Australia’s Telstra turns to universities to accelerate workforce training
For the longest time, universities have borne the brunt of the blame for their apparent failure to produce job-ready graduates.
But as the problem grew more pervasive across the world, corporations wised up to the indisputable fact that the pace of advancements in the digital world has rendered it virtually impossible for any learning or training provider to keep up with industry demands.
It is now more obvious than ever that it’s not so much that graduates today are lacking in the skills arena but that expectations have, perhaps inadvertently, grown unrealistic. More than just technical know-how, today’s graduates are expected to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and empathetic leaders right off the bat, despite these being skills typically honed after several years of work.
In a similar vein, modern business demands have placed low-skilled labour workforces in an equally untenable position. Suddenly, they are hearing of the advent of machines capable of doing their jobs much quicker than they ever could, with 10 times the output and accuracy.
For this reason, it’s become a no-brainer that rather than wait for the inevitable, workers of today need to upskill for tomorrow. And more and more, companies are seeing the value of expanding their training budgets to invest in workforce upskilling and retraining.
With universities unable to turn out job-ready graduates fast enough to fill immediate business needs, this seems to be the only, and most economically viable, alternative to a massive push on recruitment. The latter option isn’t only time- and- cost- consuming, it comes with no guarantee of suitable talents, given how great the competition has become and how small the talent pool is.
But what exactly is the best workforce training option?
In Australia, telecommunications giant Telstra has turned to the country’s universities for help. The result is a AU$25 million training package that comprises partnerships with several learning institutions that will provide in-house training to the firm’s workforce.
According to the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Telstra will use what they call “workplace coaches” to strengthen its staff in “skills, practice and mindset”.
Beginning end-2019, coaches from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) will begin teaching Telstra employees big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
From February 2020, employees get to earn micro-credentials in software-defined networking from RMIT University in Melbourne.
And from April 2020, opportunities to pick up micro-credentials in cyber technology will be offered through the University of New South Wales.
“For a long time, corporations were saying educators aren’t producing the right graduates, and universities were saying corporates need to be clearer about what they want,” Telstra’s group executive for transformation and people Alex Badenoch said in AFR.
“But it’s hard for unis to be ahead of the curve when technology is changing so fast. With something like 5G, the standards are still being finalised.
“We realised it has to be a partnership. Corporations and educators have to be focused on the same thing. I believe how we proceed has to be a holistic effort.”
According to UTS’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Innovation and Enterprise Professor Glenn Wightwick, the institution was called upon because of its research expertise and that it was able to offer education in bite-sized chunks to Telstra employees.
The past five years have seen a rise in the popularity of micro-credentials. Different from the front-loaded traditional degree that typically requires the full-time commitment of the student for a good number of years, micro-credentials can be completed in shorter periods, with curriculum broken down into mini-programmes that usually stack towards the full degree.
Another attractive feature is that they are flexible in that UTS can teach them inside the company, says Wightwick.
For the institution, working with Telstra comes packaged with a raft of benefits. For example, UTS wants to place its students in Telstra, as well as offer postgraduate pathways into the firm. UTS is also interested in opportunities for research collaborations, in areas such as high-speed wireless, antennas, 5G, food innovation and the internet of things.
“Telstra is evolving from a communications company to a technology company,” says Wightwick.
“That’s an opportunity for us. We can work with them in a way we can’t work with other global businesses which only have sales and marketing teams in Australia.
“As a national carrier, Telstra has enormous investment in rural Australia, it’s advanced in mobile technology, and it’s a big investor in technology. That makes them an important partner for a university like UTS.”
Collaborations like this one are certainly becoming more commonplace today, as it becomes increasingly clear that lifelong learning is the best and only way to fill the ever-present gap between work and education.
For employers, this means providing opportunities for workforce training, whether by conducting it in-house, offering corporate scholarships or striking strategic partnerships with universities, as Telstra has done.
For universities, it means opening their doors to business by offering attractive research opportunities, work-integrated learning programmes, executive education, online learning options, etc–the options are endless.
At the end of the day, there’s really little to no point in businesses and universities continuously remaining at loggerheads over whose responsibility it is to fix the talent supply and demand problem. Doing so is literally to their detriment; neither stand to benefit from the finger-pointing.
Furthermore, university-business collaborations can only lead to good things, as studies on their interactions have already proven. A report by Cadence Economics in 2018 revealed that the 16,000 Australian firms who partnered with universities derived as much as AU$10.6 billion from the collaborations.