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Fireside Chat: I’m a Data Analyst–Ask Me Anything

By Academy Xi

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Here’s the transcript of the latest Q&A in Academy Xi’s Fireside Chat series. Data expert and director of VisualNoise Data JP Hwang showed us how to harness data for intel, insights, and impact.

We went on a deep dive on what it takes to be a data-driven workplace and how you can make smarter, data-informed decisions in your everyday work! We also got the chance to answer some of our audience’s burning questions about skills you need to become a data analyst and cleared some questions about our Data Analytics courses.

We had a blast, enjoy!

Academy Xi (Olivia Bowden, event host): Hi JP! Welcome to our fireside chat series. We are so excited to have you with us today. I think I’m gonna hand it over to you to introduce yourself if you don’t mind, let us know a little bit about you, your background, and your journey towards the world of data.

JP Hwang: Fantastic, yeah, thanks Liv. So, my background at university is in engineering and in IP or intellectual property but then I started working on a tech start-up which was all about extracting competitor information and market trends using scientific papers and patent data which is quite information rich and dense.  In that process, I was immersed in data science, machine learning, and programming and all that good stuff.

More recently though, I’ve kind of identified a need in a lot of organisations, where, for many of them, if not most, the volume of data really outweighs the analysis tools and just general capability to do something meaningful with it.

So, I’ve kind of pivoted. What we’ve been doing now is to help organisations make better use of data to help not only analyse it but to better consume the outputs and make better use of it going forward.

Some of the stuff we do and what we have done is things like help with the internal knowledge management systems by building databases and apps to access them and manage them over time. And things like business intelligence apps for analysing customer feedback or customer feedback on various products and groups. Or even doing cool things like analysing video feeds to extract data information in real time, so you can provide real time feedback. 

I have been working with clients small and large from start-ups to fairly big companies and, more recently, obviously we’ve been working with you guys at Academy Xi to create the Data Analytics Course. It has been a really rewarding experience empowering people in that space as well.

Academy Xi: I remember when we first got to know one another, I had a look at your LinkedIn profile, you haven’t always been in data, this is something you’ve been moving towards in the past couple of years. Do you want to take us back a little bit and sort of tell us a little bit more about your journey? 

JP: Data science is an interesting field, because it’s a new field–it kind of combines statistics and computer science. It’s a new discipline so I’ve come from an engineering background, so I’ve got a technical background. I’m used to coding all my life basically. And then I worked as a patent attorney for a few years as well and that’s where I kind of the two worlds came together in terms of programming and the IP space and I was working on that start-up right, so it was kind of all about leveraging the gigabytes or terabytes of patent data to do something with it and make it easier to extract intelligence and information out of that.

And that’s the start of the formal, I suppose, move into the world of as a developer, and as a data scientist. 

That’s been unexpected, but it’s also been really fun and rewarding because it’s a new field; there’s a lot of exciting developments going on and I’m sure you’ve all heard the discussions going on about AI. You’ve probably seen bots, you know chatbots, or whether it’s language generating bots. Even these days you’ve probably seen pictures from things like DALL-E that generates images based on the prompt you’ve given them.

And there’s a couple of things really cool about that, which is learning how to use these tools which we’ll talk about a bit later. But the creative prompts that people give those AI bots are really interesting because there’s an art to using them in terms of giving the prompts the right way.

Academy Xi: What I think is great about your story as well, and I think a lot of people on the chat will resonate with is that you haven’t always been a data scientist. That it is possible to transition and take those transferable skills and carve a career out for yourself in data.

But we’re also going to have a lot of people on this call, presumably like myself, who aren’t too overly familiar with data at all. 

I guess the first question that comes to my mind is, why do all of us need to know or care about data? 

JP: I think that’s a good question and over the last couple of years, the word data has taken on this kind of a fairly mythical and intimidating quality. So let’s just kind of talk about what it is right? 

I guess the more boring definition will be that data is just information that’s been collected and quantified. That is any kind of information that’s been written down essentially or recorded in some way, even if it is not particularly meaningful or necessarily even important nor you might not see what the hype or the fuss is about.

But I think, where we can all agree, though, is that being able to understand the world around us better and making higher quality decisions is really, really important and desirable. 

Data allows us to do exactly that and the rise of things like Machine Learning and AI in terms of having bots, for example, that can look at our radiology pictures and come up with a really accurate diagnosis that outperforms physicians is all enabled by data. 

So it’s really those enablers and the way to leverage data to be better informed, to make better tools and to make better decisions. I think those are the reasons to really care about data. 

That’s a long way of saying that the Data Analytics process is all about answering questions about our world with data so that by the end of it we give ourselves a better chance of making better decisions than we would if we hadn't done that.

JP Hwang

Academy Xi: But in the enterprise side of our business, we have been hearing about how we can make our people or allow people or empower people to make more data driven decisions. Have you got any examples you can think of, in a corporate context where people could be using data just to do their everyday tasks a little bit better? 

JP: In professional capacities, if you’re doing things like capacity planning, you’d be looking at things like your seasonal and annual data from your historical perspectives and you’d have data about what your product release cycles might look like; and how that affects your capacities. 

If you’re an R&D manager in a tech firm or a research firm of course, you could look at scientific publications and patents to get trends and see what your competitors are doing.

And one of the biggest changes in the last 10 years has been doing things like AB Testing in a lot of domains right? That’s websites, that’s marketing–and that’s extremely data driven in that we can do that. To be able to systematically analyse it to make better decisions on what people want: what kind of interfaces work better and what kind of workflows work better for our customers. 

Academy Xi: Yeah fantastic. It would be amiss for us to have a data expert here and not actually talk just briefly about what the data analysis process looks like for somebody who’s a specialist–say a data scientist, a data analyst? Can you explain what that process is all about, and then we can drill down into other areas? 

JP: Yeah sure. So, Data Science and Data Analysis is such a big field, I won’t pretend to kind of encapsulate all of that in one go. But I can talk a little bit about what data analysts do which is, I guess, a little bit more defined in terms of using data to answer organisational questions. And to come up with analysis that can be leveraged directly in an organisational perspective. 

Typically, the process begins from defining the problem for the analyst and that might be internal or external, meaning translating the business goals and objectives to specific data driven analysis goals, and these are typically SMART goals right? In the same way that we set SMART goals for any other things that we do. 

Move forward then of course to the process of analysis which I won’t go through in detail because it’s quite dry, to be honest. It’s all the steps of gathering data, cleaning data, exploring and then finally performing the analysis to come up with insights from our data.

And the last step is really the key, one that non-technical people or non-data professionals would really engage with a lot, is really making use of the data and effecting change. That might be communicating those outputs to the stakeholders to help them make better decisions or it might be you consuming those insights yourself to act, or just be better informed about the world around you.

That’s a really long way of saying that the Data Analytics process is all about answering questions about our world with data so that by the end of it we give ourselves a better chance of making better decisions than if we hadn’t done that.

Academy Xi: Yeah, fantastic. In terms of actionable insights and giving people tips on how to do that and I understand from what we’ve talked about, there are three key pointers that you’re going to be taking us through today? 

JP: We’re going to start by talking about developing your data intuition. For a lot of non-data professionals, the key part of your data literacy skill that you should be focusing on is really the reading and comprehension part of data literacy. What that means is being able to understand, internalise, and make use of data driven outputs right.  So, as we’ve been talking about the volume of data collected and data driven outputs, many of you might already be dealing with these outputs. So you probably heard about reporting terms like ‘confidence intervals’, ‘margins of error’ and then all the talk about what a model can do. 

The good news is most of you will never need to calculate these statistics or develop any models yourself. What you will be doing though, going forward is to be asked to consume these outputs and to integrate them to your work. That’s why developing your data intuition, which is a gut feel for what those data points tell you, and how you can use them is important. 

Academy Xi: This is super interesting JP and I’m just going to pause here to say we had one of our attendees pose this question: “Hi, I’m a marketer wondering about instinct or gut-feel versus being data driven, do both have a role to play in better decision making? When do you need a balance of both?”

JP: What people think of gut feel or instinct is interesting because that’s basically your brain having internalised patterns that you’ve seen. So, it’s not really codified in terms of hard numbers but there’s quite often something to that. So how those insights and gut feels, or those intuitions get used might have been a process that you would form some hypothesis about your world, what’s happening with your customers, and what have yous using those gut feels.

And then, what you might do is to develop a Data Analytics process based on it to test the hypothesis right. To see what is happening. How likely is it that it’s happening if you make improvements, based on your findings.

How you leverage these insights and quite often, of course, it turns out to be not true because we all have internal biases. 

Academy Xi: To that person, say we thought about a customer service team manager, so how, in your opinion, would this kind of person develop “data intuitions” in their role? 

JP: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, and of course it depends on every role. I won’t pretend to be an expert on facility managers, forgive me if the example’s not perfect.

But, as I was thinking about it, I think it would really help them in designing the workflow in terms of how to use data and how to engage with people. So, let’s say a customer service team manager has some thoughts about how to improve their workflow for the customer. Knowing what types of experiments to conduct to find out more about this, how many people, they’d need to survey or get samples on whatever how much money it costs as a result. And then once you get the results back. What you do with it and do what you know to interpret it so they can make sense of it.

But then, if you just had a general sense of what’s possible, once they understood what AB testing is and how it worked and how those two things you conducted and who to talk to will really help them get started.

It’s the same thing with integrating things like chatbots, which is, I think, is used a fair bit in the world of customer service. We kind of see that a lot on websites and quite often you’ll see that pop up and it’s not a real human, you’re just talking to a chatbot.

Chatbots are cool but they can’t do everything right? So, if you understand the kind of things they can do well, which is things like, question and answer, and retrieving certain parts of information they’ll be able to then look at their data and say, “well how much work for the representative is that? How much would introducing chatbots help to our workflow? How much would it cost? They can do that cost benefit analysis much, much more easily rather than just if you didn’t understand what chatbots did or couldn’t do. It’ll be hard to make that comparison and think about whether it’s worth integrating tools like that to your work.

Academy Xi: Moving on to the second one, because this for me is always a fascinating area. I think we’ve all been privy to some dodgy confusing data visualisations in our time so dealing with data visually this is point number two.

JP Hwang: I do a lot of work in data visualisations just because it’s I think an essential tool for those who work with data, kind of day in, day out. But also, for consumers of data, the thing is that we simply consume a lot more information and faster when it’s visually encoded. If you had a table and tried to make sense of any of it and what’s the pattern and there’s thousands of rows and that, but if you see a graph, you can see patterns on that clearly, so that’s one thing one can benefit about data visualisation.

Another good thing about visualisations is that unusual patterns reveal themselves quickly amongst thousands of data points, and this is a data and looking at.

Academy Xi: I guess at the end of the day, this is about clear communication and setting yourself up, I guess, with some simple tools to help you do that, which links us to this question from our audience: “What software tools can one learn to be an expert in data visualisation?”

JP: There’s a few depending on your workflow and how you use data visualisation. Some of the more popular ones like Tableau, Power BI where you’re using desktop software. And then there’s online tools like DataWrapper or what’s called Flourish.

For someone like me, I obviously do a lot of my work in the programming space, I’ll use programming libraries like Plotly or Bokeh or even something called D3. So it’s really horses for courses in terms of what you’re doing and what you’re trying to present.

In a lot of cases, if you’re just creating charts, simple charts for presentation purposes, something like Excel is really good enough because it’s not really about creating the most fancy charts and the most complex charts. But it’s about really communicating your message through whatever means necessary.

Academy Xi: Lets loop back to that customer service team manager. How would you envisage they use visualisations to communicate data clearly?

JP: There’s two sides of that right. So as consumers of data visualisations it’s important that they be able to communicate with the stakeholders or service providers who might be creating these visualisations, so you understand what it is that they’re telling them.

Quite often, though, depending on where you’re at in an organisation or what your role is you, quite often will be in the role where you must communicate your findings from your studies to stakeholders higher up.

That means selecting some charts or even creating some charts yourself to communicate your message and key takeaways to your stakeholders. In that case you’d want to be able to make at least some charts and it’s not probably as intimidating as it feels for a lot of people to learn how to create these charts.

And, as I mentioned, those online tools like Data Wrapper or Flourish that I really like, are very easy to use. If you know how to use Canva, you can probably use a lot of that too.

It is about empowering yourself and as well as others in the organisations with tools, right? There was a stat that I read, which was mind blowing and it said that “when people are faced with data-related tasks about half the people would either avoid the tasks or not use the data provided at all.”

So that’s quite interesting. And on top of that, about three quarters of the same respondents said that those tasks made them unhappy or overwhelmed. That’s a really striking stat for me because that means for half of those people, they’re not using the data. So they’re not any better off than they would have been if they hadn’t been provided with the data.

But now they’ve been left kind of disenfranchised or unhappy, and disempowered–sort of feeling like they’re not capable of doing this. Data, for those people, made their lives and work worse than if they hadn’t had that in the first place.

One of the key recommendations here is to kind of really empower yourself with a tool that can add value to your work, and it doesn’t have to be anything super fancy like a programming language. And it can be something basic like just learning how to use a couple of formulas in Excel or load up data in Excel or Google Sheets, it might be something like Tableau. Or even those online tools like drawing charts in Canva or Data Wrapper, as I mentioned, and that’ll be really quite empowering.

It depends on what your work is and what your relationship with data is, but I think it can be a kind of transformative experience.

Below are questions from our audience ranging from career, salary, software, skills, and more. 

Audience question: What is the difference in job profile between a data scientist and data analyst? If there is a difference, what should a data scientist do in the data analytics field?

JP: One of the things that we wanted to do at the start of our data analytics course was to disambiguate between these two terms between data analyst and data scientist.

The truth of the matter is that they are fairly nebulous terms, but I’ll try and do what I can in terms of the best of my understanding.

Data science is generally a broader term than data analysis. We talked about the process of data analysis in terms of problem definition, all the way out between data cleaning, data managing and analysis, all the way to delivery of data communications.

Data science tends to be a little bit broad, broader (excuse me), and a lot of what data scientists do is things like develop models.  You know if you’re talking about people who develop state of the art models in image recognition. Sorry, I’m getting fairly technical. Like if you see those bots or a website where you’re putting (uploading) a picture and it tells you what it is.

Or, if you’re driving a Tesla and it’s able to drive around and figure out if they’re driving on a road or if they’re about to run into another car or follow lanes and stuff—these are all driven by AI models developed by data scientists

That’s probably how I understand data science and data analysis.

And in terms of what should data scientists do to get into a data analyst field, I think some of the skill sets are slightly different. Data analysts tend to work with things like SQL a little bit more. They’re dealing with kind of more predefined roles and analysis pipelines because they’re more often in a business role answering defined business questions with these tools.

Whereas data scientists’ roles, like building models so it tends to be a little bit different from that sense.

Audience question: We often hear from L&D managers, ‘look, our executive has said, our people need to be more data literate and make more data driven decisions across the board, where do we even start? People have varying levels of competency already, how do we even begin on this journey?

JP: There’s a couple of things that can do that can help, obviously, one thing is just kind of reducing that intimidation factor in dealing with data. I think a lot of that is going to be just training and continued development for those people and supporting them throughout.

In terms of how to figure out where they’re at in terms of their comfort with data and abilities, I think it’s a good idea to have conversations with people about how comfortable you are in dealing with these tools that might be useful on top of or in your day-to-day tasks.

And then you can ask them questions like, “how comfortable are you with Excel, formulas, pivot tables and VLOOKUP formulas and so on and so forth?”

It might be that you’re dealing with databases all the time. How much do you use SQL you know? It’s probably quite intimidating to be formally assessed in something, but I think a lot of training would be a really good way forward for many organisations and it can be a collaborative process to put them in groups and work on kind of relevant business problems together.

Audience question: Do data scientists need to have knowledge of statistics and what level of it do you need to become a data analyst?

JP: I guess by nature if you’re dealing with data science and data analytics types of fields, it is undoubtedly going to be computer heavy so levels of computer literacy is really helpful.

But I guess the question is, can someone without an IT background join the data world, I think the answer is yes, none of us are born with these skills, right? These are not innate skills that are encoded to our genes or anything so for sure it is something that we can learn.

And I’ve seen people do it in the Data Analytics: Transform because a lot of the students in our cohort that I’m mentoring come from a non-technical background, I would say, actually, most of them come from non-technical backgrounds. And a lot of them pick it up really well and they do fully admit that it is not easy, but it’s something that they pick up and they do really well so that’s great to see.

In terms of statistics, there’s two parts of this question I can see, so I’ll try to answer the first part about the knowledge of statistics. Depending on what you’re doing in data science. If you’re building models and using machine learning to do things like regression models which is when you predict things like numbers, so when you predict things like housing prices, based on where it is, how big the houses are, blah blah blah. Or if you’re using models at any level you want a fairly good intuition of statistics and maths.

But if you actually work on some of these fields, what you’ll see and what’s required isn’t a university graduate level of statistics or algebra or calculus. What you do need is basically a low level understanding of some statistics and some algebra and that’s kind of all you need.

If you of course, are doing some role that is fairly statistics heavy and that might be in the fields of experiments where you are required to do things like, “does this experiment tell us with a certain degree of confidence that this drug is going to work”–or something like that those fields are, of course, more statistics heavy and critical, so it really depends.

Audience question: Is it worth doing a master’s degree in this field or would the Elevate course or Transform course offered be enough to become a data analyst or data scientist?

JP:  That’s a really good question. I don’t feel particularly well placed enough to say whether masters is worth doing as that’s a fairly personal type question.

The Data Analytics: Elevate course is designed for primarily non-data professionals trying to upskill and sort of become more familiar in dealing with data and to empower them as we mentioned and to give them a flavour of what a professional data analyst might do.

That’s why we have optional modules and things like using Python, which we encourage people to look at, but it’s not part of the assessment or anything like that. And we do the same thing by giving them a flavour of things like machine learning and to show them what they can do.

The Data Analytics Transform course is meant for exactly that, for people who are trying to get into the field of data analytics. I guess that’s the intent of it. It’s an intensive course and I think it’s designed to be around 15-20 hours a week, you know for 14 weeks part time. That is what it’s what it’s intended for, and it covers the gamut from learning how to use Python. Using statistics and ending up with being able to build regression models, as the capstone project, where you can pick a subject of your choice or topic of your choice build regression model out of it and be able to really complete that loop, I suppose, from problem definition stage to driving some insights and communicating it out to external stakeholders.

Audience question: If you don’t have a data analyst in the business it’s hard to get the data you want extracted, any tips on how to implement a data analyst into an organisation?

JP: I think it goes twofold: I think it’s important for data analysts to understand what the business objectives are, what their priorities are and how they work.

And conversely, it’s important for the organisation to understand what data can tell you, and what the data analysts can do for you and what they can’t do. So, understand the limitations. That’s because it’s important for data analysts at the problem definition stage to clearly understand the objectives as far as what the business objective is. So that they can translate that into actionable goals.

If that doesn’t happen necessarily well, what happens is that the business stakeholders would provide a brief and that necessarily doesn’t get translated into a data analyst’s understanding. They go off and do the work, get some results back and it turns out that it doesn’t necessarily answer the question that they were looking to answer; or it’s not particularly actionable.

And from the data analyst perspective, quite often the complaint I hear is, “well they asked me to do this thing that’s not actually possible so now, I have to manage their expectations about what is actually possible with data, as well as to try and answer this question some way”. So if they have an understanding of the limitations of data and analysis they can obviously integrate the data analyst or team better into the organisation and make better use of that resource.

Audience question: Do you have a structure when communicating the insights you’ve garnered from data to stakeholders?

JP: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think of data communication as similar to a part of rhetoric, so when you’re trying to convince someone or change their minds on something, the data should really be designed on backing that up.

A good place to start would be to think about what your goal was when you started the data analysis and kind of anchoring everything back to that.

In terms of this structure or the methodology it doesn’t have to be something complex, so you might see some beautiful data visualisation online or on Twitter—I see and I follow a lot of these people—so I see a lot of that, but then you kind of look at it and even for me who is quite used to them, I kind of go oh that’s really pretty but I have no idea what that says, but it’s really pretty.

So sometimes just a table with like three numbers might be better than a very complex beautiful data visualisation because it tells a clear message.

So that’s my way of saying that, whatever does the job is good. It always is what you want. And, I know I said less is more in terms of visualisations but it fits for the right audience, you can actually do more complex things.

For certain clients of mine, I’ve built them some dashboard apps that look at data that connects to their data pipeline. But what that allows the audience to do is to dig further into the data themselves. Those types of outputs tend to be a little bit more complex but because they have the expertise in their domain and because they are a little bit more data savvy, they’re able to dig into the data themselves. They won’t be performing the analysis and cleaning the data and so on and so forth, and building those models; they can look into it and answer their own questions as they go.

Audience question: I am a junior marketer and hoping to be able to make use of marketing data to optimise marketing decisions and campaigns, however, I don’t come from a technical background, so I wonder which course I should take in terms of elevate versus transform?

JP: I think, for me, the Elevate course would be preferable in your use case. It is designed around non-data professionals looking to upskill and really understand more about the world of data and data analytics at answering questions using data. That’s my two cents on that.

Of course, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, I wouldn’t discourage you from taking that Transform course, but my recommendation is to do the Elevate course.

In the Transform course we do cover a little bit more of things like statistics and hypothesis testing and A/B testing and how to analyse results of that more clearly. If you’re specifically interested in those areas, you might look into the Transform course. It is significantly more challenging because it is programming heavy.

Audience question: I have a background in tech sales but am quite curious in terms of how I can use data. I’m thinking of reaching out to our marketing team in house or other departments to see where I can add value. Any tips on what tools I can leverage to work on during my own time?

JP: A lot of things that people do is try and build their online portfolio in data science and analysis and there’s a lot of data out there that’s good – really, really high quality and publicly available. What people do is to source some of that data in whatever domain you’re interested in and build a portfolio of analysis and build your publicly available profile.

Now you can do a similar thing with your organisational data probably too depending on what is available to you, given your role and how accessible that data is. It is always always useful to solve a problem that the organisation has and quite often what they’ll have is things like there’s a lot of data in this field and they’ve collected it, for whatever reason and they probably haven’t had time to do anything with it, and so they can probably give you a background on what they were thinking when they collected this data. And why they haven’t actually done anything with it and it might be something as simple as they have collected all this data but it’s quite messy.

So it needs someone to go through that and clean it and that’s a really valuable process. There’s a running joke that people think data science is extremely glamorous and you’re building these AI bots and whatever. What you’re actually doing is just cleaning data and getting rid of typos like 90% of the time and that’s more true than people actually think.

So, you know I would say talk to people who have data in your organisation and talk to them about the background, as to why. Talk about what their needs are, and you can probably help them to address some of that and it’s a good way to build your and to network as well with the parts of the business.

Audience question: How do people in an organisation best work with specific data teams? There are often teams of specialists who are excellent at what they do, but how can others in the business really tap into that resource in an effective way?

JP: I think it’s about engagement and about data literacy. I think quite often what you see in organisations is that perhaps they’re a little bit too siloed in terms of what they do.

So really engaging with them, talking about what they do, and then that also helps them understand what you do and what your needs are as well.

I’ve spoken to people who are doing things like rolling out tools like Tableau in the organisation. They said getting to engage throughout the organisation, because they were rolling out these tools, helped them to speak to different parts of the organisation that they otherwise wouldn’t have to.

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Academy Xi Blog

Why the traditional corporate training model is broken (and three powerful fixes)

By Academy Xi

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It is well documented that investing in quality corporate training solutions can offer numerous benefits to organisations. Many offerings promise to support closing the digital skills gap, increasing staff retention, and boosting innovation and overall productivity. Unfortunately, the reality of many corporate training models is that while the participants might be ‘achieving’ new skills, often these new learnings aren’t translating into solid outcomes back at headquarters.

What’s the reason behind this disconnect?

At Academy Xi, we believe that the value of corporate training exists in the practical application of skills within the learning environment. Often, corporate training events offer single-dimensional products which focus on skills achievement, as opposed to the application of them while learning. While achievement might look good on paper, hands-on based training is what will result in a true return on investment and deliver the real-life outcomes needed for individuals and consequently organisations to thrive.

How to ensure the learning is integrated into your workplace post training? We have established three powerful fixes.

#1 Measure what matters

When it comes to learning and development, it is commonplace that senior management want to understand the following metrics:
  • Training cost per employee
  • Completion rates
  • Return on investment (ROI)
CEO’s want to know that the training is in alignment with organisational needs and supports the overall business strategy. However, when it comes to ROI, research shows that a large portion of organisations don’t evaluate the true outcomes of corporate training programs and therefore don’t gain an accurate insight, if any at all. This is often due to the evaluation not being prioritised – it consumes more time and resources that are already scarce within the business, yet it can ultimately result in wasted time and training budget. If you want to drive meaningful impact in training your workforce, it’s essential to be measuring and evaluating continually, with hard business metrics such as quantitative business-performance indicators, to honestly understand what is needed to elevate organisational performance. Which workforce trends do you need to engage to drive your organisation’s competitive edge and therefore what style and content of training will support this? The more detail you can gain from evaluating training outcomes, the clearer you will be on what is helping to deliver organisational success, or not. At Academy Xi, we focus on metrics that matter. We help your organisation to identify skills gaps and then tailor and design engaging, practical, hands-on training that truly aligns with critical business priorities.

Traditional training metrics (like ease of access to content and course completion rates) were meant to remove hurdles for employees. These should now be seen as table stakes.

Linda Cai. Vice President of Talent Development, LinkedIn

#2 Never go full generic

Sourcing quality hands-on training for teams will empower your people to be proactively engaged, which increases the level of information being retained. Individuals who get to apply their learning as they go within a setting that is closely designed to their workplace scenarios, will walk away with more confidence in their ability to apply their new knowledge meaningfully when they return to the work environment. Recent research revealed that people going into tech roles who invested in ‘traditional’ training approaches were less productive than those who participated in hands-on training in internship roles. In-training skills application also provides opportunities for learners to get immediate support and feedback from the industry experts leading the learning – which further aids the anchoring of new concepts. Ensuring that the training you invest in is run by industry practitioners is important, so you can be assured that you’re receiving proven practices, frameworks, and toolkits. Experiential training is by far the most effective approach to learning and development. Whichever training provider you select, do your research to discover as much as possible about their training approach so you can reap the benefits of hands-on learning for your workforce. Actively investing in employees with relevant training that boosts their digital skills is also vital in the current recruitment climate. Ensuring teams receive practical learning experiences will assist with retention of your staff.

#3 Application over achievement

Off the shelf training courses are all about skills achievement. While this might initially seem to be what your workforce needs, think again. If a learning experience is presented within a real-world context, you are setting your people up for success.

What is a real-world context?

Ultimately, ‘real world context’ is when training is created so that learners can carry out tasks and activities in a way that represents problem solving in their real world. Students are encouraged and supported to connect new learning within a frame of reference that reflects their workplace.

If content is king, then context is god!

Gary Vaynerchuk, Entrepreneur and CEO of VaynerMedia

While this quote originated from a marketing angle, it also carries weight when viewed through the training lens. If learners are actively participating in a training context that is very similar to the environment they need to apply it to in the real world the outcome of their performance, or application of the new learning, will be exponentially better.

If you want your workforce to do new things, give them an environment to learn and practice the new thing.

We worked closely with the Academy Xi team as our strategic design partner to co-design a customer-centric ‘Way Of Working’ framework, set of supporting capabilities and a guidebook containing tools and templates. Academy Xi contributed hugely to our program’s success

Carmelina Senese, Director of Customer Experience, EDConnect, Department of Education

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The bottom line

Skills application based training is the most effective learning and development approach organisations can invest in for genuine return on investment. By engaging with a training provider who focuses on metrics that matter to design learning experiences that reflect what your organisation truly needs to thrive, you will ensure your L&D budget does not go to waste.

Ready to transform your workforce from within?

Get in touch with the team at Academy Xi to discuss how we can support your workforce by designing bespoke training solutions that will meaningfully engage your people and impact your business bottom line. We can transform your workforce through the delivery of highly contextualised programs to suit individuals, teams, and organisational needs, all guided by world class experts.

Academy Xi – trusted to help solve critical organisational challenges

Academy Xi Blog

The fireside chat transcripts: I’m a UX Designer–Ask Me Anything!

By Academy Xi

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Here’s the transcript of the latest Q&A in Academy Xi’s Fireside Chat series. We met with Senior UX UI Designer Sylvia Xu Connor and discussed what it’s like being a UX designer, the current UX industry landscape, the UX interview process, and much, much more.

We also got the chance to answer some of our audience’s burning questions and trust us, whether you’re a seasoned UX Designer or an upcoming junior in the design world, Sylvia delivers the goods, and we had a blast! Enjoy!

Academy Xi (event host):  Our guest today took the human-centred and digital design route after 15 years in the fashion industry. She graduated from our UX UI Design Transform course last year and is now helping to deliver cloud communications as a senior UX UI designer at Symbio. In addition to her striking portfolio, she also serves as a speaker and mentor to our emerging designers here at Academy Xi, and recently hired two of our UX design grads to work with her! Please welcome Sylvia Xu Connor. 

Sylvia: Hi, everybody! 

Academy Xi: To start, can you introduce yourself and take us through the journey that led you to UX and UI Design?

Sylvia: I’ve been a [fashion] designer for many, many years. I have a Bachelor of Design from UTS, but realised that UX UI is such an end-to-end process. Even though it was a relatively new term to me at that stage in my career, I realised that everybody goes through UX UI to some degree, whether you start as a designer and have that massive design background or you don’t. 

Because UX is about problem solving and as you get older there are many, many situations –  I’m sure everybody will relate to this –  that you would need to solve a problem, and how you would solve that problem is the UX process. And UI I suppose, comes hand in hand with how you appreciate visual hierarchy and things like that so there’s a lot of graphic designers who also transition into UI. It’s a very natural progression, I did a lot of graphic design work as well in my design career. So to me, UX UI is something that’s always been within me, in my spirit, but never solidly considered until recently.

Academy Xi: What was your motivation going into this industry? 

Sylvia: It’s lovely for me at this stage of my life because I’ve got two young kids and you get a little bit of freedom back when you’re not on the road, going into a physical studio. 

UX work can be done anywhere in the world, because it’s all about problem solving and if you are online, you can solve a problem. 

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  We have a lot of potential students here, and some people who are interested in breaking into the industry. You finished the UX UI design course with us last year. Can you take us through what skills or major takeaways you got from this course?

Sylvia: I think what’s important about the course is that it gives you a really good overview from start to finish of what the whole design process looks like. Many people will come in and reaffirm what they already know. Deep down it’s a venue for them to solidify the idea in their head that they already know what they could do to solve a problem, and then apply that in an end-to-end design process. 

You can learn some fresh skills, such as collaborating in a team. A lot of people are really collaborating in teams, whether you are in the design team, or you have been working at a hospital. The course lets you finish a project from end-to-end, so you can have a really good understanding and overview of the design process.

Academy Xi: You mentioned end-to-end projects. Can you tell us a little bit about the projects that you’ve worked on? I hear that you’ve worked with some clients as well during your time with Academy Xi. Can you talk more about that?

Sylvia:  Yeah, I was given this wonderful opportunity whereby we worked with EndeavourX who were such a wonderful team of people and really great with feedback. We were given the opportunity to look at their career site, suggest some changes and make improvements. We were able to survey the people looking to move into tech that fit within the client’s age range. It was really good, because we had a problem to solve and we took a step back and looked at how we could solve that problem by getting validation from the target audience.  So that was one of the projects. 

The other project was also with EndeavourX. We were tasked with looking at their current chatbot and how to make it more engaging. 

Both these projects were just fantastic and helped me springboard into my current career. Even though I came from a design background, with these client projects you could just show what you can do very, very quickly, in a short amount of time - it’s something concrete.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  Absolutely – it’s so important to build a portfolio especially at the beginning of your career. How long did it actually take you to finish your course and then land that job at Symbio?

Sylvia: It was funny because I started the course during the Sydney lockdown. It was just timing, you know? Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. I didn’t want to commute into the city every single day, which came with my old design job. 

Serendipity wise, I started the course and I did the Transform course which is three months. It was hectic. It was hard work. I expected it to be hard, and it was hard. So the expectation was there versus the reality and I got everything I needed out of it. 

I put in the hard yards and learnt new software. Let’s be open minded about software because they are tools. And what a great way to be introduced to tools if you haven’t been using a lot of software, right?

From start to finish, [the course took] three months and I started looking to apply with different companies and I got a couple of job offers pretty much as soon as I finished. Within a week, I had a couple of concrete choices to deep dive into and make a good decision about where I wanted to go. 

Academy Xi: How about some of your colleagues who were in the class with you? How are they doing? 

Sylvia: I’m still really good friends with all of them. There were six of us who finished the transform course and from start to finish, we’re just such good mates. I think that the key ingredient to having a good design team is to actually really value and trust each other. 

Everyone’s going to be good at different things, and so it’s really important to build that relationship whereby you trust that the other person is going to do their job. Obviously, there’s  a healthy amount of discussion. They’re all doing really well, I believe most of them have landed jobs. 

Academy Xi: Lots of prospective students ask us “How do I pivot or transition into a career, such as UX UI design, if I don’t come from a design background? What skills or mindset do I need to have as a junior UX designer?”.

Sylvia: That’s a very common question and I think something that could potentially put a lot of people off transitioning into a design career. UX Design is primarily about problem solving and about validation and, as I mentioned earlier, anyone could have those skills. From the day you’re born, you’re problem solving. Believe it or not, even though you might not think you’re a good problem solver, you really are! 

You’ve got lots of problems and you have to find different routes into thinking – “how am I going to solve this problem?”. Normally it’s by trial and error. 

So trial and error would be your testing. You trial something to see if the idea that you’ve got to solve a problem works. And you should be able to get validation very quickly, if you test it with the right people. 

So having a problem-solving mindset is the best thing you can do as an aspiring UX Designer.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: So it’s about having that open mindset and always being empathetic? 

Sylvia: Empathy is so important. There’s not going to be many UX designers who are not empathetic because it’s so fundamental to being a good UX designer. 

If you are an empathetic person, you’re going to look at a product and say “what are the pain points that are currently in this product?”. 

You’re going to ask the people who are using a product and really try to understand where they’re coming from. As soon as you understand that there is a problem to solve and you really try and get into the mindset of what it is that they’re struggling with, then you’re going to be able to offer a better solution.

Academy Xi:  That’s right – it’s all about putting yourself in the user’s shoes. Let’s shift gears a little bit – what’s happening in the Australian market right now in terms of UX? Can you paint us a picture of the big and small challenges of the industry?

Sylvia: I think we’re probably not as mature as overseas in terms of the understanding of what UX can bring to the table. I know that UX arrived early in the States and in Europe. And a lot of companies in Australia because of COVID they’ve been pushed into thinking more about “how do I get my product that already exists into the digital world and then into the hands of people who are always on their phones, their laptops, their tablets?”. 

I think in that way, the challenge would be really about educating businesses to know the value of UX and what UX can bring to the table.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: And how does that relate to the number of jobs that are out there in the market for UX designers? 

I think there’s going to be a snowball effect. The more UX designers get into the job market, the more that they will be able to stay at the top of the hill.  They’ll add value to a business and that business will show another business that, “Oh hey, I’ve got ‘UX’ on my side and we’re growing really well and very healthily”. More companies will be inspired to hire UX UI designers. In that way, I believe it will have a snowball effect. 

To answer your first question on how and what the job prospects are, they’re good. It’s certainly better than it was even 12 months ago, but the challenge is still there because businesses don’t know what they don’t know. If they don’t know anything about UX, then they don’t think they need UX. It would be like a constant education piece.

Academy Xi: We often have people ask us what’s a typical day in the life of a UX designer. Can you give us an example of your work day from start to finish?

Sylvia : Oh gosh! Lots and lots of meetings, because you’re always collaborating, and not just with other UX designers. If you’re lucky enough to work in a design team then you would collaborate a lot with other designers that specialise in different stages of the UX UI cycle. 

But if you are not as lucky to work in a design team and you are a one-man band, you’re doing end-to-end design work–that’s also good because you get to experience the whole lot. But it doesn’t mean you’re not collaborating. You’ll be collaborating with your product manager, product owner, the back-end engineers, front-end engineers. 

There’s a lot of collaboration. UX is not in its own bubble.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: For sure – it’s all about collaborating and making sure that everything works together, because then you’re balancing user needs with business needs and seeing what’s feasible, right? 

Sylvia: And what is possible with technology – can you build what you and the business want to build for the client? If you imagine the venn diagram, you’d be sitting in the middle as a UX designer –  designing a product that the business needs, the user wants, and what is possible technology-wise to deliver.

Below are questions from our audience ranging from career, salary, software, skills, and more. 

Audience question: I am considering a career change, at 38 years old. I am currently a learning designer, writing assessments and curriculum for Universities. I am a photographer, so I seek creative jobs. What advice would you give me to calm the fears I have about starting anew with really no background/ experience, but hopefully some transferable skills? My plan is to start the Transform course with Academy Xi and I’m just doing some research to build my confidence. I’m also studying a short course in Figma but I’m nervous.

Sylvia: Hi there! I think that’s a valid question and certainly it warrants the amount of research that you have already been doing, because research is your best friend. I think you definitely have a lot of transferable skills. Don’t forget a lot of UX skills are actually soft skills. You seem like you have a lot of those. 

As a learning designer you need to talk to the people that you are designing the learning material for, so you already have the right background, believe it or not.

And then also you’re upskilling in Figma and any software that certainly helps because if you are going to be into design, you need to obviously solve a problem. But how you show the solution would be down to how well you’ve grasped the tools, so I think it’s definitely a really good move to try and upskill in Figma and any other software, because when you use one software, you’re more adaptable to using any other software that comes along. 

Audience question: What could I develop further which is not covered in the Academy Xi course, which could help for transitioning from a student to UX UI designer?

Sylvia: So I think a lot of the time, it’s very valuable to be able to grasp the tools, because that is something very concrete and you can demonstrate your capabilities straight away. For example, your portfolio is going to look amazing. And also, you might be given a design challenge when you first go into a lot of job interviews. If you grasp the tools really well, that would definitely be an advantage.

[Academy Xi: What tools specifically?]

Sylvia: Figma, definitely. Miro would be another one that is used industry-wide. Figjam and Miro are whiteboarding tools. They would be the ones that I’d be looking for specifically and then the other added bonus would be Adobe Creative suite. A lot of graphic designers are whizzes in Adobe Creative Suite. I am because I come from that sort of background, but I think it just really helps top-up your software skills. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you’re looking for something extra that would be what I would look at.

Audience question: Is it reasonable to expect resistance to human-centred design as opposed to business or process centred?  Also, given the niche market of UX right now, is it expected that you will do everything with the end-to-end process including UI?

Sylvia: I think it depends on the business and how mature the UX function is. While you’re studying it is probably really important to look at UX UI as a holistic design process, whereby you should try to do it all. And then I think, as you mature as a designer you’re probably going to realise and really understand yourself a little bit better what you excel in and then focus on that.

It’s really, really important that you understand that you can’t do everything, and that you really need to try and get knowledge from other experts that might have better insights.  For example, if you are a UX-heavy designer, you are really great at research and problem solving and not so good at tools, try and really feed off your colleagues who might be better at tools and don’t think “I can do it all”, because maybe someone else has got better ideas than you.

[Academy Xi: Absolutely, it is all about teamwork.]

Audience question: Do you have any advice/tips for what to include in a portfolio and also what to avoid putting into a portfolio?

Sylvia: I think it depends on what it is that you’re looking for. So if you are thinking you are going to go heavy on UX because that’s what you really want to do as opposed to UI, then you really need to show your thinking process in your portfolio. It might not be as pretty or polished as a UI portfolio but it doesn’t certainly doesn’t stop you from making your portfolio, top to tail, design process plus extremely polished-looking, look good. 

You really need to understand what your strengths are and how you want to sell yourself in this end-to-end process, so, as I said, if you think that you are going to be quite a UX-focused designer, and this is the type of roles that you want to go for, really show how you approach a problem and show all the data or the insights that you get from looking at a problem and then try to show that in your portfolio. 

Audience question: How many case studies do you recommend to have in my portfolio as a beginner who is looking for a job in the UX industry?

Sylvia: Probably no more than six. Mainly because a lot of hiring managers are really busy, and they’re looking at a lot of portfolios. As well as reading CVs as well as doing their jobs. So I would say, quality over quantity for sure. 

Audience question: How much did your website and case studies help you land your current role?

Sylvia: That’s a good question! I don’t know because I didn’t hire myself (laughs), but what I think happened was that I certainly had what I thought was going to get me an interview, and I think it’s only a springboard to how well you’re going to do in an interview. The portfolio is not your be all and end all, because you would still need to do well in the interviews. And it’s during the interviews you need to get across how well you can explain your design process and what you could bring to the business.

Audience question: I see a number of people on LinkedIn saying that they have been looking for jobs for months and starting to get deflated. What do you think could be the reason? Is there anything as a soon-to-be UX designer that I could do to avoid this long wait for my first gig?

Sylvia: I would say, keep at it, but maybe try something different so don’t keep doing the same thing. In the way that you know if you never refresh your portfolio, then perhaps if it’s not going to get you noticed six months ago, it’s not going to get you noticed now, so try different things and see if any of them stick. 

Keep doing the projects, I know that there is some volunteer work around UX in Australia and I think from what I hear these volunteer work can help you basically bump up your skills.

While you’re looking for a job, I know it sometimes can be really difficult to work for free, but I think as a designer who’s been working for many years, I have done my fair share of free work as well, because I know that, eventually, it would lead to something but also look at it as a way to practice your skills and perhaps once you get hired, it would all be worth it. 

Audience question: The full-time course recommends 25-30 hours per week. You mentioned the more you put into it, the better the outcomes. Would you recommend allocating more time than that recommendation to get the most out of the course? If so, how much more? I am balancing part-time study and work.

Sylvia: That’s like seven hours a day which is a full day of office work. I would say, I did more than that. Yeah so serendipity, as I said. What happened was it was during the entire Sydney lockdown, I really had nothing else to do except to just be in my house and do my projects. 

So I suppose, maybe, it’s not fair to compare but I also have young kids and personal responsibilities but I am also very goal-orientated. So I knew that if I just put in the hard work now, three months down the end is what makes it all worth it. 

So I would probably say it’s fair to say that I stopped my life for about three months, and I just went really hard in the course. Any skill that you pick up is good, it’s going to be beneficial to you.

Having said that it’s not required, you know, like it’s not something that someone is going to look over your shoulder and say you haven’t put in enough work, but I think the quality of work speaks for itself after the course, because whatever it is that you put in your portfolio or or at the interview process, you might just be able to explain your process a little bit better–if you actually might be a fit or like, went above and beyond, during the course.

Audience question: I’m 24 years old, wanting to change my career from medicine/sports science to UX UI Design, so I essentially have limited experience. My greatest concern is getting a job after completing a UX UI Transform course as someone with less experience in design. What are the key skills (both technical and soft) that you think employers search for?

Sylvia: Great question. The junior designer that I’ve got on board comes from a podiatry background. 

I would say he’s brilliant at his job because from day to day, while being a podiatrist, he was diagnosing problems, you know, he was talking to people about how they were feeling. What hurts, what we could do to make it better, those are kind of all the things that you do as a UX designer anyway! So obviously having the people skills really helps.

It just gives you that extra level of being able to ask someone openly about what are the pain points, for example. Do not be discouraged, because you definitely have something to bring to the table.

Also, work on Figma! Because it’s tangible. You can look online and look on YouTube and learn, it’s something that you can actually do. Whereas you know if I say to someone who’s perhaps not the biggest extrovert, improve your people skills–it’s harder to grasp how that could help (or how to even do that). But anyone can learn to work on software.

Audience question: What job titles are you able to apply for as soon as you finish a UX course and what’s the range of pay for beginners? I would also like to ask about the range of pay from beginner to a seasoned UX design and how fast or slow is the progression.

Sylvia: I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all question and it’s a very case-by-case basis. I would think that if you have no design background and you come out, you might be a little bit more handicapped to look for a senior position, a UX position, rather than starting at a junior mid-level. 

However, having said that, I’ve heard people coming out with no design background and then going straight into a senior job because they could explain the design thinking process and they’re at the right place at the right time, with the company looking for something very specific that they could give.

I think it’s really a case by case basis and really hard to answer! So I’m sorry if I kind of skirted around that question. 

In terms of pay, again, case by case basis, but if you’re starting as a junior UX designer, I would say the benchmark of a junior UX designer would be more than what you would get as a graphic designer, that is an industry benchmark.

Audience question: As a UX designer how much work do you do remotely at home in comparison to in person? 

Sylvia: I would say, as a UX designer you probably would be able to do all your work remotely. However, it would be up to the company to implement any sort of mandate to come to the office normally during team days. Sometimes you do get a little bit more out of a collaborative space if you’re all together socialising and doing a bit of work as well.

Audience question: Are there any tips, advice or insight, you can give regarding the interview process for UX design role and what can we do to prepare? 

Sylvia: Make sure you are as approachable as possible and as empathetic as possible, because they’re going to ask you whatever they want to ask. Aim yourself with the knowledge of how you solve a problem and how you approach your testing. How you solve a problem is possibly what they’re really interested in.

Academy Xi: Thank you so much Sylvia, you shared your story with us today, and I think you’ve shared a lot of really interesting insights about the industry and how to break into it, especially for anyone who is a novice in UX and UI. 

We’ve all learned a lot, I learned a lot today, and I hope that all of you here on the call as well have been able to take something away from Sylvia’s story.

Kick start your career and gain in-demand skills with our 100% online UX UI Design course.  

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Academy Xi Blog

Can remote work & the great resignation ‘go the distance’?

By Academy Xi

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Following record-breaking demand for remote work, online educators and training providers have galvanised in response to ‘The Great Resignation’.

Supplying a sudden demand for employees with a digital skillset, these companies are preparing a ‘next generation’ workforce for the possibilities of remote work, helping millions stay ahead of the curve.  

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Conducting research at the start of 2019, employment website Indeed found that 68% of Australian employers had remote workers on their staff. Of these employers, 69% claimed that increased productivity was the biggest benefit of remote working, followed by improved morale, lower absenteeism and reduced employee turnover.

Data for Indeed’s survey was captured nearly a year before Coronavirus came into effect, with Australia’s first case confirmed on the 25th of January 2020 and restrictions beginning a few months later in March. A world of change has been presided over since the report’s publication. A more up-to-date study would document a much larger proportion of Australian companies facilitating remote roles. 

Large parts of Australian industry were locked down in response to the pandemic, with the Australian Computer Society (ACS) reporting the loss of 850,000 jobs throughout March and April in 2020. Meanwhile, Australia’s borders were closed to non-residents as of the 20th of March in the same year and the education sector was dramatically impacted. ACS pinpoints education as the nation’s fourth largest export earner. Like so many other companies and institutions, Australian education and training providers with a progressive mindset have upped their resourcefulness and continued to provide in-demand skills solutions online. 

 

A Remote Possibility

Though homeworking has been a cultural and economic necessity throughout coronavirus restrictions, it seems more than likely that a number of businesses who’ve sampled its benefits will move toward a larger remit of remote work permanently. 

As well as the personnel improvements noted by Indeed, a remote workforce offers the added financial incentive of less bricks-and-mortar office space. However, not every company’s activities will have translated well into an online infrastructure and some will revert to business-as-usual operations as soon as possible.

But what about companies that already had their sights set on remote horizons before the pandemic? For those businesses that made the leap into fully remote operations, it seems unlikely that many will find themselves looking back once the lockdown landscape is cleared.

A large number of organisations will have tested elements of a remote system throughout the pandemic and found it not only cost-effective, but also highly productive. This means many companies will emerge from the pandemic determined to maintain or even build out hybrid structures, with certain roles and responsibilities fulfilled from afar.

Man working at a desk behind a laptop

Teams of people might have found virtual meetings to be an unfamiliar substitute for in-person interactions. However, many will have realised that online meets work perfectly well and will continue to hold them because it saves time and money. For similar reasons, executives might think twice before booking a long distance flight on company expenses. Many top level professionals will hold future board meetings virtually, thrashing out deals and wielding their power in crisp white shirts and wrinkled pyjama bottoms. 

Mismatched clothing has become an in-joke shared between remote workers throughout the pandemic. It’s a sign of the times, when everyone has thrown everything they can muster together, or done unusual things to deal with unusual circumstances. 

There’s a widespread notion that the pandemic has made the vast majority of people resourceful and adaptable. That said, the spectrum of social and economic effects brought about by Coronavirus exist on a scale. Nobody could reasonably claim that a pyjama wearing executive has been pushed too far beyond their comfort zone. 

Countless workers employed in retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure industries will have found themselves in tough situations. It comes as no surprise that many have quit these kinds of industries and professions, never to return.

 

‘The Great Resignation’

A recent US Labor Department report documented that 740,000 employees working in leisure and hospitality industries resigned in April 2021. These people had staffed diners, roadside motels, sports bars and theme parks, before the venues of the iconic American experience were transformed into a temporary ghost town. Many of these employees have taken themselves to a newer haunt, which is very much alive and kicking.

Digital industries and an expanding online workspace have been the driving force behind ‘The Great Resignation’, also known as ‘The Big Quit’. A record-breaking 4 million Americans left their jobs throughout April this year, with a large proportion of them leaving low-paid, inflexible roles and seeking to reposition themselves in digital careers (US Labor Department Report, 2021). 

More recent statistics indicate that the mindset of the quit movement has been influential in all levels of employment. A poll conducted by Forbes in late June 2021 found that nearly 40% of white-collar workers would move to another company offering remote work rather than go back to an old office job. Forbes notes that “even highly sought after companies like Apple are scrambling to avoid mass-resignations from return-to-office policies”.

In a similar vein, a survey captured by insurance and financial services giant Prudential established that “one in three American workers would not want to work for an employer that required them to work on site full time” (Forbes, 2021). With this statistic in mind, Prudential vice chair Rob Falzon confessed, “If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s the talent flight risk.” 

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A precise percentage of how many resignees are following new career paths into the digital space will only become clearer with time. However, this mass exodus of staff, which stretches far beyond the US and into global employment markets, has been fundamentally linked to the enhanced possibilities of remote work. 

A 2021 report by Harvard Business School examined the records of 9 million employees from 4,000 companies, discovering that staff in tech and healthcare industries were most likely to resign. This is especially true for employees of companies that experienced increased demand for products and services. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to conclude that some of these staff members must have felt overworked, or undervalued.  

Many industry specialists believe that a version of the Great Resignation is already taking shape in Australia, with the conditions for a major employment shift already aligning. A recent large-scale salary survey by Hays, a worldwide recruitment specialist with offices in most of Australia’s major cities, concluded 40% of Australians are seriously considering career changes. Interviewed by Yahoo Finance, Hays Australia managing director, Nick Deligiannis, forecasts the Australian big quit in these terms.

There are signs that there could be a ‘Great Resignation’ in Australia soon, too. The pandemic has been a rude intrusion to many Australians’ career plans. They have put their career plans on hold to help their organisation through the crisis. Now, they are focused on their career again and have begun prioritising advancement. But while career progression is valued, just 16 per cent of employees expect to receive a promotion in the next 12 months.” – Nick Deligiannis (Hays Australia)

All this represents a power-shift, as a perfect storm of pandemic conditions is changing the hearts and minds of an Australian workforce. On a global scale, more people than ever before want and expect flexible working conditions, as well as better all round lifestyles. In some cases, they’re prepared to turn their backs on senior roles with blue chip companies in order to make this happen.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

For anyone who values their own work-life balance, resigning, upskilling and pursuing a remote career is a process that’s perfectly relatable. What’s trickier to understand is the timing with which a whole raft of employees are throwing themselves into a sea change of career diversification.        

The Great Resignation was coined by Texas A&M Management Professor, Anthony Klotz, whose research acknowledges that people voluntarily quitting jobs in large numbers amid an ongoing recession represents a longstanding economic trend ‘turned on its head’. In short, people have always resigned in greater numbers when the economy is stable and job opportunities are relatively high. In times of recession, people tend to ‘stay put’ and resignation rates drop and remain low. 

From December 2000 to the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, resignation among the total US workforce never surpassed 2.4% (The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, 2021). The first year of the pandemic played out as expected, with a seven-year resignation low of 1.6% throughout 2020. From the Spring of this year, everything changed and long standing resignation records have been shattered, peaking at 4%. In the eye of the nation’s worst ever economic storm, more Americans than ever before have lept ship and searched for new opportunities in digital industries.     

The Great Resignation is a clear indication that many employees are becoming more proactive and savvy in their career moves. 49% of students that study with Academy Xi expect to secure a new role at a different company upon completion of their studies. Many of our students have realised that more enjoyable and stable opportunities have already presented and will continue to arise as the effects of the pandemic ease off. 

When Covid conditions pass completely, hiring rates are anticipated to continue moving upward, following a steady trajectory in the medium-term and replicating the growth patterns of previous post-recession economies. By upskilling through workshops and preparing to latch on to an upturn in remote work opportunities, millions of people are realising the value of staying ahead of the curve.  

A Great Resignation thought-piece article published in recent weeks by Forbes has argued that too many people are resigning without a new role lined-up. In doing so, they’re throwing themselves into limbo and losing the salary bargaining leverage that comes with keeping their current job contract. There’s a simple but failsafe solution to this problem, whereby people seeking better work opportunities can re-skill part-time, enter into the jobs market formally prepared for a new role and hand in their notice once a new position is secured. Before you make the leap into a digital career, get the skills and experience needed to land that new role and hit the ground running.

  

Realising A Workforce’s Digital Potential 

What does an increase in remote work opportunities mean for the next generation of employees? In short, it means absolutely everything. Remote workers have a better chance of balancing hard work, health and happiness – that all important trio of variables that contribute to individual productivity.

Throughout the pandemic, companies and employees have learned that embracing the overlapping nature of work life and life-in-general can bring about real results. Here, it’s useful to circle back to the findings of the Indeed report. The numbers don’t lie. Those people who are able to fulfil at least some of their job’s remit remotely tend to be more productive. The flexible scheduling of remote work also gives people a better chance to meet all of life’s other responsibilities. As a result, they’ll likely be more content in their work and remain loyal to their company. This is backed-up by the reduced staff turnover and absenteeism reported by Indeed.

When properly supported by training and skills development, digital industries give people more time and space to evolve their careers, perform their best work and realise their full professional potential.

Man behind laptop while team works around him

What does this look like? Well, some people like to work in bursts of an hour, broken-up by ten-minute periods of lying on the ground and doing everything possible to think of nothing. Meditating in the office should not be frowned-upon socially but does represent a trip hazard. Others are more zen working at 1am, after returning from a 24hour convenience store with a bottle of Mountain Dew, ready to start a graveyard shift of coding.

Giving talented people greater freedom to work in ways that suit their lifestyles will normally ensure maximum individual output and high quality work, helping a company as a whole achieve a healthier bottom line. As long as a remote employee manages their time, prioritises, keeps teammates ‘in the loop’ and hits deadlines, no one in a senior position will spend too much time thinking about how and when things got done.

It comes as no surprise that increased freedom means trust is a core component of the employer-employee relationships which oversee remote roles. The starting assumption will be that people are just as productive somewhere else as they are in the office. If they aren’t, or they struggle to juggle tasks effectively, most managers will treat that as an exception and course-correct when it’s necessary. It’s an arrangement that cuts both ways. Employers have an obligation to ensure that a workforce is properly trained for all the responsibilities that a remote role demands. More and more companies developing remote operations will contract the help of online trainers who practice what they preach. The best academies will offer flexible online course options that move fluidly with the times, providing up-to-date remote solutions for remote work problems.

With rapidly evolving digital infrastructure, a record breaking demand for working remotely, and online skills development providers preparing a ‘next generation’ workforce, the question on many people’s minds is not “Can remote work go the distance?”, but instead “Can I?”. 

The Great Resignation has shown us all that the toughest of times can make people bolder. Millions of people with digital career ambitions have immediately flipped the two words of this question into a new order, forming a simple but priceless statement of post-pandemic intent. “I Can”.

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