yet to be determined, it is undeniable that  tech companies have amassed vast stores of behavioural data which can spell danger in the wrong hands. As a result, there is an argument for putting certain social obligations on companies with such data privileges; in other words, “With great power comes great responsibility” . Covid-19 revealed Big Tech for what it truly is: a 21st century public forum. Due to their wide-reaching social impacts, large technology companies should be answerable to the governance of regulatory bodies. If banks, electricity, water and utilities companies are regulated because of the impact of these services on a nation’s citizens, then there is reason for Big Tech to no longer be able to evade such scrutiny.

Creative Destruction: Gaining in strength?

Perhaps one of Schumpeter’s most revered theories is that of creative destruction. His argument that capitalism never stands still, with long-standing, inefficient processes decaying in the wake of newer, superior ones has stood the test of time well, and in the aftermath of a global pandemic, appears to continue in this light.

WFH – a trend, an improvement, or both? 

A more obvious impact of the pandemic-induced lockdowns was the ‘Work From Home (WFH)’ situation, which many workers and students found themselves in. While evidence suggests that students and young graduates certainly wish for a return to an in-person normality, the technology, flexibility and heightened global interconnection that accompanied this WFH trend can be seen as a form of creative destruction. This is due to the replacement of older, less efficient, less flexible practices undertaken by offices with more productive, collaborative ones. With meeting participation increasing by over 2900% over the course of the Pandemic, the rise of Zoom neatly epitomises this creative destruction. Existing for almost a decade prior to the pandemic, Zoom’s overtaking of Skype, and other lower quality, more complicated platforms, coupled with a rise in global interconnectivity from which it prospered, illustrates that the foundations for creative destruction had been in place. However, it was the catalyst of the Pandemic that fuelled the eventual ousting of these inefficient processes.

Miracle Advances in Healthcare

Being a crisis in healthcare, the impacts of Covid-19 on the sector were always going to be large. As the world locked down, the personal profit from vaccines became huge, with many viewing vaccine development as the only sustainable way out of the crisis. Furthermore, for big pharma businesses, net profits from development were promising, as BioNtech’s expected revenues of €15.9 billion for this year illustrate. Thus, the fastest vaccine development in history (previously held by the mumps vaccine, which took four years to develop) followed, hailing what scientists proclaim as a new era of vaccine research. Much like the Work from Home technology, the knowledge of mRNA, alongside the ability to accelerate the testing and approval processes had been around for decades, yet a lack of funding and cooperation meant that such techniques and pace never came to fruition. Thus, the catalyst of a global pandemic rendered inefficient processes useless, in favour of more productive research techniques. While admittedly this research was far better funded than in the past, the lessons learned within the immunisation research sector, alongside the new-found ability to produce vaccines at such pace, and with new techniques, means that the creative destruction ought to last within the industry. This should heighten the efficiency and productivity of future research.

Similarly, the speed of drug development processes to aid those seriously ill with Covid-19 underwent rapid increases during the pandemic. Like with the vaccines, much of this came from the regulation-side, with approval and testing processes being fast-tracked, and the removal of unnecessary paperwork (recognised as inefficiency-inducing ‘sludge’) aiding this. Additionally, cooperation and parallel experimentation again played its part in heightening efficiency in the sector, a rise in productive techniques that many scientific researchers think will remain in a post-Covid world, further illustrating the impact of the pandemic on inducing creative destruction.

Online Shopping’s Anticipated Breakthrough

Where the biggest acceleration (rather than initiation) of creative destruction can be seen is in the retail sector, as many began relying solely on online shopping for everything from food to clothes to newspapers. Additionally, HSBC’s UK head of network noted that the closure of eighty-two of their branches between April and September 2021 was a result of the trends away from branch banking that were underlying pre-Coronavirus, with a decrease in footfall by a third in the last five years, and 90% of contact being completed remotely. This illustrates direct creative destruction at work in the retail banking sector. Furthermore, this shift to online shopping and banking has increased price and competitor transparency, meaning that allocative efficiency has heightened, bringing the market closer to its societal equilibrium, and meaning that firms must react to market trends to remain competitive – therefore increasing the sustainability of this creative destruction into the future.

Key Take-Aways 

The above processes illustrate creative destruction at work, reacting to the shock event of a global pandemic. The requirement in this instance of an event – Covid-19 – to accelerate, or even to consolidate and finalise this creative cycle could signal that Capitalism’s competitive processes were existent, yet running slow prior to the Pandemic. Taking a wider view, the extension of creative destruction to the public sector, notably with the impacts on healthcare and administrative/bureaucratic processes, ought to introduce a healthy level of heightened innovation and competition to sectors where this has previously been lacking. Whether the impacts of Covid-19 on heightened efficiency here will last remains to be seen, not-least for some areas of clinical research have been negatively impacted by the disruption of the Pandemic, yet many researchers, notably within immunology and drug development, are confident that the streamlined and productive lessons learned will be here to stay.

Furthermore, the sudden requirement for private firms to react and innovate, not only to compete, but in this case to stay financially viable means that lasting effects on firms includes an obligation to be sustainably efficient and inventive, with a new focus on pro-activity rather than re-activity to the next crisis, in order to remain profitable.

The Rise of Software as a Service (SaaS) – with a Focus on the Indian Industry

As businesses were forced to incorporate remote working in their business models due to pandemic-induced lockdowns, they needed to invest in softwares that supported this move to online operation. SaaS (software as a service) companies have been able to provide businesses with the tools to assist in this transition. While the pandemic has disrupted multiple industries, SaaS has advanced as organisations espoused digital solutions to make the move from in-person to online. Some of the biggest SaaS companies that have benefited from the pandemic include Zoom, Box, Slack, Okta, and Salesforce. These software and cloud service providers have provided businesses with tools to not only continue their business operations, but also with security to conduct work in a confidential manner.

In India alone, it is predicted that its SaaS industry could be worth $1 trillion in value by 2030 and create nearly half a million new jobs. In addition, this momentum could lead the Indian SaaS industry to win 4-6% of the global SaaS market by 2030. There are already close to 1,000 SaaS companies in India – with 10 already becoming unicorns (a company valued at over $1 billion). In fact, Indian SaaS startups have raised $4.3 billion since 2020. Although India is currently only a small contender in the global market, there is scope for the country to dominate due to the predominance of English speaking developers and the relatively low cost of hiring them. It is estimated that India could have more than 100,000 SaaS developers and more technical talent at a third of the cost available in the US, making India a hotspot for international corporations to invest in. 

The integration of SaaS within business models also appears to stand long term – past its mere necessity due to the pandemic. This is because the success of remote working has pushed companies to decide to permanently implement working-from-home. For example, TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) in India was a company that was sceptical about working remotely and rarely administered the practice due to concerns about productivity. However, its endorsement throughout the pandemic demonstrated a highly positive impact on the corporation. Such benefits included efficiency, a greater diversity in the workforce, an increase in the number of women in leadership roles, and increased productivity due to enhanced labour flexibility. TCS believes this is because remote work offers better work-life balance. The happier employees met all company objectives and even “added nearly 60 new clients and hired 45,000 people.” 

Evidently, the pandemic has created a long-lasting effect on businesses in terms of running their operations technologically. The post pandemic landscape shows evidence that SaaS could potentially even take over the IT industry in terms of valuation by 2030, such that SaaS will cross $1.8 trillion compared to IT services at $1.6 trillion. India’s mark on the SaaS industry has been quick and large. However, while there are challenges, such as the industry needing to boost funding at three to four percent of the current level to reach their potential over the next 10 years, it will be interesting to see how SaaS firms in India use their native competitive advantages to further launch themselves into the global market.

The Financial Fallout Of The European Super League.

Nearing midnight on the 18th of April, a statement was released, announcing that twelve giants of European football had come together to become founding members of a “European Super League”. This breakaway league would be independent of both European and the world’s football governing bodies (UEFA and FIFA). Although the league is essentially dead in the water now, it remains important not only to understand why such a league would wreak havoc upon the most important aspect of football, the supporters and their clubs, but also to understand what financial implications would come to the fore very quickly.

A Game of Greed

Of the league’s inaugural board (and perhaps last), it’s important to note how two members Joel Glazier and Stan Kroenke, are both American business owners with significant stakes in Manchester United and Arsenal F.C., respectively. Both men are despised by their teams supports groups, most notably due to Glazier’s tactic of leveraging United’s free cash flow to fund his takeover, effectively transferring his debt to the club’s balance sheet. Fans feel their owners are distanced from their clubs, with their interests more focused on raising profits rather than keeping the fans as the focus. This perception of the footballing world as a source of cash crops rather than sporting clubs is further reinforced through the financial rewards associated the European League. The league is set to be funded by J.P. Morgan, who will provide over €4.9 billion to get the league up and running. Much of this funding will go to each of the inaugural members in the form of an ‘infrastructure grant’ worth $430 million. This sum of money highlights the importance the boards of these clubs have put on financial gain. For comparison, the winner of the current European championship (The Champions league) receives only $19 million euro for their achievement itself, which when added to previous rewards throughout the competition, can rise to around €80 million euro. This sum is not even a quarter of the potential investment available to clubs for just becoming members of this rogue league.

Ridding Clubs of their fighting Chance

One could be forgiven for appreciating these breakaway teams’ decision, given the huge gains which can be reaped by entering this league. However, by lining their own pockets, these founding members are condemning their domestic competitors to their financial doom. Much of the funds that football clubs are allocated comes from broadcasting coverage revenue. The broadcaster B.T. has already payed £1.5 billion to broadcast the Champions League between 2021 and 2024, with this revenue being shared among the various teams within the competition; the further a team progresses, the more financial support they earn. This gives lifelines to smaller teams who can secure the vital funding needed for their continued existence.  Even just with qualification to the group stages, a team can secure upwards of 16 million euro, along with teams who fall short in the preliminary rounds still being able to avail of investments worth in the hundreds of thousands. Through the formation of an exclusive European Super League, the broadcasting rights will be shared among a much smaller group of cubs, allowing for much higher individual gains and a much lower collective benefit. Dundalk FC, who are only valued at 3 million euro were awarded €280,000 for advancing to the second qualifying round of the competition. For a team as small as this, this allows the club to continue to be a sanctuary where supports can come together to love and support their team, regardless of if they win, lose or draw. Through the introduction of a super league where some members are exempt from relegation, making it essentially impossible for smaller clubs to progress and earn the possibility to secure their future. Not only is this a tragedy, but with the world’s footballing bodies insisting that participants in this league will be unable to compete domestically, these smaller clubs will lose out on the broadcasting rights revenues and footfall stemming from cup draws and league ties against huge clubs. With the possibility of Dundalk F.C. not being able to contest Arsenal F.C. in London during the Europa League (a secondary Europe-wide competition), or Tottenham F.C.’s stare down with Marine F.C. (worth €300,000) in an F.A. Cup tie becoming a distant memory, these giants of European football have forgone their passion for the sport in light of financial gain.

Mistaking a Football Decision for a Business One

What makes this scenario all the more pitiful is the fact that players and managers have been left in the dark completely on the issue, with many players who would theoretically play in this league voicing their disapproval of the proposal. This decision has been taking with the view that football is to be seen as a business rather than a sport, with the very people instrumental to its success being left in the dark. Some large clubs within Europe have rejected the invitation to join this select group, most notably Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München. In the German league there has been a ’50 + 1 rule’ in place since the late 90’s, stating that in order for a club to compete in the German domestic league, the club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. This for the most part has prevented the trend of takeovers of football clubs my millionaires, who in place of a connection or passion for the club, bring their financial muscle.

Let He Who is Free of Sin cast the First Stone

Any hope of this league coming to fruition seems slight at most, with all English clubs and some continental members already turning back on their decision. Florentino Perez, the league’s inaugural chairman has however brushed aside this change of heart, citing the binding implications of membership to the league and the financial reparations which would have to be paid in regard to a departure.  Even with this victory, UEFA’s 2024 plans to revitalize the Champions league has raised a few eyebrows, with teams which would usually not qualify for the league now having the opportunity to sneak in due to their pedigree in the championship from previous campaigns. The new format to be introduced also increases the number of games to be held by over one hundred matches, raising profits from broadcasting on a large scale. While this certainly seems good for supporters, much is to be said of player welfare due to an increase in travel and game time, further raising the issue as to which truly takes priority: the clubs themselves or their coffers?

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