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How NTT is meeting the skills crisis head-on

How NTT is meeting the skills crisis head-on

NTT Ltd (previously Dimension Data) head of services and technology education, Judy Marshall, spoke with CIO Australia at the recent CIO Summit in Sydney.

Credit: CIO

Tech chiefs across nearly every market sector are having problems finding the right people for roles, particularly in areas such as Cloud infrastructure, DevOps and cyber security.

The problem is so bad that these skills gaps are hampering many companies’ ability to complete transformation activities. Organisations are using several strategies to try and fill the gap from hiring new talent by offering training to existing staff inside and outside their IT teams, and using external organisations to find the talent they need.

NTT Ltd (previously Dimension Data) head of services and technology education, Judy Marshall, spoke with CIO Australia at the recent CIO Summit in Sydney.

A key part of Marshall’s role is building technology skills across the organisation’s 40,000 staff members to help them stay ahead of an ever-changing technological landscape.

Marshall and her team recently undertook a workplace planning initiative to determine current skill levels versus what will be needed in three to five years’ time.

Marshall is seeing skills gaps in the areas of hyperscalers – such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud – and how APIs work within solutions offered by these organisations.

Holes can also be found in other areas including automation, DevOps, software coding in languages such as Puppet, Python and Chef, in Big Data, robotics and machine learning, and cyber security.

“Cyber security is not necessarily a skill you need to have in isolation but you need to have it in conjunction with every other technology you are using – everything from penetration testing to analytics,” Marshall says.

NTT discovered that 75 per cent of its training spend went towards classroom training, which could not be scaled and meant only one-in-three people were getting access to training.

To overcome the issue, NTT partnered with training providers including online education organisation, Pluralsight.

“We made it [Pluralsight] available to every employee. They do not need their manager’s approval, it doesn’t even have to support their role, their job or key performance indicators. [Following this implementation], we have managed to increase the number of training hours just on Pluralsight alone,” Marshall says.

Train internally or go to market?

The decision to offer training to internal staff or look externally for skills is multi-pronged.

“The World Economic Forum is saying… 65 per cent of the skills required for the job a child who is at school is going to need in the future don’t even exist now,” she says.

Marshall cited research which suggests the cyber workforce gap has widened to 1.5 million job openings this year, up from 1 million in 2018.

She says NTT is struggling to fill cyber security roles globally; it takes, on average, 300 days to recruit a person with the skills it requires.

“So what we are doing is looking at skill sets that are more in the ‘T-shaped or E-shaped’ roles – those soft skills and mindset people need to learn the technologies that we want. We are now identifying people who have that kind of skillset –particularly in networking – and we are offering them training to skill up in cyber security roles.

“There’s always a balance… you can’t just recruit because you are obviously going to take 300 days in this instance. But you can’t just [provide] training either, you’ve got to have a diverse and multi-pronged approach.”

Credit: CIO

Building a culture

NTT is creating a culture of lifelong learning and innovation and there are a few initiatives that support this, Marshall says.

Last year, NTT sponsored the Tour de France bike race and ran a competition where staff members were asked how they could make the experience better for spectators.

“We provided a lot of data for any person who wanted to participate in the competition. People joined up in teams, they didn’t have to be developers, they didn’t have to be from the IT [department] – we had business people involved and these guys were coming with ideas around gamification and virtual reality being part of the race to predict what was going to happen in the next stage.”

This year, NTT ran an innovation hack fest at ‘client experience centres’ across various regional locations, allowing the organisation to show customers how technology is used to solve business problems.

For example, the company runs virtual reality training activities for firefighters in Sydney.

“You can put on the [firefighter’s] outfit, virtual reality [equipment] and you are actually fighting a fire. We had people solving problems, coming up with new ideas around how our organisation takes our different technologies and goes to market and they could present these to customers,” she says.

It takes ‘somewhere between 50 to 60 per cent’ of a person’s salary just to seek out and hire somebody, according to Marshall.

“And this person, somebody with the technology skills that are required, could be earning a six-figure salary in the Australian market. That’s a huge financial investment into people versus what it takes to invest in providing various learning strategies to make content available to people and driving that culture of lifelong learning. It can also become a strategy for retaining or even attracting employees,” Marshall says.

In Europe, an NTT staff member who left the organisation, came back not because of the salary being offered but rather the learning opportunities and access to skills.

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