Employers Need To Tread Carefully On The Road Back To Office Working

Open plan office

In some ways the coming weeks and months are likely to be more difficult for organizations and employees than the past year or so has been. With governments increasingly intent on opening up economies effectively closed down by the pandemic, uncertainty is rife.

Employers and staff alike are caught between wanting to go back to something like normal and not wishing to take too many risks, especially since the Delta variant of the coronavirus is pushing spikes in new cases even in countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. where significant proportions of the population have been at least partially vaccinated.

One factor that could be behind the unease about rushing back to normal working habits is a feeling that, just as governments made mistakes in the handling of the crisis, so too did organizations. According to a survey just out from the finance comparison platform NerdWallet, a third of the U.K.’s business leaders are dissatisfied with the way that staff have been managed through the pandemic.

A similar proportion said that financial stability and business productivity was put ahead of staff safety. Unsurprisingly perhaps, more than half of the nearly 1,000 decision-makers questioned said they planned to carry out a review of how they had handled things. However, nearly half have already invested in new equipment designed to improve health and safety and to facilitate social distancing, while more than half have introduced greater flexibility to working hours.

Employers’ definitions of flexibility appear to be, well, flexible. An insight into the current situation is provided by the consultancy Mercer in its latest survey of working policies and practices among nearly 600 employers in the U.S.. The key findings were:

  • Hybrid working — a blend of in-person and remote working — was favoured by vast majority.
  • Predominantly office-based working was the preference of a fifth of employers.
  • Fully remote or virtual-first working was the choice of just 6% of employers
  • A distributed model making increased use of satellite campuses was likely to be adopted by just 4%.

Mercer’s research and analysis suggests that, across all industries, the proportion of the workforce working on-site full-time is likely to be about 40%. The hybrid category will probably be split, with about 29% of the workforce working remotely one or two days a week and approximately 17% doing so three or four days a week. About 14% of workers are expected to work remotely full-time.

The challenge for employers will be deciding how they can retain the employee experience and hang on to talent. Lauren Mason, principal in Mercer’s career business, and Ravin Jesuthasan, global leader of Mercer’s transformation business, suggest five principles to consider:

  1. Empower teams but set guidelines:  Nearly all employers plan to bring in changes to working policies as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half are already actively developing a strategy, while nearly a quarter of employers are in the process of implementing or have already implemented plans. Employers can and should empower teams to continue to work flexibly but they should also establish guidelines to maximize business outcomes and ensure a consistent employee experience.
  2. Keep a pulse on the market and your competition: Flexibility will likely have a high impact on an organization’s ability to retain talent. If employees are unhappy about employers’ flexible working plans, they will be likely to consider other workplaces that might better meet their needs.
  3. Don’t rush to get employees to the office: Employers should focus on returning employees in a way where co-working benefits can be maximized immediately. They should concentrate on making workers feel energized, empowered and engaged to be back together with their colleagues. This may entail phased transitions, where employees may only initially come in one or two days a week, planned team meetings or on-site social events and celebrations to make those early office days more purposeful.
  4. Stay agile: Workers do not want or need a standardized solution. Employers can demonstrate a continued trust and sense of partnership that was so valued during the pandemic by providing options that are appropriate for the work being performed. The key is to give employees some control and flexibility.
  5. Don’t limit flexibility to remote work: Flexible working is about more than remote working. Inclusive flexibility ensures that all jobs can be flexible when needed. Given the massive challenges employers are facing in attracting and retaining workers, options such as flexible schedules or compressed workweeks can be a huge differentiator. Progressive companies are not just challenging “when” and “where” work is done but also how the it is done, who does it and what the work is.
Check out my website.

I am a U.K.-based journalist with a longstanding interest in management. In a career dating back to the days before newsroom computers I have covered everything from popular music to local politics. I was for many years an editor and writer at the “Independent” and “Independent on Sunday” and have written three books, the most recent of which is “What you need to know about business.”

Source: Employers Need To Tread Carefully On The Road Back To Office Working

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More on Work & Jobs

How Australia’s Keyman Investment offering Advisory Needs

Keyman Investment  is a Australia registered company formed with a motive to make the world earn easy money . Keyman Investment draws attention to safety of its clients investments. It means that analysts and experts in economics and finance do a huge work of monitoring, analysis and forecasting the situation on the markets. Their recommendations allow to respond quickly to processes occurring on the exchange, so there can be no price fluctuations which cause negative consequences.

They bring together a wide range of insights, expertise and innovations to advance the interests of their clients around the world. They offer a big number of 10% who promote their business  and build long-term and trusted relationships with their clients – wherever they are and wherever they invest.

They have professional highly trained and experienced team in their field of expertise enabling to provide the quality services demanded. They are seeking  to create value for their clients by constantly looking for innovative solutions throughout the investment process.

What started out as a market for professionals is now attracting traders from all over the world, and of all experience levels and all because of online trading and investment. They are also to providing a  comprehensive resource for clients new to the market or with limited experience trading Cryptocurrency investment, or interested in Forex, gold trade or stock market.

Bronze Plan

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Silver Plan

2.5% Daily for 6 Days
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3% Daily for 6 Days
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4% Daily for 6 Days
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Through their unique combination of expertise, research and global reach, we work tirelessly to anticipate and advance what’s next—applying collective insights to help keep our clients at the forefront of change. They bring together a wide range of insights, expertise and innovations to advance the interests of our clients around the world.

Source: Keyman Investment Pty

Do You Get Your Money’s Worth From Buying An Annuity?

Coin Stacks And Chart Graphs On A Chessboard

Once upon a time, in the (somewhat mythical) past of traditional defined benefit pensions, your employer protected you from the risk of outliving your money in retirement, by acting, more or less, as an insurance company providing an annuity. With that benefit receding into the past, many experts have been hoping that Americans with 401(k) plans would avail themselves of annuities on their own, to give themselves the same sort of protection, and, indeed, the SECURE Act of 2019 made it easier for those plans to offer their participants an annuity choice, and, when surveyed, 73% of those participants said they would “consider” an annuity at retirement.

At the same time, though, Americans distrust annuities — in part because traditional deferred annuities had high fees and expenses and only made sense in an era predating IRAs and 401(k)s, when they were attractive solely due to the limited tax-advantaged options for retirement savings. But that’s not the only reason — annuities, quite frankly, aren’t cheap.

How do you quantify the value of an annuity? In one respect, it’s subjective and personal: do you judge yourself to be in good health, or does family history and your list of medications say that you’ll be one of those with the early deaths that longer-lived annuity-purchasers are counting on? Do you want to be sure you can maintain your standard of living throughout your retirement, or do you figure that you won’t really care one way or another if you have to cut down expenses once you’re among the “old-old”?

But measuring the value of annuities, generally speaking, does tell us whether consumers are getting a fair deal from their purchases, and here, a recent working paper by two economists, James Poterba and Adam Solomon, “Discount Rates, Mortality Projections, and Money’s Worth Calculations for US Individual Annuities,” lends some insight.

Here’s some good news: using the costs of actual annuities available for consumers to purchase in June 2020, and comparing them to bond rates which were similar to the investment portfolios those insurance companies hold, the authors calculated “money’s worth ratios” that show that, for annuities purchased immediately at retirement, the value of the annuities was between 92% – 94% (give-or-take, depending on type) of its cost. That means that the value of the insurance protection is a comparatively modest 6 – 8% of the total investment.

But there’s a catch — or, rather, two of them.

In the first place, the authors calculate their ratios based on a standard mortality table for annuity purchasers — which makes sense if the goal is to judge the “fairness” of an annuity for the healthy retirees most likely to purchase one. But this doesn’t tell us whether an annuity is a smart purchase for someone who thinks of themselves as being in comparatively poorer health, or with a spottier family health history, and folks in these categories would benefit considerably from analysis that’s targeted at them, that evaluates, realistically, whether annuities are the right call and whether their prediction of their life expectancy is likely to be right or wrong.

In the second place, the 92% – 94% money’s worth calculation is based on the typical investment portfolio of insurance companies, approximated by the returns of BBB-rated bonds. This measures whether the annuity is “fair” or not, in that “moral” sense of whether the perception that the company is “cheating” is customers is real (it’s not).

But these interest rates are very low. The authors, in addition to their calculations of “money’s worth,” back into the implied discount rate from the annuity costs themselves. For men aged 65, that interest rate is 2.16%; for women aged 65, 2.18%.

Now, imagine that you compare this annuity to an alternative plan of investing your money in the stock market, earning 7% annual returns, and believing you can predict your death date (or not really caring if you fall short or end up with leftover money for heirs).

The cost of the protection offered by the annuity, the guarantee that you will never run out of money, and that you will not suffer from a market crash, is very expensive indeed — when you compare apples to oranges in this manner, the money’s worth ratio is, according to my very rough estimates, more like 60%, meaning that about 40% of your cash is spent to purchase the “insurance protection” of the annuity.

And, again, that’s not because insurance companies are cheating anyone; that’s solely because of the wide gap between corporate bond rates and expected returns when investing in the stock market— a gap which was particularly wide in the summer of 2020 when this study was competed, but remains nearly as wide now.

As it stands, Moody’s Baa rates are in the 3% range; in the 2000s, they were in the 6% range, and in the 1990s, from 7% – 9%. Although this drop in bond rates is good news for American homebuyers because this marches in tandem with mortgage rates, it makes it far harder for retirees to manage their finances in ways that protect them from the risks that they face in their retirement.

Perhaps interest rates in general, and bond rates specifically, will increase as we leave our current economic challenges, but there’s no certainty, and as long as this gap between bond rates and expected stock market returns remains so substantial, retirees will be challenged to find any sort of safe investment that makes sense for them. Which means that what seems like a great benefit for Americans looking to borrow money — for mortgages, car loans, credit cards — can pit the elderly against the young in a generational “us vs. them” contest.

As always, you’re invited to comment at JaneTheActuary.com!

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

Yes, I’m a nerd, and an actuary to boot. Armed with an M.A. in medieval history and the F.S.A. actuarial credential, with 20 years of experience at a major benefits consulting firm, and having blogged as “Jane the Actuary” since 2013, I enjoy reading and writing about retirement issues, including retirement income adequacy, reform proposals and international comparisons.

Source: Do You Get Your Money’s Worth From Buying An Annuity?

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Critics:

An annuity is a series of payments made at equal intervals.[1] Examples of annuities are regular deposits to a savings account, monthly home mortgage payments, monthly insurance payments and pension payments. Annuities can be classified by the frequency of payment dates. The payments (deposits) may be made weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or at any other regular interval of time. Annuities may be calculated by mathematical functions known as “annuity functions”.

An annuity which provides for payments for the remainder of a person’s lifetime is a life annuity.

Variability of payments

  • Fixed annuities – These are annuities with fixed payments. If provided by an insurance company, the company guarantees a fixed return on the initial investment. Fixed annuities are not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Variable annuities – Registered products that are regulated by the SEC in the United States of America. They allow direct investment into various funds that are specially created for Variable annuities. Typically, the insurance company guarantees a certain death benefit or lifetime withdrawal benefits.
  • Equity-indexed annuities – Annuities with payments linked to an index. Typically, the minimum payment will be 0% and the maximum will be predetermined. The performance of an index determines whether the minimum, the maximum or something in between is credited to the customer.

See also

References

  • Kellison, Stephen G. (1970). The Theory of Interest. Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. Irwin, Inc. p. 45
  • Lasher, William (2008). Practical financial management. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western. p. 230. ISBN 0-324-42262-8..
  1. Jordan, Bradford D.; Ross, Stephen David; Westerfield, Randolph (2000). Fundamentals of corporate finance. Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill. p. 175. ISBN 0-07-231289-0.
  • Samuel A. Broverman (2010). Mathematics of Investment and Credit, 5th Edition. ACTEX Academic Series. ACTEX Publications. ISBN 978-1-56698-767-7.
  • Stephen Kellison (2008). Theory of Interest, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill/Irwin. ISBN 978-0-07-338244-9.

Stocks, U.S. Futures Dip on Delta Strain Concerns: Markets Wrap

Asian stocks dipped Tuesday amid concerns a more infectious Covid-19 strain will derail an economic recovery. Treasuries and the dollar were steady after gains.

An MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares was on track for its first decline in six days as countries in the region are struggling to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus. U.S. futures dipped after technology stocks led U.S. benchmarks to fresh records Monday. New limits on travel from Britain, which is seeing a spike in cases, dragged on cruise operators and airlines.

The Treasury yield curve flattened amid month-end index rebalancing and the break in auctions until July 12, reducing supply. Oil extended a decline with the market expecting OPEC+ producers to increase supply at an upcoming meeting. Bitcoin was steady around mid-$34,000.

Global stocks are poised to close out their fifth quarterly advance amid a worldwide vaccine rollout that powered an economic recovery and sparked concerns about increasing prices pressures and the withdrawal of stimulus measures. The recovery also drove the reflation trade as more economies reopened, though that is being hampered as some countries, especially in Asia, are falling behind in their vaccine strategies.

The U.S. is now the best place to be during the pandemic due to its fast and expansive vaccine rollout stemming what was once the world’s worst outbreak. Meanwhile, parts of the Asia-Pacific region that performed well in the ranking until now — like Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia — dropped as strict border curbs remain in place.

“The Delta variant has also emerged in our client conversations as a potential threat to reflation/inflation,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategists led by Marko Kolanovic said. “The economic consequences are likely to be limited given progress on vaccinations across developed market economies. It could, however, pose some risk of a delay in the recovery in countries where vaccination rates remain lower.”

Read: Asean Equities May Have Priced In Virus Setback: Taking Stock

For more market commentary, follow the MLIV blog.

Here are some events to watch in the markets this week:

  • OECD meets in Paris to finalize a proposal to overhaul global minimum corporate taxation Wednesday
  • China’s President Xi Jinping will deliver a speech as the nation marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party Thursday
  • OPEC+ ministerial meeting Thursday
  • ECB President Christine Lagarde speaks Friday
  • The U.S. jobs report is due Friday

These are some of the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • S&P 500 futures dipped 0.1% as of 1:26 p.m. in Tokyo. The S&P 500 rose 0.2%
  • Nasdaq 100 futures fell 0.2%. The Nasdaq 100 rose 1.3%
  • Topix index fell 1%
  • Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 0.4%
  • Kospi index lost 0.6%
  • Hang Seng Index retreated 0.8%
  • Shanghai Composite Index was down 1%
  • Euro Stoxx 50 futures were little changed

Currencies

  • The yen traded at 110.56 per dollar
  • The offshore yuan was at 6.4638 per dollar
  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index edged up
  • The euro traded at $1.1913

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries held at 1.48%
  • Australia’s 10-year bond yield dropped five basis points to 1.53%

Commodities

  • West Texas Intermediate crude was at $72.56 a barrel, down 0.5%
  • Gold was at $1,774.24, down 0.2%

— With assistance by Rita Nazareth, Vildana Hajric, and Nancy Moran

By:

Source: Stock Market Today: Dow, S&P Live Updates for Jun. 29, 2021 – Bloomberg

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Critics:

Beginning on 13 May 2019, the yield curve on U.S. Treasury securities inverted, and remained so until 11 October 2019, when it reverted to normal. Through 2019, while some economists (including Campbell Harvey and former New York Federal Reserve economist Arturo Estrella) argued that a recession in the following year was likely,other economists (including the managing director of Wells Fargo Securities Michael Schumacher and San Francisco Federal Reserve President Mary C. Daly) argued that inverted yield curves may no longer be a reliable recession predictor.

The yield curve on U.S. Treasuries would not invert again until 30 January 2020 when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, four weeks after local health commission officials in Wuhan, China announced the first 27 COVID-19 cases as a viral pneumonia strain outbreak on 1 January.

The curve did not return to normal until 3 March when the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowered the federal funds rate target by 50 basis points. In noting decisions by the FOMC to cut the federal funds rate by 25 basis points three times between 31 July and 30 October 2019, on 25 February 2020, former U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Nathan Sheets suggested that the attention of the Federal Reserve to the inversion of the yield curve in the U.S. Treasuries market when setting monetary policy may be having the perverse effect of making inverted yield curves less predictive of recessions.

See also

 

5 Questions to Ask Before Including Services in Your Bootstrapping Strategy

Most tech entrepreneurs these days stay away from services because investors are looking for high-margin, repeatable revenue. Service revenues don’t command the same multiples that product revenues do.

When I decided to bootstrap my startup, I never expected to be selling professional services. I quickly learned, however, that offering services tied to your product can be incredibly useful when bootstrapping. When my company started offering design and development services utilizing our low-code development platform, these services led to high-margin recurring revenue and greatly improved unit economics. These services also drove a tremendous amount of customer success.

But, service offerings are not for everyone. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself in order to determine whether services should be part of your bootstrapping efforts.

Related: 5 Reasons Bootstrapping Your Business is the Best Thing You Can Do

Do the services have good margins?

For bootstrapping to work, you need a healthy margin. At one of the companies I founded, our professional services were a necessary element of customer onboarding since product implementation was incredibly complex and not self-service.

Our professional services margin was -20%, which eroded our cash significantly. In this instance, service was not a revenue center but a loss leader — something we had to offer to secure the more valuable recurring revenue. If you find yourself in the same boat, services will never be a viable bootstrapping strategy. They could, however, be a tool you utilize to drive the rapid growth of recurring revenues.

Does the market/customer want the services?

Many products simply can’t be used by most people without a services component. At my company, we found that even though our low-code development platform could be utilized by people with minimal coding expertise, certain segments of our user base simply didn’t have the inclination to build their solution on our platform. We also discovered that even with powerful tools, many people wanted to leverage the expertise of an experienced software design team.

This prompted us to spin up a services team that could charge for design and development as an initial project and even provide ongoing development services on a monthly basis. Going this route is driving a three-to-six month payback on and marketing investment for us. Do these types of opportunities exist for you?

Related: 7 Ways to Bootstrap Your Business to Success

Can your service offering eventually be outsourced to an ecosystem of providers?

Services can serve as a bridge to help fund platform losses up to a point where outsiders can take over. Building an ecosystem can create an awesome flywheel effect, whereby participants not only become service providers but a channel for bringing in new product sales — without the expense of having to add to your own sales team.

Salesforce and Workday both did a brilliant job of executing this strategy. Ideally your product will gain enough acceptance that you can sell off your services division for additional profit.

Do services provide you with more customer intimacy and enhance your retention metrics?

A customer’s switching costs go way up when there is both a human and technological connection to your product and services. This sort of intimacy can provide a significant boost to your retention metrics and ensure predictable revenue.

Having great people to support clients can make up for early product deficiencies and create a level of trust that a pure low-touch product cannot. This is especially important in the early days of any startup’s product lifecycle.

Related: What Nobody Tells You About Taking VC Money

Can bootstrapping with services strengthen your product development?

Launching a services division also provides another benefit: the chance for you to “eat your own dogfood.” It’s a fact that when employees use their own product, it gets markedly better. At my company, we rotate core team members in and out of the professional services team to ensure every engineer feels what our customers feel. I believe this leads to product brilliance.

Now I’m not advocating you become a services company, but having a product company with a service business could stave off having to secure venture backing before your product is more mature. This can help you avoid things like dilution, a loss of control and the pressure to grow fast for a speedy exit.

As someone who’s previously founded two venture-backed startups, I like how bootstrapping with services is allowing my company to grow more thoughtfully. We have time to think about product/market fit before scaling up, we’re not pursuing growth rates that our platform can’t support, we’re making smart hires and we’re scrutinizing the ROI of all of our expenses because every dollar counts.

Additionally, we are vetting the utility of our own product with real-life customers and creating a virtuous circle of feedback to drive new features. I feel like it’s the smarter way to evolve a business like ours — building a company for the long haul versus hitting some arbitrary goal to secure additional venture capital.

There is one important consideration before bootstrapping with services: You’ll want to make sure you’re growing (albeit at a deliberate pace) and not just treading water. That’s why the above questions are something you’ll want to consider before following my lead. It’s critical you feel confident that you’ll create enough runway and customer success for your ultimate business model to take shape, while not letting services become a distraction.

By:

Source: 5 Questions to Ask Before Including Services in Your Bootstrapping Strategy

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Critics:

In computer technology the term bootstrapping, refers to language compilers that are able to be coded in the same language. (For example, a C compiler is now written in the C language. Once the basic compiler is written, improvements can be iteratively made, thus pulling the language up by its bootstraps) Also, booting usually refers to the process of loading the basic software into the memory of a computer after power-on or general reset, the kernel will load the operating system which will then take care of loading other device drivers and software as needed.

Bootstrapping can also refer to the development of successively more complex, faster programming environments. The simplest environment will be, perhaps, a very basic text editor (e.g., ed) and an assembler program. Using these tools, one can write a more complex text editor, and a simple compiler for a higher-level language and so on, until one can have a graphical IDE and an extremely high-level programming language.

Historically, bootstrapping also refers to an early technique for computer program development on new hardware. The technique described in this paragraph has been replaced by the use of a cross compiler executed by a pre-existing computer. Bootstrapping in program development began during the 1950s when each program was constructed on paper in decimal code or in binary code, bit by bit (1s and 0s), because there was no high-level computer language, no compiler, no assembler, and no linker.

A tiny assembler program was hand-coded for a new computer (for example the IBM 650) which converted a few instructions into binary or decimal code: A1. This simple assembler program was then rewritten in its just-defined assembly language but with extensions that would enable the use of some additional mnemonics for more complex operation codes.

The enhanced assembler’s source program was then assembled by its predecessor’s executable (A1) into binary or decimal code to give A2, and the cycle repeated (now with those enhancements available), until the entire instruction set was coded, branch addresses were automatically calculated, and other conveniences (such as conditional assembly, macros, optimisations, etc.) established. This was how the early assembly program SOAP (Symbolic Optimal Assembly Program) was developed. Compilers, linkers, loaders, and utilities were then coded in assembly language, further continuing the bootstrapping process of developing complex software systems by using simpler software.

See also

 

As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It

Kianna Ameni-Melvin’s parents used to tell her that there wasn’t much money to be made in education. But it was easy enough for her to tune them out as she enrolled in an education studies program, with her mind set on teaching high school special education.

Then the coronavirus shut down her campus at Towson University in Maryland, and she sat home watching her twin brother, who has autism, as he struggled through online classes. She began to question how the profession’s low pay could impact the challenges of pandemic teaching.

She asked her classmates whether they, too, were considering other fields. Some of them were. Then she began researching roles with transferable skills, like human resources. “I didn’t want to start despising a career I had a passion for because of the salary,” Ms. Ameni-Melvin, 21, said.

Few professions have been more upended by the pandemic than teaching, as school districts have vacillated between in-person, remote and hybrid models of learning, leaving teachers concerned for their health and scrambling to do their jobs effectively.

For students considering a profession in turmoil, the disruptions have seeded doubts, which can be seen in declining enrollment numbers.

A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that 19 percent of undergraduate-level and 11 percent of graduate-level teaching programs saw a significant drop in enrollment this year. And Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools across the country, said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.

Credit…Rosem Morton for The New York Times

Many program leaders believe enrollment fell because of the perceived hazards posed by in-person teaching and the difficulties of remote learning, combined with longstanding frustrations over low pay compared with professions that require similar levels of education. (The national average for a public-school teacher’s salary is roughly $61,000.) Some are hopeful that enrollment will return to its prepandemic level as vaccines roll out and schools resume in-person learning.

But the challenges in teacher recruitment and retention run deeper: The number of education degrees conferred by American colleges and universities dropped by 22 percent between 2006 and 2019, despite an overall increase in U.S. university graduates, stoking concerns about a future teacher shortage.

For some young people, doubts about entering the teaching work force amid the pandemic are straightforward: They fear that the job now entails increased risk.

Nicole Blagsvedt, an education major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, felt a jolt of anxiety when she began her classroom training in a local public school that recently brought its students back for full in-person learning. After months of seeing only her roommates, moving around a classroom brimming with fourth and fifth graders was nerve-racking.

Ms. Blagsvedt’s role also encompassed new responsibilities: sanitizing fidget toys, enforcing mask use, coordinating the cleaning of the water bottles that students brought to school because they couldn’t use the water fountains. In her first week, she received a call from an office assistant informing her that one of her students had been exposed to Covid-19, and that she had to help shepherd the students out of the classroom so it could be disinfected.

“This panic crossed my mind,” she said. “I thought: This was what it’s going to be like now.”

Administrators running teacher preparation programs said the new anxieties were most likely scaring away some potential applicants. “People are weighing whether or not it makes sense to go to a classroom when there are alternatives that may seem safer,” said David J. Chard, dean of the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University.

But for many students, the challenges posed by remote teaching can be just as steep. Those training in districts with virtual classes have had to adjust their expectations; while they might have pictured themselves holding students’ hands and forming deep relationships, they’re now finding themselves staring at faces on a Zoom grid instead.

“Being online is draining,” said Oscar Nollette-Patulski, who had started an education degree at the University of Michigan but is now considering swapping majors. “You have to like what you’re doing a lot more for it to translate on a computer. I’m wondering, if I don’t like doing this online that much, should I be getting a degree in it?”

In some instances, remote teaching has deprived education students of training opportunities altogether. At Portland State University in Oregon, some students were not able to get classroom placements while schools were operating remotely. Others were given only restricted access to student documents and academic histories because of privacy concerns.

Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

At the university’s College of Education there was a decline in applications this year, which the dean, Marvin Lynn, attributed to students in the community hearing about the difficulties in training during the pandemic.

Applications may tick back up as schools return to in-person learning, Dr. Lynn said, but the challenges are likely to outlast this year. Educators have struggled with recruitment to the profession since long before the pandemic. In recent years, about 8 percent of public schoolteachers were leaving the work force annually, through retirement or attrition. National surveys of teachers have pointed to low compensation and poor working conditions as the causes of turnover.

The pandemic is likely to exacerbate attrition and burnout. In a recent national study of teachers by the RAND Corporation, one quarter of respondents said that they were likely to leave the profession before the end of the school year. Nearly half of public schoolteachers who stopped teaching after March 2020 but before their scheduled retirements did so because of Covid-19.

This attrition comes even as many schools are trying to add staff to handle reduced class sizes and to ensure compliance with Covid-19 safety protocols. Miguel A. Cardona, the secretary of education, recently called for financial help to reopen schools safely, which will allow them to bring on more employees so they can make their classes smaller. The Covid-19 relief package approved by President Biden includes $129 billion in funding for K-12 schools, which can be used to increase staff.

Not all teacher preparation programs are experiencing a decrease in interest. California State University in Long Beach saw enrollment climb 15 percent this year, according to the system’s preliminary data. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, the assistant vice chancellor for the university system, attributes this partly to an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, which temporarily allowed candidates to enter preparation programs without meeting basic skill requirements because of the state’s teacher shortage.

Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City also saw an increase in applications this year, according to a spokesman, who noted that teaching has historically been a “recession-proof profession” that sometimes attracts more young people in times of crisis.

Even some of those with doubts have chosen to stick with their plans. Ms. Ameni-Melvin, the Towson student, said she would continue her education program for now because she felt invested after three years there.

Maria Ízunza Barba also decided to put aside her doubts and started an education studies program at the Wheelock College of Education at Boston University last fall. Earlier in the pandemic, as she watched her parents, both teachers, stumble through the difficulties of preparing for remote class, she wondered: Was it too late to choose law school instead?

Ms. Ízunza Barba, 19, had promised to help her mother with any technical difficulties that arose during her first class, so she crawled under the desk, out of the students’ sight, and showed her mother which buttons to press in order to share her screen.

Then she watched her mother, anxious about holding the students’ attention, perform a Spanish song about economics.

Ms. Ízunza Barba said she realized then that there was no other career path that could prove as meaningful. “Seeing her make her students laugh made me realize how much a teacher can impact someone’s day,” she said. “I was like, whoa, that’s something I want to do.”

Source: As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It – The New York Times

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References

Agrba L (27 March 2020). “How Canadian universities are evaluating students during the coronavirus pandemic”. Maclean’s.

Google’s Huge Market Share Doesn’t Automatically Make It a Monopoly

This week the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a lawsuit accusing Google of using “anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets” for search and advertising.

It is the most significant antitrust case since the US government took on Microsoft in 1998 for using its dominant position as the provider of the Windows operating system to force PC makers to bundle its Internet Explorer web browser.

That case was fought out in US courts for years before Microsoft agreed to settle in 2001. This case will no doubt be heavily litigated, and likewise take years to conclude. But it’s not too soon to consider the basic economics.

The bottom line is more complicated than one might think. Yes, Google has a huge share of the search-engine market – 92% globally according to statcounter.com, compared with 2.8% for Microsoft’s Bing, 1.6% for Yahoo! and 0.5% for DuckDuckGo.

But does that give Google a lot of “market power” – the ability to charge high price or produce low-quality products? Probably not.

To judge if a company like Google is really a monopolist, it is crucial to understand the difference between ordinary markets (like those for clothes, cars, or breakfast cereal) and technology markets (like those for internet search, social media, or ride sharing).


Read more: The US is taking on Google in a huge antitrust case. It could change the face of online search


Markets with ‘network externalities’

Any introductory economics textbook will tell you a large market share is smoking-gun evidence of market power; and that with market power comes the ability to shut out competitors, charge high prices and even get away with producing low-quality products.

Economists of all stripes agree that regulating monopolies and making markets more competitive benefits consumers, through lower prices and better products.

Indeed, this was the motivation behind the so-called “trust-busting” movement in the US in the early 20th century. The most famous scalp was John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which the US Supreme Court ordered in 1911 be broken up into 34 separate companies. (The break-up made Rockefeller the world’s richest man).

But internet search isn’t like oil. Neither is social media, ride sharing or platforms like Amazon. These are what economists call “markets with network externalities”. That is, when more consumers use the product, it becomes more valuable for other consumers.


Read more: Lawmakers keen to break up ‘big tech’ like Amazon and Google need to realize the world has changed a lot since Microsoft and Standard Oil


Facebook is useful because it connects one with lots of other users. A thousand little, disconnected social media platforms would be much less useful. Amazon connects lots of sellers with million of consumers. This is hugely valuable for both. Google connects lots of consumers with advertisers and information. Again, this is valuable to both sides of the market.

Because network externalities mean — all else being equal — the bigger the market share the more valuable the company’s product is to consumers, we tend to see one dominant company and a few smaller ones in such markets.

Just because tech companies have a big share of the market now, however, doesn’t mean they are destined to keep it.

Remember Netscape? In the mid-1990s it had a 80% share in the browser market, before losing it to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Netscape Navigator Version 1.11
Netscape Navigator version 1.11. OiMax/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

But Internet Explorer’s dominance, peaking at 95% share in the early 2000s, didn’t last either. It now claims barely 1% of the browser market.

This is why companies in markets with network externalities are never asleep. Uber and Facebook are constantly running experiments to innovate their products, as are other companies like Amazon and, you guessed it, Google.

Influencers and defaults

An important part of the Department of Justice’s suit against Google is that it allegedly pays Apple as much as US$11 billion a year to be the default search engine on the Safari browser on every iPhone.

This is a bit like paying for a social media influencer to plug your product — with a twist. Making something the default doesn’t mean the user has to use it, but the small effort to choose an alternative means most don’t bother.

But if it really wasn’t a good product and didn’t deliver good search results, wouldn’t consumers (a) remove it and (b) be less likely to buy iPhones?

There’s a big difference between something being a default and there being no choice. Articulating this difference may end up being an important part of how the Google litigation plays out.

Indeed, Microsoft making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows has been an ongoing source of back and forth with US and European competition authorities.


Read more: Twitter is banning political ads – but the real battle for democracy is with Facebook and Google


Ultimately misguided

As with the suits against Standard Oil and Microsoft, the case against Google will be decided by the courts, perhaps ending with the US Supreme Court. The outcome will be instructive as to whether other tech companies like Amazon, Facebook or Uber will also wind up in the firing line.

Ironically, at a time of extreme polarisation in US politics, breaking up big tech companies is popular on the left and the right.

But we should remember that consumers are huge beneficiaries from these tech companies. Think about how much it used to cost to take and print photographs. A 2018 International Monetary Fund report cites research suggesting US consumers would need more than US$25,000 a year to compensate for the loss of free services from tech companies.


International Monetary Fund, Measuring the Digital Economy, 2018

That’s a lot.

What is crucial for competition regulators around the world to note is that the markets in which big technology companies operate are not like other markets. Because of network externalities they tend to have big “in” firms (with a large market share) and smaller “out” firms (with small market shares but providing competitive discipline).

That doesn’t mean these markets aren’t competitive. It means the “in” companies have a lot to lose by being leapfrogged by a small competitor. Which is why they work so hard to innovate and keep prices low.

By: Richard Holden Professor of Economics, UNSW

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