On Friday I spoke at a CEDA event about the human value in the future of work. This is an important discussion to have as we often hear about digitisation and automation taking away jobs, when in fact it’s not so clear-cut. Because automation is also causing a shift to more complex and value-add work. And as technology evolves, new roles – some you’ve probably never heard of yet – are being created.

What is often left out of the conversation about the future of work is that human skill and capability will become more valuable than ever. What now needs to change is our approach to learning and career development.

The currency of the future and why you need to invest in it

Skills and capabilities are fast becoming the currency of the future. To be a well-rounded worker of the future it won’t be enough to have skills in technology – however basic they may be. You’ll also need to be intellectually curious, and use design-thinking, creativity, and communication skills to bring innovations to life. And you’ll need to be collaborative and highly adaptive as the way we work evolves.

Learning mostly used to be ‘set-and-forget.’ Once you got a degree or diploma you would enter the workforce for a lifelong career in the same industry or profession. But as technology and ways of working evolve so too does the need for lifelong learning. Complacency will not be rewarded.

Significant skills development will be needed every 3 – 5 years. Of course, it’s not feasible to step out of the workforce to undertake a traditional degree. So we need to shift our mindset to continuous learning – and doing so in bite-sized chunks will be critical to ensure our skills remain relevant.

Individuals certainly have a responsibility for investing in their development and ensuring their skills remain competitive, but so too do employers.

What we’re doing at Telstra to develop our people’s skills for the future

In this financial year alone we’ll invest more than $25 million in training, with more than 3,000 people picking up a new skill. That’s more than 10% of our workforce. This training covers three key areas: technical skills, customer skills and professional skills.

This builds on the significant investment we made in training during the first year of our T22 strategy to transform Telstra. This included an Agile Essentials program for around 15,000 employees to understand the fundamentals of Agile at Telstra, and was followed by more in-depth training for specific Agile roles. We also put our people leaders through a one day program so they’re better equipped to lead their teams in different ways.

Some of this training we’re running in-house. But we’re also partnering with universities to co-design and run micro-credentials in critical technology areas such as data analytics, cyber security and software defined networking. These 6-8 week programs are recognised externally and are designed to upskill our people in areas complementary to their current jobs so they’re better equipped as the skills needed for those roles evolve.

Beyond these formal programs we’re also helping our people understand the concept of continuous learning and providing easy access to short ‘just in time’ online learning modules they can access at any time as part of their regular development.

Rethinking what a ‘successful’ career looks like

Like many people I started my career in a world where I saw progression as moving up through the hierarchy in my chosen field. But as workplaces transform, the way we think about career progression – and our expectations of what a ‘successful’ career looks like – also needs to change.

Alex Badenoch spoke at a CEDA event about the part human value will play in the future of work.

The traditional, linear career path where one works their way up the ‘corporate ladder’ will still be available. But this will no longer be the norm as organisations become flatter and new ways of working like Agile are adopted.

Career progression will become more about broadening your skills and experience through lateral moves, and increasing your ability to take on work with higher complexity and impact.

A Mobile Network Engineer, for example, might move into a Mobile Product Design and Development team to deepen their understanding of what drives value for customers and help them build the commercial insight that’s so critical in strategic technology decisions.

This will not be an easy mindset shift for many who view success through their level and title in an organisation – and we’re very mindful of this.

So we’re focusing on creating a clear and compelling view of what a career at Telstra can look like and helping leaders work with their teams to tailor development plans and build the necessary skills and capabilities we need into the future.

In the short term this will involve redefining job descriptions so they’re less about a role’s span of accountability and control, and more about complexity and the level of expertise and skill.

Longer-term, we’re looking at using technology to help us make internal mobility simpler and more transparent.

All of this is to say your skills and capability will become more valuable than ever as technology evolves. It’s up to us as individuals to understand what this means and invest in our career success through continuous learning and taking advantage of opportunities to broaden our experience through increasingly more complex and impactful roles.

But more broadly, businesses, education providers and government also need to work together to develop technology talent for the future. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re trying to take simple, tangible steps to build a talent pipeline for our benefit – and the benefit of Australia. We all need to test and learn together – because if we’re idle or wait for a perfect solution it will be too late.


Read more about Telstra’s university partnerships to develop future technology talent.