COLLABORATION

Telstra CEO: Why we’re investing in Australia’s future

SOURCE: Taylor Grote/Unsplash
Businesses work with universities to widen the talent pipeline.


By U2B Staff 

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Technology’s impact on the world of work isn’t only going to come to bear on workforces tomorrow–it’s already happening today.

Across the world, businesses are feeling the effects of the talent crunch; the demand for high-skilled labour in emerging fields of technology from artificial intelligence to IoT, robotics and blockchain is outstripping supply by a long shot. 

This is resulting in billions of dollars worth of untapped potential; an overhaul of education and skills training in Australia could deliver an AU$36 billion national prosperity dividend. 

In a competitive talent bidding war, companies with hefty recruitment budgets are more likely to come up trumps, leaving mom-and-pop operations and growth-starved SMEs behind, sputtering in the dust. Also left behind are the thousands of young graduates who, after spending years and thousands of dollars on a college education, are finding their skills and experience levels are no match for current business demands.

It’s not that higher education providers are not responding. From introducing new courses in 21st-century disciplines to modernising pedagogy, they are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on fixing a problem that seems to have spread to most, if not all, business sectors. 

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The world has come quite a way since, say, five years ago when most of us hadn’t heard about blockchain, much less think a degree in it would pay dividends. But the fast pace of advancements in the digital world means today’s technologies will probably be obsolete tomorrow. If that logic holds true, what then should universities be teaching today’s students?

Probably one of the most cited forecasts on the world of work comes from a report by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) released two years ago. The report, titled “The Next Era of Human | Machine Partnerships”, suggests that 85 percent of the jobs to exist in 2030 hadn’t been invented yet. 

For universities, the large, bureaucratic institutions that they are sometimes flies in the face of the work they are doing to fix the skills gap. Trying to keep pace with industry’s demands then becomes a process of forever chasing an all-elusive light at the end of the tunnel. 

The only way forward, then, requires the collective effort of anyone with a stake in the future of our global workforce. That’s everyone–from governments to commercial businesses, non-profits and civil society, right down to the individual person.

Given the skills problem is no longer just about training the young to fill business needs but also about upskilling today’s workers, it only makes sense then that businesses play a more active role in developing technology talents. 

All this and more encapsulate the core reason behind one global technology’s recently announced multi-million dollar, multi-university partnership deal to get Australians ready for the future of work.

That company is Australia’s Telstra. 

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With an initial injection of AU$25 million, the company recently signed Memorandums of Understanding with several top local universities for a package of initiatives, including in-house training for its workforce, work-integrated experiences for university students, research and innovation opportunities, and a host of other talent development and career opportunities.

The universities selected include institutions that occupy the upper rungs of Australian, and global, higher education, namely RMIT University, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney. 

In a letter on the firm’s blog, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn explained that as one of Australia’s biggest employers, the company felt it was its responsibility to help widen the talent pipeline for the future of work.

He said investing in skills development has become a matter of urgency, with the realities of change in the world of work making it not just a sensible but necessary decision.

“… we must think hard about the talent pipeline for our current and future business needs,” he wrote.

Telstra CEO partnership programme
Automation is expected to leave thousands out of jobs. Source: Shutterstock

For Penn, the decision also stems from a humbling epiphany of his own career journey, now in its 41st year.

“When I was 15 years old, I worked as a shipping clerk in London. My job saw me using pen and paper, punch card and computer tape. People even smoked in the office!” he wrote.

That job, the Telstra CEO said, no longer exists today.

“This is a stark reminder of the impact technological convergence, digitisation and globalisation have had on the nature of work.

“I have had a front-row seat to see how technology has changed the workplace. Some roles evolve and others disappear entirely. At the same time, overall employment has increased along with productivity and efficiency, with the advent of cheaper computing power and better connectivity.”

“Technology,” he wrote, “will continue to drive changes in our lives and in the workplace – the real issue, then, is how we respond and prepare ourselves for the future.”

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By working directly with the nation’s universities, Telstra aims to address a major skills shortfall expected to hit Australian businesses in the coming years, the CEO Penn said. He pointed to estimates that said Australia would have a shortfall of 60,000 skilled ICT workers in the next five years.

“For a more global context, Australia had around 1,200 new software engineers in the last 12 months, compared to 44,000 in India. That means for every new software engineering graduate in Australia, there are 40 in India,” the Telstra CEO said.

Telstra’s university partnership programme enables it to jointly develop the technology skills and capabilities the country needs to fill tomorrow’s workforce needs.

“By investing time, money and energy into these partnerships, we aim to provide clarity on the skills we need and create real-world opportunities for students to develop them. Together with universities, we can boost the supply of diverse technology graduates for our own workforce and the nation.

“Ultimately, we want to develop useful opportunities for students to learn from industry experts and to gain real-world experience. We want to help graduates become skilled ICT practitioners who are prepared for the workforce of the future from the moment they are handed their degree,” he said.

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The benefits of the partnership will be widespread. The institutions get to provide real-world opportunities and experiences for their students and benefit from collaborating with Telstra on research in emerging technology areas from high-speed wireless, 5G and IoT, among others. 

For Telstra, CEO Penn said the AU$25 million investment for this year alone is expected to result in at least 10 percent of its workforce developing new skills. 

This, he said, is critical as the firm continues on its own journey of transformation in the digital age. If anything, these efforts will also go a long way to improving staff satisfaction and retention, all valuable outcomes to any modern operation operating in an era of hypercompetition.

“Building the workforce of the future is an urgent challenge. We do not have time to be idle,” Penn wrote in his final message.

“Telstra,” he adds, “is determined to be part of the solution.” 

“We look forward to a successful relationship with Australia’s top universities and the technology industry graduates that we meet through this program.”