Will Student Stipends Hurt Employment?

26 Jun
student interns

Are student interns hurting the job market?
Image: Shutterstock

Summer internships for college students are seen as essential for resume building among most college students, whether they can afford it or not.  As colleges come under increasing criticism about the disconnect between earning a degree and finding a job, most institutions are hungry for any employer willing to help students build professional skills and experience.  Some Universities are even paying employers as rich as General Motors to let students do work that companies need done without paying for the work at all, or paying only half the wage.

Of course, this practice makes the university look good and students love the allowance for being able to gain what they consider valuable work experience.  However, in a time of cutbacks, layoffs and high unemployment, many firms are dancing along the edge of federal labor laws, which require that unpaid internships to do not provide immediate financial benefit for the company.  As most companies are operating at a bare bones employment structure, most unpaid interns would likely be beneficial.  However, the number of students willing to work for free in exchange for the resume bullet has only increased, as competition for jobs becomes more intense.  Some students are even willing to do work that is unrelated to their field of study just to get the experience.

Some students, however, are lashing out.  Several lawsuits have been filed, specifically in the entertainment industry, against employers that are not willing to pay for assistance from students.  It is difficult to determine whether the practice of unpaid internships is beneficial.  On one hand, many students are willing to do work they consider valuable for free.  Universities need better relationships with employers, and many employers need a future workforce with practical skills.  However, it may be dangerous to the economy if employers are not held accountable for respecting the value of a strong labor force because they take any free labor they can get.  How likely is a firm to hire a new employee, after all, when they can get a constant stream of desperate job seekers at no cost?


Diversity Making Little Progress in the Business World

24 Jun
workplace segregation

Despite everything, many workplaces are still segregated by gender and race.
Image: Shutterstock

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published a study tracking the segregation of women and minorities in the workplace.  Even though you have most likely been through a diversity training in the last six months, you may find that your co-working population looks a lot like you.  It turns out that equal opportunity has stalled for thirty years.  After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, government and social pressure on firms to reduce segregation created more equal opportunity for minorities, most significantly for white women.  However, the levels of jobs where women and blacks work side by side with white males has leveled out, and in some cases lowered, since the 1990s.

workplace diversity

Only 1 in 6 private businesses hold managers accountable for professional development of minorities.
Image: Shutterstock

For example, over 70% of black women in the workforce today would need to switch careers in order to have an even representation in all major occupational fields.  This is down only about 10% from 1970, and the line has been nearly flat since 2000.  Black males have been sitting on a 50% segregation rate for thirty years, and while white women’s segregation has come down the most significantly, it has tapered off in the last decade.  The study concluded that the reasoning for these results has been from a shift from accountability and outspoken public opinion to trainings and vague policies built into the company handbook.  HBR found that today, only about 1 in 6 private businesses actually hold managers accountable for professional development of minorities.

This study may prove valuable evidence to the decisions on affirmative action currently being weighed in the Supreme Court.  Many people believe we should end the practice of requiring a certain percentage of minorities to be chosen for university programs or jobs.  While affirmative action is slightly different than equal opportunity, the decision could affect how people feel about progressing underrepresented groups in the workplace.  The data shows that something needs to change, but perhaps the programs need innovation to integrate our workforce into a true reflection of our population.

Financial Analysts Watch Turkish Protestors

14 Jun

Civil unrest in Turkey is causing some concern on the part of credit agencies over whether Turkey will be able to maintain its economic performance.  While Turkish markets have recently rallied in light of Moody’s decision to upgrade the country, anti-government protests have occupied the capital and other Turkish cities for more than two weeks.  Protestors claim the political part in power is moving public policy to favor Islamic law, even though the country is officially secular.  A recent law curbing alcohol sales seems to have been the last straw for the non-religious half of Turkish citizens, and protests have persisted and in some cases become violent.

Rating agency Moody’s, led by Raymond McDaniel, said that the Turkish government will need to act swiftly and effectively to curb the unrest in order to maintain its newly achieved rating of Baa3, because the protests could reduce tourism revenue and thus affect the country’s debt to income ratio.  The protests could also make foreign investors hesitant to bring capital into the country if the government is seen as unstable, which is why agencies are emphasizing the dependence on the government’s reaction to the protests, rather than on the protests themselves.  Overall, both Moody’s and rival agency Fitch said there is no danger of a credit downgrade at this time.

The Turkish economy is performing better than expected this year and has managed to bring unemployment to the lowest rate in seven years.  Inflation is also down and the working class seems to be happy.  So far the protests are isolated to the educated groups of people who are against religious rule, rather than being able to ignite the working class.  Most analysts feel the protests will be controllable and not effect Turkey’s economy.

Sony Makes Brilliant Move

13 Jun
Sony Playstation

Sony made brilliant use of Xbox’s PR fumbles.
Image: Shutterstock

If you aren’t a gamer, you may not be aware of the recent waves in the gaming industry as the next generation of console development is rolling out.  It began with Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox One in late May.  Microsoft has fumbled the promotion of the new console, not only upsetting the gaming community with its lackluster game development but with a feature that many game enthusiasts have long feared.  Not only will the system require an online connection to play, but will essentially render used or borrowed games useless without a significant fee to Xbox for a new verification code.  While Microsoft scrambled to clarify the online features and announce more game titles, the sour taste from the original announcement is still fresh in consumer minds.

Especially now that Sony has swiftly used the bad PR to its advantage with its announcement of the Playstation 4 console. Not only did Sony include a montage of new games during their announcement at a major electronics conference, but also practically bragged that it would be a hundred dollars less than the Xbox.  Two complete its One-Two punch to Microsoft, Sony made a twenty-two second instructional video on how to share used games (you hand your game over to your friend).

Sony stocks spiked right after the Xbox announcement, indicating that Xbox may have some trouble peddling its new wares to the market.  However, it ultimately seems that Xbox is targeting another market entirely.  The promotion for the device has heavily stressed its cloud computing capabilities, indicating the ability to streamline a wide variety of media consumption at record speeds.  Television and movies are more important to the Xbox One marketing strategy, and may attract buyers who are not as upset about not being able to buy used games.  Meanwhile, Playstation is executing a pro-gamer strategy perfectly, using everything from pricing to humor to rake in loyalty. It will be interesting to see which one pays off.

Will Google Glass Change the Workplace?

11 Jun
Google Glass

Google Glass
Image: giuseppe.costantino via Flickr CC

The new Google Glass is a pair of what looks like hi-tech clear sunglasses, when in reality it is a new, wearable screen that will allow you to interact on the web with even more ease.  Google Glass’s software will customize what you see based on your search history and Google usage, basically eliminating your need to search for your everyday information, such as flight times, messages or schedules.  Other applications suggested for the usage would be seeing instant translation subtitles while watching your favorite foreign film, getting directions from your point of view, and recording unique videos and pictures.

While the idea seems novel, highly advanced and sometimes frightening, Google insists that Glass is simply a way of streamlining and increases access to what you can already do with your smartphone. In fact, many of Glass’ applications, such as a GPS, will only work by being connected to your phone.

However, there are definitely some things about Glass that may give early adopters in business a leg up.  One is the ability for Glass to identify people, so when you are meeting new prospects you can be looking at their social media profile and have plenty of information about them, thus coming off more friendly and prepared.

Google Glass prototype 2012

Google Glass prototype 2012
Image: Antonia Zugaldia / Ars Electronica via Flickr CC

Obviously, Glass can also remind you of when you need to switch one task to the other, tell you to go to meetings even if you aren’t in front of your computer, and streamline your email process.  Other applications for Glass at work are speculated to be on the way. Google is already working on an Evernote app, a highly respected productivity application on many platforms.  It is clear the intention is to help boost workplace productivity, but whether offices will accept the new form of technology remains to be seen.

The Death of Room Service

6 Jun
Room Service

Room Service
Image: Trevor H. via Flickr

Room service always seems to be integral to the image of a fancy hotel.  The server waltzing in with white gloves and tailored jacket pushing a clothed cart topped with a silver tray is an iconic indicator of excellent service.  However, New York’s largest hotel, the Hilton Midtown, will be shutting down the service and replacing it with a cafeteria-like eatery this summer.  The move will cut 55 jobs from the hotel and is just the biggest move in the beginning of an industry trend.  Another Hilton in Hawaii has already ended room service, and several other large hotels in Chicago and New York have cut back on food offerings.

Apparently the age old tradition of ordering food delivered to your hotel room actually hurts the bottom line.  Consultants and managers for the Hilton and other hotels have advised a cutback, saying there has been a steady decline in room service in recent years.  Part of it may be that people are cutting back after the decline in the economy, but the other part may be due to the rise in affordable restaurants.  Chain and mid-scale restaurants are among the first industries to recover from the recession. One consultant says that no hotel is making a profit from offering room service because of the high labor cost.

Competitors are ready with the rebuttal, however.  A Mariott spokesperson said the hotel company has no plans to reduce or eliminate room service, saying that the offering is a consumer expectation for hotels of a certain caliber and reputation.  If late night snack or champagne and strawberries is important to your hotel experience, keep an eye on who is keeping the service around.  More than likely the move will look the way the airline industry’s movement to charge for bags did—people will complain at first, until it becomes the new normal.

Roku Begins its Battle for Your TV Time

4 Jun
Roku capabilities include Netflix, Hulu, and even Angry Birds. Image: Amazon

Roku capabilities include Netflix, Hulu, and even Angry Birds.
Image: Amazon

In several rounds of fund raising efforts, media streaming device company Roku has managed to gather $60 million in investments from media giants Hearst and News Corp and British Sky Broadcasting.  Originally developed to stream Netflix movie and show selections to televisions, Roku has expanded their media selection to music and other media, incuding Hulu.com and internet gaming sensation Angry Birds.  Founder and CEO Anthony Wood says Roku intends to use the money to expand access to Roku services, such as partnering with companies to make “Roku Ready” televisions and other hardware devices.

The announcement comes hot on the tails of the Microsoft’s announcement to release the Xbox One, a revamped gaming console with a major focus on television viewing.  Both Roku and Xbox are setting themselves up to compete for precious consumer free time and leading the charge to move people away from cable and onto customizable online media.  Apparently Hearst and News Corp believe in their intention.  However, at a much lower price point, Roku may have the mass market appeal that Xbox will not.  The retail price for the Xbox One in set at $400, leaving it mostly to the enthusiastic gamer population to buy it.

Is the end of cable TV near? Image: AllMyFaves

Is the end of cable TV near?
Image: AllMyFaves

If Microsoft, Roku, Netflix and major media moguls push the entertainment industry to online streaming, one cannot help but wonder what is in store for cable companies and broadcasters.  It remains unclear whether organizations like NBC, ABC or CBS will do when they lose ground for consumer attention, especially since online streaming will likely have the ability to customize ads for the user, the way Google or Amazon can.  Will we see the death of television? It certainly looks possible.