Applications double for Telstra's technology academy

Telstra's program to skill Australians in network and security technology is increasing in popularity, with almost double the number of candidates applying for round two of its Business Technology Services Academy.

Applications for Telstra's Business Technology Services (BTS) Academy have almost doubled, with more than 1,000 people applying to take part in the second intake of the program.

According to Telstra BTS executive director Chris Smith, the academy is in the "late-stage recruitment" phase of its second round, with the next program to start on July 1.

The three-year program consists of six months of intensive training in network and security skills before graduates are offered permanent jobs at Telstra alongside continuing training and courses for an additional two and a half years, Smith said, and is focused on bringing technology skills to those who are not in the field.

"Getting great network and security talent is quite hard. There's just not a huge amount of talent out there that's not employed," Smith told ZDNet.

"So we came up with this concept of having a technology academy, and we focused the first intake about six months ago on network and security because they're fast-growing areas and we thought we'd start there."

The first two to three months of the program focus on software training, followed by project and customer work, with Smith explaining that by the sixth month, 30 to 40 percent of the participants' time is spent on billable work.

Graduates receive independent external accreditation from the Australian Computing Society (ACS), as well as Cisco, Juniper, CheckPoint, and F5 Networks vendor certificates.

While Telstra BTS Academy previously announced a focus on improving gender equity and diversity, with a quarter of its first-round participants being women, Smith told ZDNet that just 130 of the 1,000 round two submissions have been from women.

Recognising that the industry is still missing the mark on gender diversity, Smith said it is a problem originating from interest in technology at a young age, and one that Telstra is making efforts to tackle.

"Telstra as a whole is working very, very hard on gender equity and making sure that our interview techniques, for example, and our panels have appropriate representation, and even the way we interview is done so that we give our female candidates the very best chance of putting their best foot forward," Smith told ZDNet.

"But I think it's a sign of the industry itself that we're still not hitting the mark despite everything we're trying to do, and we're doing our little bit. It's a supply-side challenge, we really need to encourage more females earlier to get into technology, and that's something we all need to work hard on.

"Telstra participates in lots of different ways, through code clubs and various community-based measures ... but it's got to be a government issue as well."

According to the Australian government, just a quarter of IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women also make up less than 50 percent of the overall science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) workforce in Australia and less than one in five senior researcher positions at university and research institutes, the government said last year.

As a result, the federal government handed out the first round of its AU$8 million Women in STEM funding in December, with the initial AU$3.9 million to be spread across 24 organisations for the purpose of creating projects to build interest in STEM for primary school students and post-graduate students, as well as supporting women already in STEM careers.

The program has thus far had a 76 percent success rate: Out of the 29 candidates who took part in round one, 22 have now graduated and been given jobs at Telstra, while two of the remaining candidates are still working through the process and five will not be graduating from the program after leaving voluntarily.

The jobs being offered to academy graduates are across the BTS business, which has 1,700 team members and also comprises the Kloud, Readify, NSC, O2, and Bridgepoint businesses acquired by Telstra and focuses on technical network and security professional services.

"We do kind of the project delivery work for complex technologies," Smith explained.

"So whether it's network or security technology, whether it's application development or cloud migration, complex contact centres, for example, that's the space that we're in ... we're largely a technical professional services team."

Smith told ZDNet that the success rate of the program is reflective of Telstra's focus on bringing more people into the technology field and teaching them a new set of skills -- which may not always take.

Despite this, he said it is important to continue actively working on improving the technology skills of a wider pool of workers, an initiative that needs to come from both industry and government.

"I think it's something we all need to do, and that's fundamentally part of the design of the academy -- it's to go and source people who aren't in technology and give them the chance to cross-skill," Smith said.

"I don't think it can be a government- or industry-led thing. I think everyone needs to do their part for that."

The government has also been working towards re-skilling Australians of late, with the 2017-18 Federal Budget earlier this month setting aside AU$1.5 billion over four years to establish the permanent "Skilling Australians Fund".

Australia's states will match this funding, with the program to support around 300,000 more apprentices, trainees, and "higher-level skilled Australians" over four years, the government said.

The government additionally announced that it would pledge AU$30 million towards STEM education in its Budget: AU$24 million to establish a Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program targeting STEM fields of study; and AU$5.9 million over four years to trial the use of digital applications to improve children's literacy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The government similarly pledged AU$4 million in March over four years for the "Maker Project" to enable children to learn STEM skills as part of its four-year, AU$29.8 million Inspiring Australia science engagement program, which falls under the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda unveiled back in December 2015.

At the time, the government pledged AU$48 million to improve the STEM literacy of students in Australia, along with a AU$51 million commitment to assist Australian teachers and students to embrace the digital age.

The government then opened its AU$4 million Digital Literacy School Grants program to schools Australia-wide, with the funds to be used to deliver digital literacy programs to students in "engaging and innovative" ways.

The AU$4 million 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants will be funded by the AU$51 million teacher commitment kitty, with other initiatives under the banner including the formation of IT summer schools for students in years 9 and 10; an annual "cracking the code" competition for those in year 4 through 12; and online computing challenges for year 5 and year 7 students.