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WLV

Knowledge

Issue 4 – www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

Chief Executives 1912 – 2012

Peter Smith

Mary Smith

Peter Smith Jnr

Jayne Smith

Great Grandfather

Great Grandmother

Grandfather

Grandmother

Lisa Smith

David Smith

Steve Smith

Mark Smith

Great Aunt

Uncle

Cousin

Grandson

1912 - 1942

1978 - 1988

1942 - 1965

1988 - 1997

1965 - 1975

1997 - 2005

1975 - 1978

2005 - Present

Family owned businesses Succession planning for the future

Also in this issue: Work and play

Cyber-security

Mind the gap

Fully charged debate

Cutting the red tape

Sustainable communities


Editor’s welcome

Welcome to WLV KnowLEDge issue four In this issue, you will find a range of articles, written specifically to update you on current business issues. Experts from the University of Wolverhampton discuss the current threat from cyber-attacks and how your business can protect itself; the effect of working environments on staff performance; and green issues including building sustainable communities and the future of electric cars. The latest edition is available online at the WLV Knowledge Hub, where you can access business news, services and networks. We also welcome your feedback on any of the articles, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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WLV Knowledge Hub also has details of the University’s forthcoming business events, as well as information on how you can access our experts, facilities and skills. We hope you enjoy this issue of WLV Knowledge. Raman Sarpal Editor


Contents Contents

Electric cars

Electric cars

While on the surface the benefits of electric vehicles appear to make them a favoured transport mode of the future, as with most complex scenarios there are a number of pros and cons which require a balanced assessment. It will then be up to the public and business communities alike to assess the arguments for and against the merits of electric cars versus the combustion engine.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Electric cars produce zero CO2 emissions when running and they do not emit nitrous oxide or other particles – supporting the green agenda at a time when regular fossilfuelled road transportation is widely cited as being responsible for around 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

These fall into two primary areas. Firstly, how people feel about the cars themselves, running them, their performance and how they look. Secondly, the wider implications of the infrastructure required to support an electric car industry in the UK and where users can charge and service their vehicles.

Worldwide it is estimated that about 50,000 electric vehicles were sold in 2011. About 1,000 of this number were purchased in the UK, accounting for just 0.06% of annual new sales. Indeed, back in 2010, the Committee on Climate Change predicted UK yearly sales of about 11,000 electric sales by now – a forecast that is way short of the current reality. And remember this is set against a background of the £5,000 car grant introduced by the Government early in 2011 to try to stimulate sales.

It is acknowledged that to fully charge the battery to power an electric car will cost the owner no more than the price of a pint of milk.

The upfront cost of a vehicle at around £25,000 is expensive in comparison with conventional car choice.

Great efforts are being made by electric vehicle manufacturers to ensure that not only are the cars highly recyclable, but they are often made from recycled materials.

The average electric car available in the UK will comfortably reach speeds of 50-55mph. This is lower than a small 1.1L petrol car.

• •

Estimates indicate that while a conventional combustion engine will lose as much as 80% of the energy produced when the oil is burned through heat loss, the energy loss figure falls dramatically to just 10 or 20% for electric vehicles.

The distance range of electric vehicles is determined by a number of factors such as weight, battery pack voltage, type and driving conditions. However, there are limitations on how far a vehicle can go on one charge. This will range from 50 up to about 100 miles depending on the electric car type.

Due to substantial noise reduction associated with electric cars, some manufacturers in Japan are having to introduce artificial noises to ensure, for example, that people with visual impairment can hear the vehicles for safety reasons.

While most cars can achieve about 70-80% charge capacity within two hours, a full recharge can take up to seven or eight hours.

The infrastructure issue for charging and servicing is inherently linked to the success (or not) of electric vehicles. Currently, these support functions are concentrated within cities and need to be more readily available to enable drivers to mirror long journeys taken in conventional cars. With batteries requiring time to recharge, schemes such as ‘Stop and Swop’ – exchanging a rundown battery for a fully charged one (like refilling a petrol tank) will requires major investment and Government support.

Batteries are not cheap and will require replacement after a number of recharges.

So are the public slow to catch on? And, if so, why is this? Perhaps a quick summary of some of perceived advantages and disadvantages to the case for electric vehicles will shed some light on consumer and business behaviour.

The real energy saving potential of the electric vehicle will be fully realised when powering an electric car can be undertaken from a renewable power generation source. At this point the electric vehicle can truly boast of a ‘zero emission’ status.

Currently the cost bonus to electric car owners in terms of running costs can include no congestion charge in London, free or discounted parking in a number of places, no road tax and free charging bays in selected cities around the UK

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There are notably also several dual-fuel cars (often called hybrid cars) on the market, which typically combine an internal combustion engine (petrol or diesel fuelled) with electric battery power or some other fuel. These vehicles, whilst offering the security of familiar petroldriven power, can switch between power sources – such as a petrol motor and electric battery – in order to maximise performance and efficiency. However, the challenges for these vehicles are those of electric cars, as the batteries also require charging etc. If a different source of dual fuel is used (such as gas), availability can also be an issue. According to Dr Clive Roberts, senior lecturer in the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton, the future for electric cars is one of great possibility. He comments that “whilst the advantages of low emissions and cost are attractive, the reality is that until a significant development in the nationwide support infrastructure required for electric vehicles takes place, the chances of electric car sales outstripping combustion engines remains remote”. “However, while the majority of people may be taking a back seat on the issue for now, major expansion plans to increase charging points across the region could help to reverse the trend”. Plugged-In Midlands (PIM) combines the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure with the development of regional capabilities associated with the electrification of road transport. It is one of eight national ‘Plugged-In Places’ projects. Over the next two years, the project will develop a regional network of more than 500 electric vehicle charging points across both the East and West Midlands that will be fully compatible with the Charging Points being installed across the country.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

In this issue The cyber-security threat to business

4

Work and play

6

Fully charged debate

9

Protecting your business from potential threats

The effect of working environments on staff performance

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 11

The future of electric cars Working environments

Working environments

The family way

12

Cutting the red tape

14

Mind the gap

16

Sustainable communities

19

Just the ticket

22

Language skills translate into business success

24

A morale tale for business

26

The success of family owned businesses Work and play? Work environments today need to be dynamic. A current growing trend has seen traditional office design principles being combined with unique workplace approaches. But is it just a fad or does it really have a positive impact on performance? More and more commercial furniture dealerships are being asked to create environments that are functional and flexible, adapting to the continuously evolving needs of office workers and enabling companies to increase productivity and profit. Oliver Turley, visiting lecturer in interior architectural design at the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Technology, explains more: “The interior design of an office certainly has an impact on users and is arguably somewhat forgotten in the design stages of buildings. The architecture is usually thought through from a prestige, financial or design statement point of view, whereas the interior, and in particular the emotional and psychological impact it has on the user can be a second thought.”

The workplace is not only a place of employee retention, but also a key branding tool for companies. Consider Google, whose California headquarters offer bike paths, gourmet cafeterias and a yoga room. The propagation of bean bags, space-hoppers and slides within office environments is encouraging more mainstream blue chip organisations to consider office enhancement. Many are combining partitioned spaces and freestanding furniture solutions to create a more flexible and dynamic workplace. But, with lava lamps and a piano in the lobby – and offices with space for pets, are Google investing wisely? “Google offices very much reflect current research and thinking about well-designed office spaces and the psychological benefits they have for the workers and therefore the business,” says Oliver. Businesses such as Google, who pay attention to the physical office environment, are thought to be far more likely to increase staff productivity. After all, the workforce is the most valuable asset of any business.

Changes to the employment tribunal system

A news report from the British Council for Offices (BCO) and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment this year has found that effective office design can affect workplace performance by up to 11%. Companies are being urged to recognise and implement this within the workplace as evidence suggests that office design influences a range of crucial performance factors such as: • staff attraction, motivation and retention • staff satisfaction • knowledge and skills of staff • innovation and creativity • responsiveness to business and technological change • customer attraction and retention. Experts suggest that the most effective workplaces are those that offer a combination of different working environments. Open-plan offices utilise space more effectively, aid communication and collaboration between colleagues, but can also be full of aural and visual distractions.

Addressing the skills shortage in engineering

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www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 7

The challenges of putting people before profit

Skills gap

Skills gap

The effect of e-commerce on ticket purchasing

Which languages are important in business?

The benefits of a well motivated workforce

Mind the gap Manufacturing is enjoying something of a renaissance, with pledges from the government to invest in this once-ailing sector of the economy. However, there is a real need to fill the pipeline of skilled engineers in the UK, if it is to thrive in the long term. Closer examination of some statistics highlights the central importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK and its crucial role in our future economic health.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the sector employs over 2.5 million people and accounts for some 150,000 companies across the UK – producing goods to the value of over £25 billion per annum. Everyone is aware of the profound effect the financial crisis of the past few years has had and with it the dawning realisation that the UK must re-balance its economy away from a reliance upon the monolithic financial services sector. Indeed, the financial downturn brought the national economic constitution into

sharp focus and highlighted a clear imperative: Britain needs to get back to the business of making things. Numerous factors, including the relative absence of government support for manufacturing over the past 20 years, have contributed to a proportional decline for the sector which has seen its contribution to GDP fall to 10% from a figure closer to 18% in 1990. The present coalition government – as well as the previous Labour administration – has recognised the need to increase rate support for the sector. High profile focus advocated via

the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Review and including the introduction of the £200 million high value manufacturing technology centres, university technical colleges and initiatives such as ‘Make it in GB’, are collectively attempting to place greater emphasis on supporting manufacturing. But behind all the headlines lies a challenge for the sector and it concerns real fears of a growing skills gap. The need to attract, educate and train the vast numbers of apprentices, technicians and engineering graduates that are going to be required in the future is

becoming pressing – especially when set against a backdrop of an aged engineering workforce that year-on-year is seeing highly qualified and experienced engineers leaving the sector through retirement. Dick Oliver, Chairman of BAE Systems recently estimated the UK will require another half a million engineers nationally by the year 2017 if we are to reverse the growing skills shortages. In the West Midlands – the heartland of Britain’s manufacturing heritage – it is estimated that over 100,000 new entrants will be required to support the many large scale

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With this in mind, the University of Wolverhampton has teamed up with industry to create and launch what is being viewed as a radical and innovative education approach. It will join up industry, government and academia in an integrated fashion to appropriately prepare young people for a career in engineering.

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Sustainability

in its approach to sustainability, with CFOs tracking the success of activities and projects purely against business performance criteria.

and growing regional manufacturers, and the supply chain that feeds them.

Sustainability

The economic benefits brought about by sustainability have been the wake-up call for many businesses to take action, but it shouldn’t be the only driving force behind such efforts. Is there a danger that we are too focused on the prosperity of our own patch – ie. our business – rather than the wider community impact, which will benefit generations to come?

“This is a good lasting example of the Cadbury family’s vision of attempting to integrate many of the aspects of what we now call “sustainable communities” into practice. The village is located close to the famous Cadbury chocolate factory but physically separated from it, and consists of relatively high quality housing, with a variety of integrated community amenities and a fairly attractive physical environment. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has claimed that it is still “one of the nicest places to live in Britain”.”

Phil believes this is a risk and that the next challenge is to strive for real sustainable communities, where the balancing of economic, ecological and social aspects of life are carefully considered and provided for.

So, if the Cadbury family could achieve something so significant and lasting more than 100 years ago, surely business has a leading role to play in creating truly sustainable communities for the next century.

We have an example of this broader and more inclusive way of thinking right on our doorstep in South Birmingham and it certainly isn’t new, having been established for more than a century. According to Dearden, Bourneville is a world-class example of a sustainable community. He explains:

According to Phil, there are four key areas that can help to guide businesses in ensuring that their approach to sustainability extends beyond the workplace:

Ecological integrity Businesses should take a serious look at how their practices may impact negatively on the environment. This should be wide ranging and look beyond the obvious areas such as recycling and think about less obvious pollution such as noise that may affect the local community. As well as taking small steps, some organisations may be able to make more significant commitments, such as self generation via solar panels. Economic security Being financially responsible is an important part of creating a sustainable community. It’s about running a business with the wider community in mind and not taking undue risk that could compromise the long term well being of the local area and its residents.

A high quality of life Businesses need to think about how they reward their employees beyond the monthly salary. Flexible working hours, childcare schemes, subsidised public transport and a pleasant working environment can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life for local community, but these aspects are in the hands of employers. Citizen empowerment Enabling staff to have a voice is an important part of motivating a community to care about things beyond their own garden fence. This should extend beyond the running of the business itself and could manifest itself in a corporate social responsibilty programme that allows staff to get involved in local community projects to really make a difference.

Online ticketing

These four areas would have resonance with businesses and communities across the globe. The steps those businesses take and priorities for their local communities may be very different, but it does show that there are universal ‘pillars’ for building sustainable communities no matter where we are in the world.

Online ticketing

It’s a fact that the internet is now part of our daily lives, leaving an impression on all industries. Due to the competitive nature of e-commerce, it’s imperative that ticketing businesses and organisations research the online buying behaviour of customers, in order to streamline their ticketing and reservations processes.

01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

A growing necessity, e-commerce and mobile commerce (or m-commerce) are altering our expectations of accessibility, and it’s no longer enough for businesses to rely on consumers visiting default websites for selling and making purchases. With the age of the techno-savvy comes a demand for companies to use mobile and social technology in order to provide more possibilities for access to their services and products and attract, retain and satisfy customer needs. Social media has been crucial in this process, with ticketing merchants attracting more business from the likes of Twitter and Facebook by connecting with customers on a more personal level. Social media is opening doors for the online ticketing business, and with it come more opportunities to connect with the target market to create better tailored services. Listening to the consumer voice is crucial to the ticketing business as it determines the online interface, sales and services they offer. A recent report from the University of Wolverhampton, commissioned by The Ticket Factory (TTF), ascertains how consumers initially find out about events

and investigates the factors that influence the purchasing of tickets. A UK-wide sample was used for the survey, focusing on event participation and choice, ticket buying behaviour and demographic information. TTF aims to offer ‘a compelling alternative to other ticket agents by putting you at the heart of the ticket purchasing journey.’* With so many competitors, this is key to providing high quality customer service and reiterates the need to utilise online platforms. Online ticketing has created new challenges for businesses as issues such as search engine optimisation, visibility, server capacity and functionality of websites dominate the market. The online payment process is also a fundamental part of the service that is often forgotten, one current issue consistently raised is surcharges placed on customers credit cards buying online. The government is now looking to ban these ‘hidden’ extras by the end of 2012, with businesses only being allowed to charge for the transaction process. Mark Hoban, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, claims: “it’s important that consumers know up front what charges they pay”.** Which?, consumer lobby group, estimates that the real cost of credit card transaction is no more than 2% of the purchase value – though many businesses argue that the supplements cover the cost of administration fees and staff wages.

In order to succeed in the global marketplace, merchants must also understand cultural differences such as currencies, preferred payment methods, languages; and recognise the threats that face their business – whether this means fragmented systems, thinning margins or fraud. EU action in 2011 cracking down on fraudulent and problematic ticketing websites has aided the online sales of tickets. Following this, a report was published by the European Commission stating that 88% of websites selling tickets for cultural or sporting events checked for breach of EU consumer rules now comply with the EU law, compared to only 40% in 2010. As the economy rebounds from the recession and consumers start to loosen their purse strings, demand for event tickets purchased online will begin to increase again. Businesses should look at ways to optimise their online selling potential through social media, streamline their payment processes and listen to the consumer voice that ultimately determines the credibility of the service they provide.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

*Wale, D; Gelder, G; Robinson, P; Clarke, A; Tongue, N (2012) Ticket Factory Ticket Buying Project: market research in conjunction with NEC Group LTD **The Guardian online, December 2011

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www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 21

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Motivated workforce

A morale tale for business

Just the ticket

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre

Motivated workforce

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A well motivated workforce is almost certain to perform better and have a positive effect upon the wellbeing of any company. But, how do businesses measure motivation and morale levels? We speak to Professor Roger Seifert from the University of Wolverhampton’s Management Research Centre to find out more. How can a business measure the levels of motivation and morale among staff? While it is fair to say that there is difficulty in the exact measurement of motivation and morale levels, there are a set of indicators that can be used to gauge such matters. These will include measurement of absentee rates, staff turnover rates, levels of sickness leave taken and incidents of lateness and poor performance. The general proposition is that the more motivated staff are and the higher the level of morale within the workforce, the lower the indicators will be. Any sensible business should be seeking to address issues of high turnover and absence rates as they are expensive for any company and the rationale should be to try to reduce such levels and with it cost to the company. Are bonuses effective in boosting morale? Remuneration in the form of bonuses is, in many respects, a double-edged sword. Whilst it may highly motivate those who receive the bonus, others that do not will be questioning why they did not receive the same recognition – leading to a downward spiral of de-motivation and disengagement. In addition, once bonuses start to be paid they are very difficult to stop. An employee who has received a bonus for say three years in a row will not take kindly to a decision taken in the fourth year to withhold any

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bonus payment – whatever the reason behind the decision. A level of expectation will have been built up and when not met will, again, create the potential for disappointment and motivation issues. How important is a clear career path? Companies should not underestimate the positive impact that a thriving and pro-active culture of internal promotion can have. If employees feel career advancement is possible and promotion – even on a small scale – take place, it will demonstrate to staff that opportunity exists within the business. Equally important can be the influence of a staff promotion that is viewed as unwarranted or unfair. This too can de-motivate others and as such the consequences of any promotion activity need careful consideration at all stages. It is essential to deliver a fair and transparent recruitment policy as the arrival of a new member of staff can often have a profound impact on the existing employee group. The merits and abilities of the new recruit must be able to stand up to scrutiny by staff, as any realisation that the new member is less qualified, experienced or just inferior will raise questions in the minds of many about the direction the company is taking such as a move towards potential down-skilling. This will create concern and at the same time de-motivate. What else can businesses do to make staff feel valued? It is vital that the employee feels that his/her voice is heard by management. Ensuring, for example, that employee grievances are addressed without undue delay

is important, it sends a clear message that the company takes staff feelings and their individual experience seriously. An open environment must be fostered to ensure that employees feel able and willing to express views or raise an issue without a prejudicial reaction. Creating such an atmosphere can only aid efforts around motivation and morale and communicate a message to staff from the organisation that they are important. Tackling the four areas above does not require a link to increasing pay rates, or the need to implement a radical and expensive bonus structure to improve motivation. Thinking carefully and assessing the likely impact of actions to encourage opportunity, opening staff dialogue channels, or adding identified talent to existing personnel, can go a long way to maximising levels of employee motivation, engagement and performance.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 3


Cyber-crime

The cyber-security threat to business For all businesses, there are many potential threats to their cybersecurity. Although some sound like they’re lifted from the latest movie blockbuster – cyber-activists defacing websites, hackers breaking into IT systems, foreign governments searching for intellectual property in your files – the fact remains that many businesses are unaware of simple security measures that can help protect their technology. Tony Proctor, principal lecturer and consultant specialising in information security at the University of Wolverhampton discusses some key measures businesses should consider to tighten their security.

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WLV Knowledge Issue 4

Most of us consider ourselves aware of physical risks but have less vigilance when using technology. It’s important to educate people to be more security conscious with technology. The old adage: “if it looks too good to be true it probably is too good to be true” certainly applies to the internet. One common “cyber-security” misconception is the expectation that systems are secure, but they are only as secure as the person that made them. Just like physical security, no defensive system, anti-virus, or firewall can guarantee complete immunity to problems – although without them a system is much more open to attack. Fortunately, there are things that a business can do to make problems much less likely to occur.

Raise awareness Make sure that all staff understand the need to be cautious with emails. To not automatically supply information; to question whether they really should click on links; to understand what phishing is and to check who they are sending emails to before clicking ‘send’. This needs to be an on-going process as the threats continue to change. Use defensive technology Make sure all your protection is up-todate. Suppliers aware of a problem will issue an update (patch) to address it – but it’s up to you to make sure you use it. Ensuring defensive software is installed and working and programs are updated can prevent hackers finding weaknesses and gaining access to your systems.


Cyber-crime

Safeguard mobile and remote access Does anyone access systems remotely or copy data onto USB sticks or laptops? If this is necessary, make sure data is transferred correctly – especially if it’s sensitive. It is relatively easy to protect data on the move by using encryption. This means that additional programs scramble the data and that it can only be unlocked with a key (typically a PIN or password). Review personal devices It is important to know what personal devices staff are using, particularly if they are connecting to the business network with them. If they are using their own devices these need to be properly secured and protected. Equally, if supplied with take-home equipment check it’s being used securely and appropriately.

Keep in mind that hackers will go where the consumer goes. Although there are currently many more malware programs (eg. viruses) for PCs, we can expect to see more issues with Apple and Android devices as their markets continue to increase. Many of us do not have antivirus etc. for our smartphones and yet we use them to do the same things as we use our laptops for – so install these products where available. Secure your physical assets Ensure your office computers are protected from theft – is the main server locked away securely in offices that themselves are adequately secured and alarmed? Think about what would happen if someone hacked into the system and destroyed all the data, or if the business suffered a fire or flood. It can be fairly straight-forward to replace a PC, but consider the information held within it. Ensure you have effective backups of the right information – taken regularly, stored correctly, and tested routinely.

Assess redundant equipment Computers, photocopiers and printers all store data – even once everything has been “deleted”. Find a reputable company to dispose of any equipment to ensure the data within it is destroyed correctly. By increasing vigilance and implementing these measures you can help reduce the risks to your business of breaches in cyber-security and safeguard your assets. One of the latest developments to specifically improve cyber-security of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is a new information security standard known as Information Assurance for SMEs (IASME). Tony, having recently qualified as one of the first four assessors for this standard believes that it will help businesses who may not be confident about addressing security issues on their own. It involves a straightforward process that seeks to reward existing good practice as well as identifying areas for improvement.

Tony Proctor is a member of the Information Assurance Advisory Council, which develops security policy recommendations to government and corporate leaders. He is responsible for the development of cyber-security Warning, Advice and Reporting Points (WARPs) in the West Midlands and beyond. WARPS are informationsharing networks that aim to improve organisations’ information security by alerting specific problems and cybersecurity issues; confidentially sharing information advice; and reporting any cyber-security incidents. For information on how to secure your data and systems, gain maximum benefits from technology by using it safely, and WARP, email: t.proctor@wlv.ac.uk

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Working environment

Work and play? Work environments today need to be dynamic. A current growing trend has seen traditional office design principles being combined with unique workplace approaches. But is it just a fad or does it really have a positive impact on performance? More and more commercial furniture dealerships are being asked to create environments that are functional and flexible, adapting to the continuously evolving needs of office workers and enabling companies to increase productivity and profit. Oliver Turley, visiting lecturer in interior architectural design at the University of Wolverhampton explains more: “The interior design of an office certainly has an impact on users and is arguably somewhat forgotten in the design stages of buildings. The architecture is usually thought through from a prestige, financial or design statement point of view, whereas the interior, and in particular the emotional and psychological impact it has on the user can be a second thought.”

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The workplace is not only a place of employee retention, but also a key branding tool for companies. Consider Google, whose California headquarters offer bike paths, gourmet cafeterias and a yoga room. The propagation of bean bags, space-hoppers and slides within office environments is encouraging more mainstream blue chip organisations to consider office enhancement. Many are combining partitioned spaces and freestanding furniture solutions to create a more flexible and dynamic workplace. But, with lava lamps and a piano in the lobby – and offices with space for pets, are Google investing wisely? “Google offices very much reflect current research and thinking about well-designed office spaces and the psychological benefits they have for the workers and therefore the business,” says Oliver. Businesses such as Google, who pay attention to the physical office environment, are thought to be far more likely to increase staff productivity. After all, the workforce is the most valuable asset of any business.

A news report from the British Council for Offices (BCO) and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment this year has found that effective office design can affect workplace performance by up to 11%. Companies are being urged to recognise and implement this within the workplace as evidence suggests that office design influences a range of crucial performance factors such as: • staff attraction, motivation and retention • staff satisfaction • knowledge and skills of staff • innovation and creativity • responsiveness to business and technological change • customer attraction and retention. Experts suggest that the most effective workplaces are those that offer a combination of different working environments. Open-plan offices utilise space more effectively, aid communication and collaboration between colleagues, but can also be full of aural and visual distractions.


Working environment

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Working environment

With this in mind, businesses need to invest wisely in order to provide employees with the best possible working environment, creating an office that not only reflects their company, but continues to inspire staff and impress clients.

“Modern, open-plan, bland, corporate office spaces that are designed to appeal to a wide range of companies are typical of the problem that is encountered in many modern offices. Because they are designed in this way, often they lack any form of identity, personality or ownership for the actual users – the office staff. Contentment, job satisfaction and productivity issues often develop,” Oliver explains. “Open-plan offices may meet the ideal of shared space and community, but many people are easily distracted and disturbed from their work by colleagues close by or a distance across the room, or, if more confidential matters are being discussed on the phone, staff feel they can be overheard.” Oliver goes on to explain that bland, generic, ‘clear desk’ offices may also be problematic: “They deprive workers of the psychological and emotional benefits of being in a stimulating environment. Studies have shown by incorporating colour, personalisation, division of spaces, use of different textures and styles, and relaxation areas and activities etc. that staff are happier at work and more productive.”

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With new suggestions that people are abandoning the office in favour of working from home, a study from BCO this year has revealed the vast majority of employees (79%) do not work from home at all, dispelling the myth that the bricks and mortar office is a thing of the past. However, it’s a fact that the traditional definition of an office is changing, as businesses use their website to communicate their brand rather than an office building. Are offices really necessary as we move into a generation of workers reliant on mobile telephony and the internet? This presents a challenge to the workplace, as younger employees expect to work any time or place across public and private spaces. Their perceptions mean employers need to alter office design in order to embrace this change and help to cultivate younger employees – who do not expect to stay at one company for their entire career. “Creating a stimulating and adaptive physical working environment with access to all modes of communication and working methods is crucial to enable all users within an office to access the tools they need and feel most comfortable and familiar using.”

Improve your workplace Good office design is one of the best rewards an organisation can give its employees. • Utilise your space more efficiently – find out how often people are using existing spaces. • Does the environment support your employee’s process, or have they been forced to circumvent it? • Spatial equity – do your workers have enough space to accomplish tasks? • Debate issues on healthfulness, flexibility, comfort, connectivity, reliability and sense of place. • Decide what your goals are – make a list of the top priorities you want your redesign to address. • Is it time to move? Weigh the merits of a redesign versus relocation. • Most importantly, involve your employees in the process, and keep tweaking to continually improve upon your design over time through employee feedback. Constructing a building around the constantly changing work patterns of people can lead to high levels of motivation, commitment and productivity.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Electric cars

Fully charged debate Will electric cars ever take the place of the combustion engine? It seems the public is still to be convinced.

Despite petrol prices hitting all-time high records, and the threat of a tanker drivers’ strike turning the nation’s forecourts into battlegrounds, our attachment and reliance upon petrol powered cars has never been greater. With 30 million vehicles on the roads, it seems the personal freedom that they bring is ingrained into the fabric of our personal and business lives – and this love affair with the car is unlikely to change.

But as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, and with a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from petrol and diesel road vehicles; a fact very much on the radar of government courtesy of the Climate Change Act 2008; it could be argued that there has never been a better time to make the case for electric cars as the way forward in terms of easing running costs and reducing the impact of motor car emissions.

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 9


Electric cars

While on the surface the benefits of electric vehicles appear to make them a favoured transport mode of the future, as with most complex scenarios there are a number of pros and cons which require a balanced assessment. It will then be up to the public and business communities alike to assess the arguments for and against the merits of electric cars versus the combustion engine. Worldwide it is estimated that about 50,000 electric vehicles were sold in 2011. About 1,000 of this number were purchased in the UK, accounting for just 0.06% of annual new sales. Indeed, back in 2010, the Committee on Climate Change predicted UK yearly sales of about 11,000 electric sales by now – a forecast that is way short of the current reality. And remember this is set against a background of the £5,000 car grant introduced by the government early in 2011 to try to stimulate sales. So is the public slow to catch on? And, if so, why is this? Perhaps a quick summary of some of perceived advantages and disadvantages to the case for electric vehicles will shed some light on consumer and business behaviour.

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Electric cars

Advantages

Disadvantages

• Electric cars produce zero CO2 emissions when running and they do not emit nitrous oxide or other particles – supporting the green agenda at a time when regular fossilfuelled road transportation is widely cited as being responsible for around 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

These fall into two primary areas. Firstly, how people feel about the cars themselves, running them, their performance and how they look. Secondly, the wider implications of the infrastructure required to support an electric car industry in the UK and where users can charge and service their vehicles.

• It is acknowledged that to fully charge the battery to power an electric car will cost the owner no more than the price of a pint of milk.

• The upfront cost of a vehicle at around £25,000 is expensive in comparison to conventional car choices.

• Great efforts are being made by electric vehicle manufacturers to ensure that not only are the cars highly recyclable, but they are often made from recycled materials.

• The average electric car available in the UK will comfortably reach speeds of 50-55mph. This is lower than a small 1.1L petrol car.

• Estimates indicate that while a conventional combustion engine will lose as much as 80% of the energy produced when the oil is burned through heat loss, the energy loss figure falls dramatically to just 10 or 20% for electric vehicles. • Due to substantial noise reduction associated with electric cars, some manufacturers in Japan are having to introduce artificial noises to ensure, for example, that people with visual impairment can hear the vehicles for safety reasons. • The real energy saving potential of the electric vehicle will be fully realised when powering an electric car can be undertaken from a renewable power generation source. At this point the electric vehicle can truly boast of a ‘zero emission’ status. • Currently the cost bonus to electric car owners in terms of running costs can include no congestion charge in London, free or discounted parking in a number of places, no road tax and free charging bays in selected cities around the UK

• The distance range of electric vehicles is determined by a number of factors such as weight, battery pack voltage, type and driving conditions. However, there are limitations on how far a vehicle can go on one charge. This will range from 50 up to about 100 miles depending on the electric car type. • While most cars can achieve about 70-80% charge capacity within two hours, a full recharge can take up to seven or eight hours.

There are notably also several dual-fuel cars (often called hybrid cars) on the market, which typically combine an internal combustion engine (petrol or diesel fuelled) with electric battery power or some other fuel. These vehicles, whilst offering the security of familiar petroldriven power, can switch between power sources – such as a petrol motor and electric battery – in order to maximise performance and efficiency. However, the challenges for these vehicles are those of electric cars, as the batteries also require charging etc. If a different source of dual fuel is used (such as gas), availability can also be an issue. According to Dr Clive Roberts, senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, the future for electric cars is one of great possibility. He comments that “whilst the advantages of low emissions and cost are attractive, the reality is that until a significant development in the nationwide support infrastructure required for electric vehicles takes place, the chances of electric car sales outstripping combustion engines remains remote”. “However, while the majority of people may be taking a back seat on the issue for now, major expansion plans to increase charging points across the region could help to reverse the trend”.

• The infrastructure issue for charging and servicing is inherently linked to the success (or not) of electric vehicles. Currently, these support functions are concentrated within cities and need to be more readily available to enable drivers to mirror long journeys taken in conventional cars. With batteries requiring time to recharge, schemes such as ‘Stop and Swop’ – exchanging a rundown battery for a fully charged one (like refilling a petrol tank) will requires major investment and government support.

Plugged-In Midlands (PIM) combines the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure with the development of regional capabilities associated with the electrification of road transport. It is one of eight national ‘Plugged-In Places’ projects. Over the next two years, the project will develop a regional network of more than 500 electric vehicle charging points across both the East and West Midlands that will be fully compatible with the Charging Points being installed across the country.

• Batteries are not cheap and will require replacement after a number of recharges.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 11


Family business

The family way the potential for problems from family members lacking critical skills, poor communications and clashes over pay.

The West Midlands is home to many family-owned businesses. Indeed, three of the top 10 longest surviving UK family businesses reside and trade in the region. However, as the economic outlook presents real challenges for many organisations, how can family-run firms ensure they continue to prosper? Family-owned organisations, despite contrary perceptions, still form the vast majority of companies undertaking business every day. They account for the structure of between 70 and 80% of all businesses across mainland Europe, a figure that is also replicated here in the UK. As such they form a central and important basis for how today’s overall business community is constructed. Previous recessions have also shown us that a downturn is fertile ground for new family-run enterprises and can make a significant contribution to helping the economy to grow. Running a family business has both advantages and undoubted challenges. Starting, leading and working in a family business can bring valuable benefits compared to other businesses – from greater trust between staff to increased flexibility. However, without careful management there can also be

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Dr Yong Wang is a Reader in Family Businesses and Entrepreneurship at the University of Wolverhampton and has been studying the particular world of the family organisation for a number of years. He says family businesses must pay attention to three key areas if they are to remain competitive and build a profitable and successful future. He comments, “The critical challenges in my view are taking succession planning seriously, addressing skills gaps and ensuring the right access to finance. Succession planning is often a taboo subject for the owners of a family-run organisation. This is often founded in an unwillingness to confront the issue and discuss it openly with other family members – perhaps worried psychologically about losing control or having to choose between offspring. You then have the other side of the coin with members of the younger generation unwilling to take over the mantle of the family firm, preferring instead to flee the nest and perhaps consider the alternative attractions of forging a career in a large corporation.” Dr Wang says that failing to ensure the correct succession path can lead to problems further down the line with family members forced into management positions for which they have been illprepared for. He continues, “really a family business should be thinking 20 years in advance if it is to ensure a smooth handover from one generation to the next and make sure it has a succession plan in place. This will help identify the most suitable, and willing, family member(s) best suited to take the business forward. It allows for adequate time for appropriate training and up-skilling and removes the potential for ill-advised decisions taken in haste.”

After succession planning, Dr Wang believes another critical area is current skills. It is often the case in his experience that family companies because of their very nature lack the breadth of skills and experience that can help them succeed. He continues, “non-family employees, as well as the family itself, will often lack proficiency in their roles which commonly require performing broad management responsibilities, as well as a number of others. Whilst a large company has the resources and manpower to tackle this, the smaller-sized business does not. In such cases, it is imperative that family owners not only seek influential and skilled employees from outside the family to bolster the overall company skill set, but that they do not forget to address skills, training and development among the necessary family members also. There is plenty of support, advice and courses available to enable smaller-sized companies to do this.”

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Family business

Finally, access to appropriate financial support also commonly poses problems for family businesses. In the current climate persuading banks to lend debt-based finance can be hard, whilst undertaking this course generates – for many family owners – worries around providing security and lending collateral. The alternative – equity finance – which involves parting with a stake in the family business – is often another extremely hard choice to make. Again, losing control of the business and accepting external investment proves problematic for owners wrestling with how best to finance the business going forward. Either route is not straightforward, but like the succession planning route, is one that cannot be ignored.

Dr Wang concludes, “If a family business is prepared to address the combination of long-term succession, improving the skills within the company and honestly assessing the right kind of finance package, they will be going a long way to securing its present health during tough economic conditions, as well as putting in place the key building blocks that can ensure its survival for future family generations.”

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 13


Employment tribunals

Cutting the red tape How is the employment tribunal system changing? Employment tribunals have been in existence for almost 50 years, creating more controversy than any other part of the judicial system and costing the taxpayer £84m annually. With the government’s nationwide launch of the ‘Red Tape Challenge’, employment laws are set to change dramatically – but will they really aid economic recovery? Chris Busst, senior lecturer in Law and course leader of the Legal Practice Course at the University of Wolverhampton explains how these new proposals will affect businesses. With the widespread agreement that the current tribunal system is not working efficiently, the new proposals attempt to deter frivolous claims and help both parties avoid legal costs through straightforward negotiation. Of the 70 categories of tribunal claims made, 50 of these are very unusual and it is only a few that continue to dominate the tribunal caseload – including unfair dismissal, unlawful discrimination, illegal wage deductions and breach of contract. When will the changes come into effect? There have been several changes confirmed for April 2012. The government is also consulting on other possible changes, which won’t come into effect until at least 2013.

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What are the key proposals? • An increase in the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two years for new employees. • The introduction of fees for lodging tribunal claims. • An increase in maximum costs that may be awarded from £10,000 to £20,000. • Micro-businesses (organisations with fewer than 10 employees) will be free to use a ‘compensated no fault dismissal system’. • The introduction of ‘protected conversations’ within the workplace, promoting earlier discussions of issues affecting both parties. • A requirement to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) for mediation before proceeding to tribunal. Who are ACAS? For many employers who find themselves on the wrong end of a claim, these new measures are thought to reduce tribunal costs and encourage employers to resolve disputes through conciliation before going to a tribunal. ACAS offer Pre-Claim Conciliation (PCC) in individual workplace disputes prior to a tribunal case being taken out. First introduced in 2009, there has been a drastic reduction in the number of tribunal proceedings. The need for additional funding for ACAS will apparently be met through these savings.

How will the changes affect my business? Key benefits of the new measures: • Possible early resolution of disputes before reaching the tribunal system. • More confidence to hire and manage staff. • ‘Protected conversations’ – allowing employers to talk to staff about difficult issues without fear of the discussion being used as evidence in a tribunal. • Elimination of weaker claims – a nationwide estimate of 3,700, and 4,700 fewer unfair dismissal claims per year. What other changes to employment laws do I need to be aware of? As of April 2012: • An increase to the statutory pay for those on maternity and paternity leave, rising from £128.73 to £135.45 per week.


Employment tribunals

• Statutory sick pay will see an increment of £4.25, rising to £85.85 per week. • As of February 2012, the maximum week’s pay used to calculate a redundancy payment has increased by £30 to £430. Potential negatives of the changes Although the changes are said to encourage employment and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, trade unions see the amendments as the government’s way of making it easier for employers to sack staff. Trade union Unite branded the announcement “a

charter for bullies and rogue employers”, underlining that the reforms reduce protection for employees and will not increase employment law in such a tough economic climate. As with all employment matters, the key is to be prepared. Take the time now to consider what issues will be relevant to your business and how you plan to solve them.

For free impartial advice and guidance on employment law, book an appointment with the University of Wolverhampton’s Legal Advice Centre by calling: 01902 322 484 or call into the drop-in shop in Wolverhampton City Centre.

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 15


Skills gap

Mind the gap Manufacturing is enjoying something of a renaissance, with pledges from the government to invest in this once-ailing sector of the economy. However, there is a real need to fill the pipeline of skilled engineers in the UK, if it is to thrive in the long term. Closer examination of some statistics highlights the central importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK and its crucial role in our future economic health.

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According to the Office for National Statistics, the sector employs over 2.5 million people and accounts for some 150,000 companies across the UK – producing goods to the value of over £25 billion per annum. Everyone is aware of the profound effect the financial crisis of the past few years has had and with it the dawning realisation that the UK must re-balance its economy away from a reliance upon the financial services sector. Indeed, the financial downturn brought the

national economic constitution into sharp focus and highlighted a clear imperative: Britain needs to get back to the business of making things. Numerous factors, including the relative absence of government support for manufacturing over the past 20 years, have contributed to a proportional decline for the sector which has seen its contribution to GDP fall to 10% from a figure closer to 18% in 1990. The present coalition government – as well as the previous Labour administration – has recognised the need to increase


Skills gap

rate support for the sector. High profile focus advocated via the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Review including the introduction of the £200 million high value manufacturing technology centres, university technical colleges and initiatives such as ‘Make it in GB’, are collectively attempting to place greater emphasis on supporting manufacturing. But behind all the headlines lies a challenge for the sector and it concerns real fears of a growing skills gap. The need to attract, educate and train the vast numbers of apprentices, technicians

and engineering graduates that are going to be required in the future is becoming pressing – especially when set against a backdrop of an ageing engineering workforce that year-on-year is seeing highly qualified and experienced engineers leaving the sector through retirement. Dick Oliver, Chairman of BAE Systems recently estimated the UK will require another half a million engineers nationally by the year 2017 to reverse the growing skills shortages. In the West Midlands – the heartland of Britain’s manufacturing

heritage – it is estimated that over 100,000 new entrants will be required to support the many large scale and growing regional manufacturers, and the supply chain that feeds them. With this in mind, the University of Wolverhampton has teamed up with industry to create and launch what is being viewed as a radical and innovative education approach. It will join up industry, government and academia in an integrated fashion to appropriately prepare young people for a career in engineering.

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 17


Skills gap

Professor Richard Hall from the University of Wolverhampton outlines the thinking behind a programme called, ‘Gearing-up for Industrial Growth’. He says: “As a nation and a region, if we are to have any hope of closing the engineering skills gap and providing the manufacturing industry with the level of expertise needed at apprentice, technician and graduate level, we have to adopt a new way forward. Having consulted closely with industry partners such as Jaguar Land Rover, Caterpillar, many smaller companies in the supplier chain, plus skills bodies such as SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies), the University is now developing a pilot two year manufacturing engineering degree course. This is designed specifically to provide learners not only with the academic knowledge they require, but also the industrial experience to make them work-ready. “The real difference with the new degree is that the students will be carrying out their learning in an industrial setting at a company, supported by the team at the University of Wolverhampton. It will not be limited to the classroom and will provide a faster qualified engineer rather than the often part-time traditional engineering degrees on offer. It is a true collaboration with industry, which has been fully involved in setting out what it wants to see in the course delivery. We have

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assembled leaders from a wide range of high value manufacturing companies and other stakeholders to get behind the new manufacturing degree and we have been delighted with the positive response.” Richard Hall continues, “The idea will be that young learners from local schools and colleges will be sponsored by industry to come into the programme, or they may already be employed but not be qualified; and at the end of the course, they are ready to continue work with our industrial partners. In this way, working with university technical colleges and local academies, we will be able to scaleup numbers to meet local needs.” It is envisaged that students leaving the course will have the required combination of industrial experience and academic theory to make them highly valuable in the eyes of potential manufacturing employers. They will be ideally prepared to enter the workplace and add value to the businesses they join. They can, in the opinion of Richard Hall, ‘hit the ground running’. The pilot framework for the two year course has been agreed and curriculum details are currently being finalised. All stakeholders are extremely hopeful that the output from the course will start to eat into the skills gap, as well as proving attractive to talented youngsters who

may previously have given an engineering career a wide berth. Professor Hall concludes, “It is a win-win situation. Students, I believe, will vote with their feet and see the merits of the course. Financially they will not face the worries of student fees and they will be able to see the real possibility of gainful, rewarding employment on the horizon. From an industry perspective, companies will have access to a growing band of recruits that have spent 24 months gaining vital industry-based experience, as well as academic support, negating the need for subsequent, and costly, graduate training. Ultimately, the goal is the creation of a national skills factory to tackle the alarming numbers Dick Oliver alluded to by offering a seamless route from study to industry, and a fulfilling and rewarding career in a sector that can generate wealth for the Midlands region, and the nation as a whole.”

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Sustainability

Sustainable communities – the formula for success Sustainable communities – it’s a phrase that is regularly bandied around by politicians, businesses and local organisations. But what does it actually mean in practice and is there a one-size-fits-all definition that transcends international and cultural boundaries?

Philip Dearden, Head of the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) at the University of Wolverhampton, believes the simple definition of a sustainable community is “a place where people want to live and work, now and in the future.”

This seems like a reasonable aim, no matter what part of the world you are in, but how does a community then go on to measure success? In the Western world, measures of success in

sustainability are increasingly focused on economic indicators, such as job creation and individual business targets. In recent publications, global accountancy firm Ernst and Young has talked extensively about the chief financial officer’s expanding role in sustainability - reinforcing the financial measures of success that are applied to such projects. It also gives cause for concern that the Western world could become too narrow

www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge 19


Sustainability

in its approach to sustainability, with CFOs tracking the success of activities and projects purely against business performance criteria. The economic benefits brought about by sustainability have been the wake-up call for many businesses to take action, but it shouldn’t be the only driving force behind such efforts. Is there a danger that we are too focused on the prosperity of our own patch – ie. our business – rather than the wider community impact, which will benefit generations to come?

“This is a good lasting example of the Cadbury family’s vision of attempting to integrate many of the aspects of what we now call “sustainable communities” into practice. The village is located close to the famous Cadbury chocolate factory but physically separated from it, and consists of relatively high quality housing, with a variety of integrated community amenities and a fairly attractive physical environment. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has claimed that it is still “one of the nicest places to live in Britain.”

Phil believes this is a risk and that the next challenge is to strive for real sustainable communities, where the balancing of economic, ecological and social aspects of life are carefully considered and provided for.

So, if the Cadbury family could achieve something so significant and lasting more than 100 years ago, surely business has a leading role to play in creating truly sustainable communities for the next century.

We have an example of this broader and more inclusive way of thinking right on our doorstep in South Birmingham and it certainly isn’t new, having been established for more than a century. According to Phil, Bournville village is a world-class example of a sustainable community. He explains:

According to Phil, there are four key areas that can help to guide businesses in ensuring that their approach to sustainability extends beyond the workplace:

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• Ecological integrity Businesses should take a serious look at how their practices may impact negatively on the environment. This should be wide ranging and look beyond the obvious areas such as recycling and think about less obvious pollution such as noise that may affect the local community. As well as taking small steps, some organisations may be able to make more significant commitments, such as energy self generation via solar panels. • Economic security Being financially responsible is an important part of creating a sustainable community. It’s about running a business with the wider community in mind and not taking undue risk that could compromise the long term wellbeing of the local area and its residents.


Sustainability

• A high quality of life Businesses need to think about how they reward their employees beyond the monthly salary. Flexible working hours, childcare schemes, subsidised public transport and a pleasant working environment can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life for employees and the local community, but these aspects are in the hands of employers. • Citizen empowerment Enabling staff to have a voice is an important part of motivating a community to care about things beyond their own garden fence. This should extend beyond the running of the business itself and could manifest itself in a corporate social responsibility programme that allows staff to get involved in local community projects to really make a difference.

These four areas would have resonance with businesses and communities across the globe. The steps those businesses take and priorities for their local communities may be very different, but it does show that there are universal ‘pillars’ for building sustainable communities no matter where we are in the world.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

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Online ticketing

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WLV Knowledge Issue 4


Online ticketing

Just the ticket It’s a fact that the internet is now part of our daily lives, leaving an impression on all industries. Due to the competitive nature of e-commerce, it’s imperative that ticketing businesses and organisations research the online buying behaviour of customers, in order to streamline their ticketing and reservations processes. A growing necessity, e-commerce and mobile commerce (or m-commerce) are altering our expectations of accessibility, and it’s no longer enough for businesses to rely on consumers visiting default websites for selling and making purchases. With the age of the techno-savvy comes a demand for companies to use mobile and social technology to provide more possibilities for access to their services and products, and to attract, retain and satisfy customer needs. Social media has been crucial in this process, with ticketing merchants attracting more business from the likes of Twitter and Facebook by connecting with customers on a more personal level. Social media is opening doors for the online ticketing business, and with it come more opportunities to connect with the target market to create better tailored services. Listening to the consumer voice is crucial to the ticketing business as it determines the online interface, sales and services they offer. A recent report from the University of Wolverhampton, commissioned by The Ticket Factory (TTF), ascertains how consumers initially find out about events

and investigates the factors that influence the purchasing of tickets. A UK-wide sample was used for the survey, focusing on event participation and choice, ticket buying behaviour and demographic information. TTF aims to offer ‘a compelling alternative to other ticket agents by putting you at the heart of the ticket purchasing journey.’* With so many competitors, this is key to providing high quality customer service and reiterates the need to utilise online platforms. Online ticketing has created new challenges for businesses as issues such as search engine optimisation, visibility, server capacity and functionality of websites dominate the market. The online payment process is also a fundamental part of the service that is often forgotten, one current issue consistently raised is surcharges placed on customers credit cards buying online. The government is now looking to ban these ‘hidden’ extras by the end of 2012, with businesses only being allowed to charge for the transaction process. Mark Hoban, financial secretary to the Treasury, claims: “it’s important that consumers know up front what charges they pay”.** Consumer lobby group Which?, estimates that the real cost of credit card transaction is no more than 2% of the purchase value – though many businesses argue that the supplements cover the cost of administration fees and staff wages.

In order to succeed in the global marketplace, merchants must also understand cultural differences such as currencies, preferred payment methods, languages; and recognise the threats that face their business – whether this means fragmented systems, thinning margins or fraud. EU action in 2011 cracking down on fraudulent and problematic ticketing websites has aided the online sales of tickets. Following this, a report was published by the European Commission stating that 88% of websites selling tickets for cultural or sporting events checked for breach of EU consumer rules now comply with the EU law, compared to only 40% in 2010. As the economy rebounds from the recession and consumers start to loosen their purse strings, demand for event tickets purchased online will begin to increase again. Businesses should look at ways to optimise their online selling potential through social media, streamline their payment processes and listen to the consumer voice that ultimately determines the credibility of the service they provide.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

*Wale, D; Gelder, G; Robinson, P; Clarke, A; Tongue, N (2012) Ticket Factory Ticket Buying Project: market research in conjunction with NEC Group Ltd **The Guardian online, December 2011

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Language skills

Language skills translate into business success For the past decade or so Mandarin has been touted as the ‘must-have’ language for success in business. But, with the rise of the other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, will this be the case 10, 20 or even 50 years from now? Closer to home, the expanding parameters of the European Union will surely have some bearing on the dominant languages for trading across borders.

Many might argue that this debate is irrelevant as English – or something closely resembling it – is and always will be the dominant language around the board room table. In the last decade, there has been much discussion of the rise of ‘English-lite’ or Globish, made famous by former IBM vice president Jean-Paul Nerriere. So, with English looking set to continue to be the accepted parlance in business, is there any need to be concerned about learning other languages? The British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences, has been worried for some time about the state of foreign language learning in the UK and has drawn attention to the “potentially harmful impact on the UK’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing”.

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In today’s contracted employment market, the need to stand out from the crowd is more important than ever and for those who want to work and trade at a global level it is an essential skill. Confederation of British Industry surveys have highlighted the frustration among UK employers who cannot find candidates with the necessary language skills. House of Lords representative, Baroness Thornton has drawn attention to the dearth of skilled linguists in the UK with some startling statistics: “Seventytwo per cent of UK international trade is with non-English-speaking countries, but only one in 10 of us can speak a foreign language and only 30 per cent of us say we can even understand a conversation in another language.” She has also highlighted the complaints to the Foreign Office from companies investing in the UK who have to bring people from their home markets as they cannot find people with the necessary skill and grasp of languages required to operate at a senior level.


Language skills

Despite the fact that English will continue to reign supreme, the UK’s top employers have made their feelings clear and nearly 300 firms backed the ‘Try Life in Another Language’ campaign, which was launched in 2010 to encourage young people to improve their employability prospects.

Which language should I learn? This is where the consensus ends and very much depends on the requirements of your role and nature of your business.

Daphne Laing from the University of Wolverhampton says: “As more people speak English, it becomes even more important for English speakers to learn another language – if everyone can do this then the UK needs to find another competitive advantage to stay ahead. The first step is to identify the language that will be most useful to you and your business and build from there. Who knows where it could take you.”

• There is also a growing demand for UK community languages such as Polish and Urdu.

• Research has shown that French, German and Spanish are perceived as the most useful for employers.

For further information on the language support available from the University please contact Language Networks for Excellence, call: 01902 518 969 or email: networks4excellence@wlv.ac.uk

• With a keen focus on emerging economies, Mandarin and Hindi still hold great value for businesses trading in these areas. In the future, we could also see the most widely spoken African languages – Amharic and Swahili – increase in importance.

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Motivated workforce

A morale tale for business A well motivated workforce is almost certain to perform better and have a positive effect upon the wellbeing of any company. But, how do businesses measure motivation and morale levels? We speak to Professor Roger Seifert from the University of Wolverhampton’s Management Research Centre to find out more. How can a business measure the levels of motivation and morale among staff? While it is fair to say that there is difficulty in the exact measurement of motivation and morale levels, there is a set of indicators that can be used to gauge such matters. These will include measurement of absentee rates, staff turnover rates, levels of sickness leave taken and incidents of lateness and poor performance. The general proposition is that the more motivated staff are and the higher the level of morale within the workforce, the lower the indicators will be. Any sensible business should be seeking to address issues of high turnover and absence rates as they are expensive for any company and the rationale should be to try to reduce such levels and with it cost to the company. Are bonuses effective in boosting morale? Remuneration in the form of bonuses is, in many respects, a double-edged sword. Whilst it may highly motivate those who receive the bonus, others that do not will be questioning why they did not receive the same recognition – leading to a downward spiral of de-motivation and disengagement. In addition, once bonuses start to be paid they are very difficult to stop. An employee who has received a bonus for say three years in a row will not take kindly to a decision taken in the fourth year to withhold any

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bonus payment – whatever the reason behind the decision. A level of expectation will have been built up and when not met will, again, create the potential for disappointment and motivation issues. How important is a clear career path? Companies should not underestimate the positive impact that a thriving and pro-active culture of internal promotion can have. If employees feel career advancement is possible and promotion – even on a small scale – take place, it will demonstrate to staff that opportunity exists within the business. Equally important can be the influence of a staff promotion that is viewed as unwarranted or unfair. This too can de-motivate others and as such the consequences of any promotion activity need careful consideration at all stages. It is essential to deliver a fair and transparent recruitment policy as the arrival of a new member of staff can often have a profound impact on the existing employee group. The merits and abilities of the new recruit must be able to stand up to scrutiny by staff, as any realisation that the new member is less qualified, experienced or just inferior will raise questions in the minds of many about the direction the company is taking such as a move towards potential down-skilling. This will create concern and at the same time de-motivate. What else can businesses do to make staff feel valued? It is vital that the employee feels that his/her voice is heard by management. Ensuring, for example, that employee grievances are

addressed without undue delay is important, it sends a clear message that the company takes staff feelings and their individual experience seriously. An open environment must be fostered to ensure that employees feel able and willing to express views or raise an issue without a prejudicial reaction. Creating such an atmosphere can only aid efforts around motivation and morale and communicate a message to staff from the organisation that they are important. Tackling the four areas above does not require a link to increasing pay rates, or the need to implement a radical and expensive bonus structure to improve motivation. Thinking carefully and assessing the likely impact of actions to encourage opportunity, opening staff dialogue channels, or adding identified talent to existing personnel, can go a long way to maximising levels of employee motivation, engagement and performance.

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre 01902 321272 enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge


Motivated workforce

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For more information Tel: 01902 321272 Email: enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com Web: www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge

WLV Knowledge Issue 4  

WLV Knowledge Issue 4

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