Workforce | Skills

We need to build skills not walls: Telstra CEO

An ongoing skilled migration policy is essential to attract and recruit the right talent and capabilities we need to transform and compete effectively on a global stage, Telstra Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Penn has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking on the future of work at a CEDA event in Melbourne, Mr Penn said “a well-targeted skilled migration policy is a job creator, not a job taker.”

“Immigration in Australia is an often-vexed issue and attracts an enormous amount of political and media angst.  In fact, it isn’t just an issue in Australia – in the US and the UK we are seeing significant negative commentary around immigration,” he said.

“I believe this is an unhealthy and potentially dangerous path for the world to take.

“We support the continuation of policies that include measures which simplify and reduce administrative costs and serve to attract talent.

“We need to build skills not walls.

“Skilled migrants bring ideas, they bring expertise and innovation, and they bring the capacity to train and skill their Australian colleagues.

“Skilled migrants also add to Australia’s wealth.  Research by the International Monetary Fund estimated Australia’s migration program would add up to one per cent (of) annual average GDP growth from 2020 to 2050 because it focused on skilled migrants of working age and would limit the economic impact of Australia’s ageing population.

“Currently and by necessity, we are sourcing far more of this talent from outside Australia than from within.  We are therefore committed to working with government and industry partners to explore building a bigger technology talent pipeline within Australia, for the overall benefit of the nation.

“We also need to ensure we are building the right core skills to set up Australia with an educated, skilled and creative population able to work productively in the innovative workplaces of the future.

“In the digital age it is people, the skills they have but also the way they think and the way they collaborate that will underpin Australia’s competitive advantage.

“Australia’s curricula, our training courses and our workplaces must reflect that 21st-century professionals need to be well-rounded design-thinkers and skilful communicators.

“We need to do much better as a nation building our workforce on a foundation of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths).

“We need to build new skills and capabilities in new areas.

“We need these capabilities now, but the fact is we cannot find in Australia enough of the skills that we need on the scale that we need them, such as software engineers.

“Why?  There simply are not enough of them.  The pipeline is too small. We are also competing for these skills domestically with other Australian organisations, including some of you in the room here today.

“That competition is fierce, and it is estimated Australia will have a shortfall of 60,000 skilled workers in the ICT sector in the next five years.

“That means we are having to recruit some of those capabilities on the global market.”

Mr Penn also discussed partnerships and collaboration.

“As a nation we have to do more to get the balance right between what the government does, what the private sector needs and what is being taught in institutes and universities,” he said.

“Australia must build these skills locally and as a major employer with significant technology skills, Telstra very much wants to play its part in this.

“To that end, in addition to what we are already doing locally, we are establishing a partnership program with a small number of universities around developing specific capabilities.

“We recently started to partner with the University of Wollongong on their new Global Leaders Development Program and have taken our first of their Big Data students as an intern. (They are) one of 80 students from around Australia who have been working with us over the summer.

“In the months ahead, similar partnerships will be established with a number of additional tertiary institutions around key technology areas such as software defined networking and machine learning.

“As part of this we will also guarantee we will take a certain number of graduates each year.

“As we rapidly approach the 2020s and think about the future of work in a time of great technology change, we need vision.

“We need a vision with clear goals and strategies for all Australia.  We need a vision that embraces businesses, unions, not-for-profits, governments, communities, young and old.

“A vision that capitalises on our position as an already technologically advanced nation, a nation of early adopters, that transcends the political cycle, encourages and supports innovation and is cognisant of the tech changes fast coming down the path.

“To remain (a) lucky country we need to become a future-focussed country too – and that takes vision at a national level.”