How Can Employers Resolve the Skills Gap? This is AT&T’s Approach

The idea of a skills gap in the tech industry has been in the news lately, with the federal government announcing a $100 million investment in training programs that help people develop tech skills. This news follows many ongoing efforts from leading employers to identify this type of talent and develop it. For talent acquisition professionals, the challenge is not only to reach Millennials and even younger generations to encourage them to pursue these skills. When it comes to recruitment and retention, HR leaders know they need to foster lifelong learning for employees of all ages.

For more than a century, AT&T has been at the forefront of providing innovative and high-quality products and services. Today, the company’s mission is to connect people through smartphones, next-generation TV, broadband services and sophisticated solutions for multinational businesses.

We talked with Jennifer Terry, Director of Strategic Staffing Initiatives, to learn how AT&T is looking externally for fresh talent while also enabling current employees to reach their fullest potential.

How does rapid innovation affect AT&T’s recruitment and professional development strategies?

We’re a company with a big base of what I call “truck and bucket” — the technician who comes in their truck with all the physical equipment needed to supply or repair your service. The majority of those employees are Baby Boomers.

As more services begin relying on the cloud, we’re shifting from technicians to programmers. And while some people might think that means we need to start going for Gen X and Millennial candidates who have those skills, the truth is, a lot of our greatest candidates are still going to be Baby Boomers.

For one thing, even as the future of our business begins to shift, we still have to service existing technologies. Even though fewer people think of DSL when they consider the type of Internet service they’d like, we still have hundreds of thousands of customers on DSL. We can’t turn off that service tomorrow, and we can’t stop sending people to help those customers.

Moreover, the leadership and customer service experience that a lot of our Baby Boomer employee base has is something we want to retain as long as possible. So, for us, it’s about being strategic — not abandoning the skills that we need now in favor of what will need eventually.

AT&T is helping all their employees build skill sets that carry the company into the future.

How do you balance the current needs for skills with planning for the future?

We’re doing the type of tactical planning that ensures that everyone who works for AT&T can continue their education, and build the specific skills that are going to be most relevant in the next three to five years.

One way we’ve done that is to build a fully automated database and a holistic competency package that allows each employee to see how their current skill set measures up against the skills that will be in demand in 2020. They can compare what they’re currently doing to what they might be interested in in the future. From there, we’re able to recommend the classes or certifications they could take to develop those skills. And then, they can update their profile to reflect their new training.

Our recruiters turn first to this database to see if there are candidates internally who can fill our open positions, and in this way, we’re hoping that we can offer people a full and varied career at AT&T. The kind of career that carries them through changes in technology, changes in the labor market and any change that our industry might undergo.

A version of this interview appeared in the latest report from the Indeed Hiring Lab, Three Generations of Talent: Who’s Searching for Jobs Today.

Download the latest report