Why Upskilling Our Employees is Essential For Our Business (and All Big Businesses)

By Melissa Arnoldi and Charlene Lake, AT&T
Sep 7, 2017 6:35 PM ET

Connect To Good

Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. think tanks are not the only ones mulling over the future of our workforce. By 2020, the U.S. will have 85 million medium- and high-skilled job vacancies with not enough people qualified to fill them, according to McKinsey. And while solutions to this skills problem are coming from the startup world and the policy sphere, the country’s largest corporations also are playing a significant role in developing solutions.

AT&T is in the midst of one of the most substantial transformations in our 140-year history. We’ve grown from a telephone company to a mobility company, and now to a data-powered entertainment and business solutions company.

Our evolving industry needs an employee pool with evolving skills. The employees who helped lay down telephone wire in the 1970s and ’80s are not the same ones who will lead AT&T into its digital vanguard — or are they?

Back when network traffic increased slowly and predictably — mostly voice calls — you built a network on hardware. You sent out trucks and technicians to install new gear, like appliances, routers, and switches. The appliance and equipment makers built that stuff to last decades. We don’t have that luxury anymore. Demand for network capacity is booming, so we’re turning network hardware appliances into software apps.

What is a software-centric network? It delivers network efficiency and consumer benefits: think how you’ve swapped a camcorder, alarm clock or CD player for apps on your smartphone. And when you move a network into the cloud, as we are doing, you need workers with specific skills to make it happen.

We’ve set an ambitious goal of moving 75 percent of our network into software by 2020. But we can only keep up that pace if we help our employees learn the skills to take us there. We need employees to be software-centric and data-powered.

So, how does a company like AT&T do it? In two ways: Investing in skills training for high school students and new graduates and providing our more than quarter million employees with opportunities to re-skill for new roles. The dual investment — our existing workforce and our future workforce — isn’t a hedge; it’s a fundamental requirement to deliver a software-centric future.

We’re applying the same ideas, methods, and curricula for our employees as we are for prospective hires — and, in many cases, for any eager learner in the world. Simply put, we need qualified workers now, and we need a steady supply for the future. So does our country. A diverse and deep talent pipeline drives a healthy economy for us all.

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