These days AT&T’s competitors include not only other telecom companies, like Sprint and Verizon, but also the tech giants Amazon and Google. To keep up, AT&T needs many of its 280,000 employees to improve their coding skills—or learn them in the first place—and understand how to work with big data and cloud technology, according to the company’s CEO, Randall Stephenson.
By 2020 AT&T will be offering all-digital phone and television services, Stephenson says. Many AT&T employees don’t have experience writing open-source software or analyzing terabytes of consumer data to help develop and improve products and services.
The company is offering employees courses to help them update their skills, but workers have to take them on their own time and pay for some out of pocket. According to Stephenson, it should be a simple decision for workers: Learn new skills or find their career choices limited, according to The New York Times.
CHANGE OF PACE
Although many veterans at AT&T are refusing to put in the extra hours and money to acquire new skills, the company is not sweating it. Its executives estimate the organization can get by with about one-third fewer workers—and with an aging workforce, “demography is on our side,” Stephenson said in the article.
But many employees say they don’t believe the company will move into the future as quickly as it claims, and there will still be a need for more traditional skills.
Marilyn Catis, certification and professional education manager with the IEEE Communications Society, in Piscataway, N.J., says those who don’t take professional development courses can still find a job, even if that means taking on a different role in the organization or seeking employment elsewhere.
“Professional development is personal,” Catis says. “It depends on where people are in their careers and what position they want to advance to.” For some, AT&T’s mandate may be an opportunity to shift or grow in their careers; for others it might be time to retire.
“The need to stay current is nothing new as emerging technologies change the landscape across all industries,” Catis adds. “In most cases, employees often have to spend their own time and money to learn the latest skills.” The situation, of course, is not unique to AT&T. Many engineers today are being asked to brush up on their skills.
TOOLS TO KEEP UP
IEEE ComSoc Training offers online courses to help professionals working in communications stay up to date, including one on wireless for the Internet of Things. Participants earn continuing-education units. The program is designed to address the industry’s future, such as 5G and software-defined networks. (You can view upcoming courses on the website.)
Those who work in wireless might be interested in earning the IEEE Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies certification, Catis says. The certification confirms employees have the skills necessary to succeed in the industry.
Additional continuing-education opportunities are offered on IEEE’s eLearning Library in bioengineering, photonics, robotics, and other fields. The IEEE Computer Society provides online classes, certification, books, and more.
Beyond enrolling in courses, stay up to date by reading publications such as IEEE Spectrum, Catis says, and following the latest research in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library. You also can tap into communities on IEEE Collabratec—an online platform to help people network, create, and work together—to stay abreast of news and upcoming conferences in your field.