The business of innovation
BTi students analyse large data sets to come up with ideas for new services and have the opportunity to work with real clients from the beginning of their degree.
It's not every day a bunch of university students are given all-areas access to a private company’s database. But that’s exactly what happened for the uni’s first ever Bachelor of Technology and Innovation (BTi) students. They teamed up with JobGetter – an HR company intent on ‘shaking things up’ for online job seekers – to trawl through more than 1.5 million users and 2 million job postings, to come up with new ways for the organisation to do business. Some students even scored internships in the process.
“I’m a great believer in the need for industry to collaborate more closely with universities; not just in research, but also in teaching and learning,” says Senior Lecturer Natalia Nikolova – the Subject Coordinator for Data-driven Design Challenges and the driving force behind last year’s collaboration with JobGetter.
Data-driven Design Challenges is an industry-focused subject that requires BTi students to interrogate and analyse large data sets to come up with ideas for new services.
“Normally, such experiences are offered in capstone subjects, at the end of degrees,” explains Natalia. “BTi is different in that we want students to have the opportunity to work with real clients and problems early on.
“A former student of mine, Leah Callon-Butler, was employed by JobGetter at the time and connected me with Fiona Anson, the CEO.”
Fiona, who has a background in mentoring students at the UTS Hatchery Accelerate program and has close ties to UTS’s MBA and MBAe program, jumped at the chance.
“I'm a passionate ‘what if’ thinker and the opportunity to open up our business to a room of BTi students was simply irresistible,” she says. “Natalia explained to me that the students would be working with us for a whole semester and I was really excited by the prospect of a virtual ‘ideas fest’ for our business.
“To be honest, we've worked with external consultants in the past and it's all a bit ‘same old, same old’. The students were really granular and applied not only new and critical thinking but also their individual areas of expertise – UX, or user experience, Internet of Things, design, research.”
Fiona says, the partnership “is developing exactly the skills we see employers clamouring for – critical thinking, creativity, enthusiasm, innovation, communication and collaboration skills. I think this course is something really special and is certainly grooming the next generation of thinkers, innovators and game changers.”
Natalia agrees. “BTi, as a program, seeks to prepare our students for the future of work by focusing on digital literacy, technological literacy and enterprise skills. It’s one of the reasons why every BTi subject is designed and delivered by a team of academics from different disciplines right across UTS.
“My expertise is in designing and delivering project-based subjects with real clients. I don’t teach data analysis or service design but I can curate the learning materials and bring in experts who do. And as this collaboration, and this project in particular has shown, the transdisciplinarity of the BTi has been instrumental to the outcomes achieved by students.”
Lachlan Gregory agrees. He and his fellow students Aaron Bland, Charlie Schacher, Monty Martin-Weber and Vincent Anthony were in a team who re-thought the JobGetter app.
Lachlan says the company’s former app had a “clunky sign-up process” that deterred jobseekers. After looking at the data (which included an average of two web visits per user and a whopping 40 average visits via the app), Lachlan and his team aimed to make the app more appealing to jobseekers, increase the number of users and increase how often they use it.
“We set ourselves the original target of users accessing personalised jobs within three clicks,” enthuses Lachlan. “But we actually achieved this in two!
“We wanted to go a level deeper than a job seeker’s physical qualifications though. Our app considers jobs and companies you wouldn’t have originally thought of, but which you suit the company culture of and have the skills to make an impact.
“Most job sites ask for the jobs you want, but not for the jobs you don’t want. We’ve made an effort to incorporate this.”
This course is something really special and is certainly grooming the next generation of thinkers, innovators and game-changers.
And, with the app launching this March, those decisions proved fruitful. “Our team didn’t reinvent the wheel,” explains Lachlan. “JobGetter had the ingredients all along, they just needed to be combined in the right way with a more user-centric focus.”
For JobGetter, “Having the students look at our app from a real user's perspective was invaluable,” affirms Fiona. “After all, they're our exact target market. Not only did they give us their own ideas, they tested mock-ups with their friends and fellow students, many of whom asked if they could download the app straight away. What we ended up with is something that's incredibly user-centric and is also visually appealing to our target demographic.”
Natalia too was impressed by the students’ creativity and professionalism. “I expected them to appreciate the learning opportunities this subject offers, but I was surprised that students who are only in their second semester generated such high-quality outcomes! Their ability to learn, in such a short time, new knowledge and methodologies and apply these to generate ideas and concepts that are valuable and achievable was just amazing.”
For Lachlan, it’s one of the benefits of the BTi. His advice to other students? “Embrace the lack of normality in this degree because it will allow you go out there and take full advantage of these unique opportunities.”