Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Three Skills We Developed Through Working WIth Industry

Rob Bowland & Sam Maxwell, Cohort 2018

Throughout this year, members of SELA conducted year long projects revolving around the central theme of Big Data, and its increasing prevalence in all aspects of the modern world. Our group worked with industry partners at Tinsley Bridge on a project exploring data-driven manufacturing. Part of this, that we both worked in, was the analysis of existing data sets, with the intention of providing insights into company operations and potential opportunities for improvement, as well as to highlight the value of a data-driven approach to decision making.

We received data relating to electricity and gas usage, as well as anonymised clocking data from which we were able to determine the number of workers on-site at any given time.

As these data sets originated from a domain that was unfamiliar to us, initial efforts focused on exploratory analysis – utilising data visualisations and calculated metrics to give a high level understanding of the data and its general trends, giving us an indication of where we could best focus our efforts for deeper analysis.

Throughout this process, and from coordinated discussion with Alex Kelly, our mentor and contact at Tinsley Bridge, we were able to identify several areas for further investigation that could lead to improvements in operational efficiency.

Recognising the value of the project to Tinsley Bridge, Alex Kelly, IT Manager said, ‘The students came from multiple disciplines. They bring new skillsets and help us innovate, using new ways of thinking and the business has changed. We look at things in a new way as we explore actually introducing some of the changes that the students have suggested.’

We learnt a lot from the process too. Here’s are top three takeaways.

1. Data Analysis and Communication

Whilst the technical aspects of data analysis were a large component of the project, it quickly became apparent that ‘extracting’ insight from the data was less important than being able to communicate it effectively. Data itself is often thought of as the resource of value. However it is more akin to a precursor – an ore from which value must be extracted and then processed. At each of these stages the ‘value’ of the raw data increases, typically only becoming actionable upon effective communication.

This proved to be a great learning experience. Our final presentation necessitated the communication of our findings to an audience of varying technical backgrounds. To perform effectively we had to abstract away technical details in favour of key ideas and potential outputs – a valuable skill in itself.

2. Actual Stakes

In contrast to typical university projects, this project involved engagement with a real stakeholder who stood to gain a lot from the output of our project. This was a very motivating factor and one that is often not experienced within full-time education. By having the opportunity to engage with an industry partner we were able understand the value our work could provide and apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world context, strengthening both our practical and interpersonal skills.

3. Self Driven

The project was novel, and there’s no single way to analyse the data, so we couldn’t simply follow a recipe: we had to be self-directed and determine our own approach. After receiving the data the strategy used to approach it was entirely our decision. As previously mentioned, the domain of manufacturing was not one that we were overly familiar with and so communication with our industry partner in order to leverage their domain-specific expertise became a valuable method for gaining direction. This further enforced our learning from SELA in regards to teamwork and independence.

Overall this project served as the culmination of many skills developed throughout the SELA programme, requiring strong self management and organisation, as well as the development of new technical proficiencies, in order to successfully deliver on the initial goal. The opportunity to exercise the skills we’ve learnt through SELA’s workshops, with Alex from Tinsley Bridge as a real industry partner has been absolutely invaluable. This experience will give us confidence when working within industry in the future; we will know where to apply the knowledge from our degrees, and how to approach industrial problems to create a positive impact through projects. The network of contacts we’ve developed during the project will also be a fantastic help post-graduation.

SELA works in close partnership with industry and our community to enable students to learn through real projects, where they can add value, develop their leadership skills and discover their agency in effecting positive change. Check out this video to learn more, and please get in touch if you’d like to partner with us...

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