Mon. Oct 18th, 2021


This is an audio heading of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: American automation in the pandemic, the technical training of Bank of America

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. It’s Tuesday, August 31st, and this is your FT newsletter.

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QR codes are replacing retail and restaurant workers during the pandemic, and prices are rising in Germany at a rate not seen in more than a decade. In addition, we will look at how Bank of America is retraining its employees to become more technically proficient.

Imani Moses
To what extent should employee training be the responsibility of the employer versus the responsibility of the education system? I think this is an open question. But what you’re seeing is that more employers are coming to this board because they see an upcoming talent shortage.

Marc Filippino
I’m Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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In the US, the pandemic made it difficult for employers to find service workers, but some of them found a solution – QR codes. By scanning these codes at restaurants or shops, customers can complete a transaction directly on their mobile phones. No workers needed. But some experts believe that automation through the pandemic could be a permanent tool, and we can not see these posts coming back. The FT’s labor and equality correspondent, Taylor Nicole Rogers, reported on this. Hello, Taylor.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Hi, Marc

Marc Filippino
Taylor. What is the scale here? How many companies are experimenting with this type of technology?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I would say that most businesses in the service and hospitality field are experimenting with this to some extent, whether it’s as simple as having the menu on your phone available via QR code or that the server is the QR code itself, which means you do not actually work with another human until they bring out your plate.

Marc Filippino
That is, you know, when we hear about these kinds of things and the horror that comes with automation that can possibly take work, we usually think of manufacturing, right? Can you explain why many of these companies turned to this type of automation during the pandemic?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
I think it has a lot to do with social distance, right? One of the things customers looked at in the early days of the first closures in March last year was where I could be as far away from other people as possible. So many of these solutions started out as ways to lower the transfer rates and keep customers safe. But as the pandemic progressed and workers found it more difficult, they also began to fill this gap in the labor market that we see.

Marc Filippino
Who is most affected by this?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Economists say it will mostly be women, and then people with a lower level of education who will lose jobs at computers. But it is important to note that it will mostly be people who work in businesses at the bottom of the luxury scale. So if you’re a waiter in a luxury restaurant with a Michelin star, where people expect to be treated like kings and queens, I would not worry about your work. But if you work on the other side of the food service, maybe as someone taking orders through a driveway to a fast food restaurant, I would be worried. But it is also important to note that because of the pandemic, customers, because we are used to living our lives through the screen, are also more open to interacting with a kiosk or QR code instead of a friendly face .

Marc Filippino
Now we have to mention that while this is happening in the US, other countries like China and South Korea are already using QR codes to order things. What do experts see in terms of the future of automation?

Taylor Nicole Rogers
The question will be: will the labor market improve? Because if you know that service workers are returning to some of these jobs and people are getting used to interacting with people again, then it is possible that this work is good in the long run. But there is also the possibility that businesses are getting used to how cheap QR codes are to work with and how they can do things fairly quickly. And then this job we lost during the pandemic will not come back.

Marc Filippino
Taylor Nicole Rogers is the FT’s Labor and Equality Correspondent. Thanks, Taylor.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Thank you.

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Marc Filippino
The shortage of employees in the US has affected banks, and it is particularly difficult to find workers for their growing digital operations. One of the largest banks in the country, Bank of America, is even training its breeders and other staff to do coding and data analysis. I’m working with FT’s US bank correspondent Imani Moise to find out more. Hi Imani.

Imani Moses
Hello, Marc.

Marc Filippino
This is how Bank of America trains counters to be IT specialists. What is it about, Imani?

Imani Moses
Yes, it’s actually a program they’ve had since 2018. But the program really helped them increase technological skills, as everything became automatic during the pandemic. It is therefore open to everyone at the bank, from counters to traders to people who already work in technology but may want to scale up. So they really met the talent needs that the pandemic brought to the fore.

Marc Filippino
Imani, are the staff happy about this? Is there a lot of recording, or is it eager?

Imani Moses
It looks like that. I mean, three million courses have been followed so far since it launched in 2018. And Bank of America has about 200,000 employees. So if it seems like everyone could take at least a few courses, of course. And you see, people are taking on new roles, and what happened now is that they set a goal when they started this university to increase internal recruitment by 39%, and that’s now 80 percent. It is clear that they are successful, and that they can create the talent they need.

Marc Filippino
I also have to imagine that a lot of these employees see the writing on the wall, right? If you think about it, they can see that many places, including banks, are going digital if they want to stay relevant, then they need to follow this training to keep their jobs.

Imani Moses
Absolutely. And that’s why I think you’re starting to see more businesses offering it. So I spoke to the CTO of Bank of America, Cathy Bessant, and she said that the roles she is training for today are truly for future work. That’s why she wants to encourage so many people in the business to start this training. And then you also see banks like JPMorgan. They started forcing their analysts and demanding that their analyst in the asset management department start taking coding classes just because they think it is a good skill. You also see that banks are broadly investing in the workforce, not only for their own businesses, but also to make sure that these skills are learned. Because I think what you see is what managers see in the job market, this inbound mismatch between skills.

Marc Filippino
It’s not going to fix everything, Imani. There are still a lot of questions, right?

Imani Moses
Right. I mean, how much should education or employee training be the employer’s responsibility versus the responsibility of the education system? I think this is an open question. But what you’re seeing is that more employers are coming to this board because they see an upcoming talent shortage for specific skills and they want to address it. I think this type of training program has not been scaled down yet, at least within Bank of America. And to speak with Cathy Bessant, it’s the next thing on her wish list or to-do list to institutionalize this type of learning, so that when many things happen quickly, as in the pandemic, many workers, thousands of workers, since they were trained last year to in the need to provide.

Marc Filippino
Imani Moise is the US bank correspondent for the FT. Thank you, Imani.

Imani Moses
Thank you for having me.

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Marc Filippino
Inflation in Germany has just peaked at 13 years. The country’s harmonized index of consumer prices rose to 3.4 percent in August from a year earlier. It is also higher than in July and it is the highest level since 2008. What is the cause? Well, Germany’s economy is recovering from the pandemic, but there are also higher energy prices and disruption of the global supply chain as a result of higher inflation. The European Central Bank, like the US Federal Reserve, considers this year’s rise in inflation to be short-lived. But the ECB’s governing body will meet next week, and they will talk about whether the eurozone economy is recovering enough from the pandemic to justify slowing down the pace of its buying program.

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Now inflation in the US is also high lately. We told you quite a bit about it. And that has an effect on dollar stores. Many more of these stores have popped up in the last few years. The company, Dollar General, now operates about 18,000 stores, and Dollar Tree has nearly 16,000 stores. These businesses have flourished in times of tame inflation, but with the rising inflation of 2021, a goat just does not go as far as before. Dollar General and Dollar Tree made earnings last week. They blame rising shipping costs and wage bills because they weigh margins. Dollar General is therefore raising its prices. And these stores are trying new things, like adding a higher margin, fresh products, testing new formats and adding more expensive products like curtains, rugs and watches.

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You can read more about all these stories on FT.com. This was your daily FT News Briefing. Visit again tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript was generated automatically. If there is an error, please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.



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