Innovating the next generation through technology

23 November, 2016 Tasmin Trezise

Recently I attended and presented at The 2nd Collegiate Way International Conference in Canberra. The Conference brings together collegiate communities from across the globe to explore the role and responsibility university residences have in shaping the future generation. Technology is one aspect that is playing a major role in shaping the next generation, in terms of education and careers but also in how we will develop as an innovative society. I believe that university boards and councils are the starting point to drive innovation in the next generation, as they provide the necessary structure, support and connections for students to embrace entrepreneurial opportunities.

You can read my full speech below.

SPEECH: Using University Boards and Councils to drive innovation

Presented by Tasmin Trezise

“In 2011, Marc Andreessen wrote an article called, “Software is eating the world”. He details how more and more aspects of our lives are being taken over by technology and software. Today our largest book stores, music stores, and video services are not found on the street corner, but rather online. Photography, telecommunications and retail, have been disrupted by software and technology that is designed specifically to meet the needs of the consumer. In 2011, Andreessen speculated that health care and education would be the next industries to be ‘eaten up by software’, and five years later, I’d say he’s not far off the mark.

Technology is driving education into the 21st century. It’s shaping how we teach, how students learn and the society that they will soon lead and influence. University is often considered the epicentre for many grand ideas. One only needs to look at the research and startups that are coming out of the universities today, to see the impact that the next generation’s ideas are having on society. However the question remains how do we encourage the next generation to innovate?

I believe that the Boards and Councils of Colleges and Universities, should actively embrace their roles as innovation incubators, in order to foster and drive technical innovation within the next generation. As a Former Student Representative President for QUT, I feel very passionately about this. I have seen first hand the potential that an idea can have, and the benefits that arise when that idea is nurtured and developed within a University environment. I hope to share some wisdom and lessons that I’ve learnt from my time as a student and now as an entrepreneur with you today. I will also explore the importance of providing platforms and opportunities for future generations, and how universities and colleges can assist in the innovation revolution. But first, let’s take a look at how technology is driving innovation and shaping our students, because this influences how we engage them to innovate within universities.

Technology is driving education

How many of you sitting here today have had to technically upgrade your colleges and universities recently? You may have installed wifi throughout the entire campus, updated webpages or methods for staying in contact with alumnae. Or it could’ve been as simple as upgrading your administrative software. Reality is, to keep up, you have to be using the latest technology.

Universities understand this, they’ve been jumping on board with recorded lectures, electronic submissions, digital resources, digital textbooks, software lessons and technical expectations for students, the list goes on. Previous generations may berate us because it’s now possible to complete a degree without ever having to attend a lecture or buy a textbook. But the truth is, technology is not just empowering our students, it’s driving their education.

Never before have students had so much knowledge and information at their fingertips. Never before have they had so much accessibility to research, reports and data that previously would have gone unseen. And never before have our students had so much power and opportunity to change and influence the world around them, including their own careers.

Technology is changing the graduate career space. They aren’t just looking solely at top tier companies any more, they are looking for startups, entrepreneurial opportunities and areas where they can affect change in an environment that encourages them. It’s creating hundreds of career opportunities for our new graduates, who are re-imagining and designing industries to meet the new technical demands of society. Software as a Service, ride-sharing, app design, YouTube and Instagram blogging, Fin-tech are just some examples of industries that are changing.

But technology isn’t just shaping our students and graduates, it’s also shaping how we teach them both in and outside of the lecture hall. We are teaching them to be more resourceful in their sources, more scrupulous in their understanding of the world around them and more adaptable in their skills and techniques. We’re teaching journalism students to film, edit and submit stories via smart phones, so they can meet the industry’s 24/7 news cycle. We have Doctors, physiotherapists and speech pathologists treating rural patients via web link. And we’re teaching our law, business and political science students to be one step ahead of technology and its potential implications on society.

Technology is presenting our students and graduates with so much potential and opportunity, and university is the ideal location to harness it. University and College, Boards and Councils, are the perfect launch pad to embrace this innovation because they provide the much needed structure, direction and support that allows these ideas to flourish.

University, the stepping stone into the professional world?

For many graduates, professional careers start after university, with university being merely the professional stepping stone into the real world. I was one of the lucky ones, who was fortunate enough to find my professional career path while I was still at uni.

My career started the year I was elected as President of the QUT Student Guild. We were elected in 2012 as the Student Representatives for 45,000 students across the three QUT campuses. In addition to representing the students, the QUT Guild is also responsible for managing the campus Sports activities, Student Clubs and Events, campus Bars, and stores. QUT didn’t have residential colleges like other universities, so the responsibility fell to the Guild to foster a positive student-friendly lifestyle on campus. While this in itself was a daunting task, the job also came with the lovely price tag of $800,000 a year deficits.

When we took over, it was up to us to pull the Guild back into black. Turning around an $800,000 deficit is no small feat, and this became increasingly apparent as we tried to figure out where the money was actually going. We realised that in addition to some poor financial decisions, the Guild was mainly losing money through its commercial outlets like the campus bars and general stores. The issues stemmed largely from labour force issues. There were no processes in place, it was difficult for staff to record hours, there were no rosters and therefore no idea how much it was all costing. Students weren’t being paid correctly, they weren’t being told when they were next working (which is hassle enough when you’re trying to study as well), there was no control of costs, payroll was taking hours to process and again we were students who didn’t have time to manually type in timesheets.

Long story short, there was simply no system. How could we expect our teams to be top performing teams if we were the ones holding them back. It was then that I learnt that the best way to manage a team, specifically ones of great energy, was the provide the right tools and processes and to get out of the way and let them do what they’re best at.

While these issues individually represented minor concerns, however the inter-linking nature of the Guild meant that these problems had ramifications for everyone. It presented numerous problems for myself and the Guild representatives who were trying to resurrect the Council. We had students who relied on the employment of the Guild while they studied, however lack of communication and accuracy often resulted in resentment. And finally it meant that other crucial student services like advocacy, clubs and resources suffered as the budget was drained by the poor labour force management.

So we thought, ‘right, this has got to stop, let’s see what’s out there to help us’. We needed to do something and something fast. It was this need and demand that lead us to create our own system. Through some collaboration myself and the three others who were also to become Tanda Co-Founders, we were able to pool our business, law, finance and IT backgrounds to create Tanda.

By implementing Tanda we were able to more accurately roster the staff and communicate shifts to them ahead of time. We were able to see how much the rosters were going to cost us, and budget accordingly for that cost. We were able to make it easier to record hours by taking a selfie when you get to work and this all helped us to reinvest into student services. And finally we were able to actually pay staff correctly according to the correct pay rates, and hours that they worked.

To some outsiders it may have looked like we just got a bit more organised. But the reality was, that by implementing Tanda and a range of other projects were able to rid the Guild of the $800,000 deficit. We were so successful in fact, that we actually managed to pull the Guild into surplus and generate a profit, all without taking the Student Amenities Fees from students. In our years since leaving the Guild, the QUT Campus Bar has become the largest on-campus Bar in Australia, there are now more than 150 Clubs and Societies working to benefit the students, and the value placed on student engagement has risen.

While this was very successful in terms of the Guild, we soon realised that these trivial but very consequential problems that we faced when running the Guild, were extremely similar to the ones businesses around Australia were facing. Staff management wasn’t just our problem.

So with sweat and tears instead of VC funding we developed and strengthened the software, and when the time was right we went to market. That was four years ago. Now we are a well-established company based in Brisbane City. We employ a team of 42 staff, who are young, passionate and energetic individuals wanting to do something more than the corporate crusade. As a company we have grown rapidly in our success and now count the likes of a thousand plus Australian businesses amongst our customers.

We’re unique and I suppose the lucky few who managed to turn a poor situation into a good one, but the reality is that we’re not the anomalies. Since entering the business world via the startup route, we’ve realised there are lots and lots of people like us who have managed to succeed. There are students across Australia and the world who are coming up with these ideas, and businesses every day. We just had the right environment, opportunity and resolve to get it done.

So the question is, how can we re-create this for others? Imagine the possibility and ideas that could be harnessed if University Boards and Councils committed to encouraging this attitude amongst its students?

Universities are teaching students how to navigate the professional world and all the technology that goes with it. Why aren’t they also encouraging students to go out and try new ideas, to learn new skills and mentor with industry experts and successful entrepreneurs?

It is predicted that Millennials will have between 15-20 different jobs in their life-time, some of which they may in fact have to create. They will be job hoppers who bounce between jobs seeking positive workplace culture and job fulfilment satisfaction. A recent study published in The Australian by Pebbles Happiness App, listed factors such as alcohol, yoga, exercise and socialising as the top four factors that influence employee mood. So why not give them a leg up and help them to learn the skills that will allow them to succeed in these 15- 20 different jobs?

The role of University and College Boards and Councils

University and College Boards and Councils have the power to influence change and promote the ideas of future generations. It is therefore important that they foster and encourage this innovation in any way possible. This could be through the inclusions of business management courses for non-business students. Startup weekends and business networking nights for students to connect with local entrepreneurs. Inviting guest speakers into Colleges for dinners and events, to show students about different career paths. Providing spaces and resources for students to work on projects or connect with like minded students. Pair academic and top-tier focuses to ones that also value innovation and collaboration, whereby students can develop ideas, learn from mistakes and failure and prosper through success.

Society will need graduates who are not only equipped with professional industry skills, but also graduates who have the ability to innovate and create so that they are able to improve society. We need graduates that feel valued for their ideas and contributions, graduates who aren’t afraid of failure and are determined to pursue their idea. We need graduates who know what it’s like to succeed, and what it means to use this success to encourage others. And hopefully by changing our attitudes and they way we engage students at university, we will have graduates who know and embrace their responsibility to affect change. Because you never know what impact that one little idea could have on the world around you.

I’d like to leave you with a few lessons I learnt as a student and more recently as an entrepreneur, and some of the lessons I wish I’d learnt when I was at university, so that just maybe the students coming through will get that leg up they need.

Lessons I learnt at university:
Meet as many people as possible, you’ll know them for the rest of your life.
Take every opportunity and give it your best.
Just because it’s ‘free’ doesn’t mean you need it, for example the freebies they give out at O-Week.

Lessons I learnt as a young entrepreneur:
Our first office had no windows- ventilation is important, as is natural light.
Know it’s safe to fail.
Trust others, you’ll go further.

Lessons I wish I had learnt at university, to prepare me for the innovative world we live in:
Go to more events- network, socialise, mingle. You never know who you’ll meet.
Connect with academia, Lecturers and industry professionals.

And finally, the most important lesson of all- have faith in your and your student ideas and belief in ability. Because one little idea can have much a larger impact than you could ever dream of.”


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