​Telstra takes on skills shortage, gender imbalance with new staff academy model

The telco's new Business Technology Services academy will see 29 recruits exit the three-year program as security or network specialists and fill a role within Telstra.

Telstra is addressing the skills shortage in the technology sector through the launch of their Business Technology Services (BTS) academy, which will see a handful of new recruits trained as security or network specialists by the telco.

With 29 participants six weeks into their three-year academy course, Telstra BTS executive director Christopher Smith told ZDNet the initiative has so far seen the recruits undergo intensive training and accreditation from industry heavyweights such as Cisco, Juniper, and Palo Alto Networks.

According to Smith, the launch of the BTS academy was in response to Telstra requiring staff with a certain skill-set that would benefit its customers.

"One of the industry challenges that not just Telstra, but everyone -- and not just in Australia, but globally -- faces is how we can continue to build capability that our customers need; how do we attract new talent into our particular parts of the technology industry, and then how do we enable those people and equip them with the right and relevant skills, technology, and otherwise for them to deliver that value to our customers," he explained. "In a network and security space, this is particularly prevalent."

Smith said the reason Telstra geared the academy towards the network and security space was because both are currently experiencing significant growth.

Of particular importance to Smith is closing the gender gap in the technology industry.

"Network and security consulting and engineering is not a very diverse -- from a gender perspective -- part of our industry," he said. "But nearly 25 percent, or seven of the 29, new starters are female. Now is it good enough? No.

"50 [percent] would be great but 25, that's not bad. I'm super excited about that because it shows with the right dedication and the right approach in hiring, we can also increase our diversity in even the technology areas which aren't naturally that way, historically.

"It is absolutely a way to hire in people who may not get in to this part of the industry by other means."

Telstra received 530 responses to its BTS academy advertisement and narrowed it down to 30, with 29 accepting the role.

Of the 29, Smith explained that there are a handful of participants "fresh" out of university, keen to bridge the gap between their technology-focused studies and the workforce. There are also people who have been either in Telstra or other technology-related companies and wanted to re-focus their career, as well as recent immigrants who Smith said see the Telstra academy as a good way to establish a career in Australia.

When it comes to tackling the skills shortage, Smith conceded there is no simple answer, but believes Telstra's approach is a positive start.

"If I look at the breadth of technology and expecting people to become experts in and of their own right is quite hard, so I think we're doing our part by bringing people into the industry which will increase the skill-base across Australia. To be perfectly honest, this is a business way to do it -- there is a clear ROI here -- we get wonderful new talent, they train up pretty quickly, they start delivering for our customers, and we get paid by the customers for delivering these services. So it's an economical way of doing it," he added.

Last week, the federal government handed out the first round of its AU$8 million Women in STEM kitty in a bid to encourage more female involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-based careers.

According to the government, 55 percent of STEM graduates are female, but only one in four IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women also occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and research institutes, and are less than half the overall STEM workforce.

Earlier this year, the Australian Office of the Chief Scientist released a report that found as of 2011, there were 2.3 million people in Australia with qualifications in STEM-based fields -- approximately 10 percent of the population.

The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy, and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates.

As well as the gender imbalance in some STEM fields was the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields, with the report highlighting that the differences could not be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.

Speaking with ZDNet in October, Angela Fox, managing director for Dell Australia and New Zealand, said it is everyone's responsibility to encourage change and promote equality in the workplace.