The evolution of technology and consumption habits is rapidly increasing demand for data and connectivity, especially in the Asia Pacific region. As Darrin Webb explains, the ability of the telco and technology sector to meet demand hinges on transformative technologies and a highly skilled workforce to deliver them. Is enough being done to develop this workforce of the future?

Evolving technology is nothing new for telecommunication providers, but the rate of change – and the response needed – is unprecedented.

Some forecasts have demand for capacity on subsea cable networks in the Asia Pacific quadrupling over the next five years. But not only will businesses want more capacity, they will want more dynamic and flexible software enabled ways of buying and provisioning these services.

This means we will need more people – engineers, developers and network architects – in more places around the world to ensure the demands of a connected world can be met. At the same time, we need this workforce to have new capabilities in areas like software, automation and security.  We will need technology agnostic experts who can work with customers to determine their needs across a solutions set, rather than specific domains.

In many countries today, there are not enough people with the right skills to do the jobs and it is questionable whether enough is being done to develop them.

This emerging skills gap doesn’t just impact telecommunication providers. A recent research report commissioned by Telstra and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), called Connecting Capabilities, found that only 16 per cent of organisations surveyed in the Asia Pacific region find it ‘very easy’ to find employees with the skills needed to support their digitisation efforts. Similarly, a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum cites a PwC report in which almost three-quarters (73%) of CEOs cite skill shortages as a threat to their business.

In short, businesses need to start acting now to ensure they have the skills needed in the future.

What we’re doing to close the gap

We’ve assessed what kind of skills will be needed for us to meet the evolving needs of our customers in the years to come, and we’re taking a multipronged approach to tackle this challenge.

Seeding new talent in the organisation

Each year we bring onboard the next generation of business and technology talent through our Graduate Program in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Similarly, we have also introduced academy style programs that aim to attract and develop talent in specialised areas that are increasingly in demand. For example, our recently introduced Business Technology Services (BTS) Academy is a three-year program aimed at training security and network specialists to deliver technology solutions for our business and enterprise customers. We also support our people through accreditation programs in areas where we need specific capability, for example we now have more than 500 certified project managers who speak more than 20 languages.

With teams in more than 20 countries with different backgrounds, languages and learning styles, we also put significant effort into tailored development programs that are delivered in the local language.

Acquiring the required capabilities

We’ve made strategic investments in organisations that align with our growth priorities. For example, last year we acquired Kloud to help support enterprises who want to transition their workloads and applications to the cloud. We also acquired Readify, a leading provider of application development and software-focused consulting and managed services. These acquisitions have added several hundred people to our organisation with highly developed skills in areas like software engineering and development.

Building strategic partnerships to help develop capabilities

While we have a number of internal learning and development programs, we are also partnering with organisations that can help develop our people in emerging technologies. For example, we have partnered with the Box Hill Institute in Melbourne to train around 500 of our technologists, engineers and network planners in software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV).

This first of its kind program leverages content from the Institute’s Bachelor of Computer Systems degree and tailors it for the needs of our people based on their experience and competencies. Theory and practical lab exercises are completed by ongoing learning opportunities. Not only does this program give our people the necessary knowledge, it is also helping to shift their mindset to what will be required from them in the future.

The emerging skills shortage is not a distant challenge. Concerted action is needed now by our industry – and the plan to address this needs to be flexible to account for rapidly evolving technology and customer demands.

Read more about the Connecting Capabilities: The Asian digital transformation report.