A cohort of 83 Telstra employees will be the first to benefit from intensive University of Technology Sydney (UTS)-backed ‘micro-credentials’ in data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, under a partnership designed to help jumpstart the post-COVID skills market.

The jointly-developed, eight-week courses mark the first the time UTS has offered micro-credentials, and the courses – entitled Data Analysis Foundations, Advanced Data Analytics, and Introduction to Machine Learning – will be open to general enrolments from July.

The partnership, which began in October, supports UTS’s 2027 strategy – which even before COVID was emphasising lifelong learning and the development of a ‘personal learning experience’.

Working with Telstra would, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Innovation & Enterprise) Glenn Wightwick said, “enhance the employability of our students, provide a strong pipeline of potential talent for Telstra and the broader tech community and support the upskilling and reskilling of their existing workforce.”

Students will study around five hours per week, attend a weekly live online tutorial, and undergo a two-week swot-vac (study period) and assessment period.

“Building a pipeline of technology talent in Australia was an urgent issue pre-COVID,” Alex Badenoch, Telstra group executive for Transformation, Communications and People, said in launching the new courses.

“We now need to boost numbers at a much faster rate to support our nation’s transforming businesses and the digitisation of our economy... business and education providers can collaborate to jointly develop the critical technology skills Australia needs.”

Micro-learning by degrees

Australia’s technology industries have seized on the promise of micro-credentials, which have emerged as a way of matching skills with the rapidly changing technological climate.

Organisations like OpenLearning have already turned micro-credentials into big business, pressuring universities to adapt to a skills market that was already rapidly changing before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the entire sector into turmoil.

ACS last year noted their value in boosting skills in data science, AI, blockchain, edge computing and other technology growth areas, calling for a $100m Industry 4.0 skills fund focused on delivering micro-credentials.

A recent review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) blasted its “highly generic” qualifications framework and urged the sector to innovate in delivering crucial skills, while a separate review of vocational training encouraged institutions to adopt micro-credentials to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0.

Southern Metropolitan TAFE moved early, recently securing funding in the second round of AustCyber’s Project Fund to “continue developing a framework for the national delivery of cyber security education and training”.

With UTS jumping on the micro-credentials bandwagon – and taking a technically adept partner like Telstra with it – the university hopes to help meet the innovation needs of the post-COVID world.

“In offering micro-credentials for the first time,” Wightwick said, “UTS also looks forward to helping to boost skill levels in the broader technology community and providing Australian business with expanded pools of talented workers in critical areas.”

UTS is one of five universities with which Telstra has partnered – the others being RMIT University, the University of Melbourne, University of NSW, and University of Sydney – as it seeks to “build a bigger pipeline of technology graduates in Australia,” CEO Andy Penn said in announcing the two-year partnerships last year.

Telstra had earmarked around $25m during fiscal 2020 for its technology education development efforts, with expectations that 10 per cent of its workforce would complete micro-credentials to “develop a new skill to help meet the needs of the organisation”.

“Today, we cannot find enough of the skills we need in Australia on the scale we need them,” Penn said. “Together with universities, we will boost the supply of diverse technology graduates for our own workforce, and the nation.”

New partnerships have sought to attract and keep students in technology-related areas, with cybersecurity a particular focus given its chronic skills shortage.

HP, for example, recently launched a Women in Cyber Security Scholarship that covers tuition for five women completing the Master of Cyber Security degree at the University of Queensland.

The University of Adelaide, Google ANZ and CSIRO secured AustCyber funding for a massively open online course (MOOC) to support national cybersecurity education, while Untapped, DXC Technology, La Trobe University and Curtin University were supported for a “virtual, cloud-based, cyber security training and assessment centre” to support targeted training and employment opportunities.