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Ibrahim Gedeon, chief technology officer of TELUS, discussed with Telecom Review about their new graduate program that enables future-proofing technology talent pools while nurturing the innovators of the future.

Companies’ business and digital strategies continue to advance at an unprecedented scale and rate due to a multitude of converging forces, including software and cloud-based disruption, the ubiquity of analytics and the data-driven economy, and next-level process automation and virtualization. To layer on top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a widespread call-to-action, highlighting the criticality of mass digitization and agile innovation as we watched (and became) organizations that had to rapidly pivot to be able to deliver essential connectivity, healthcare, education, remote work capabilities and more. TELUS, like many other companies, accelerated years’ worth of digital transformation in a matter of months or weeks, and this rate of transformation is here to stay. These combinatorial forces are spawning the need for innovative talent strategies, including breakthrough approaches in talent acquisition, engagement, upskilling and retention.

Only by being and building futurists will we rise above the talent predicament    

Computer scientist Alan Kay famously said, “the only way you can predict the future is to build it.” At TELUS, we have cast our vision well into the horizon when it comes to talent strategy, looking to build our pipeline for the future via our new graduate recruitment program, which has been a success for close to three decades now, having nurtured and developed hundreds of young engineers and technologists into cutting-edge technical, leadership, and executive roles. The Graduate Technology Leadership Program (GTLP) is a key pillar of TELUS’ strategy to acquire the top caliber of technical talent that can push forward innovation, introduce fresh approaches, and power our digital strategy for years to come.  

TELUS, like our global peers in the technology space, grapples with the ever-evolving technology talent landscape. Our guiding principle is simple – to bring the brightest and best technical minds onboard, in support of our mission of delivering winning outcomes for our customers and the Canadian economy at large. In return, we provide the industry’s best graduate rotational program to our incoming team members: one of the top differentiators between our programs and others in the industry is that we equip our new graduates to dive right into real-life and meaningful projects from day one! This could span everything from building the best networks to leading-edge software platforms to hyperscale cloud-native architectures to advanced data science capabilities. There are more than 100 rotational options to choose from, spanning five cutting-edge technology areas. Additionally, each graduate is paired with a number of manager and director mentors who help to guide and support their interests and skills in an all-rounded way.

We like to think of acquisition as just the beginning of our journey when it comes to our new graduate program. Two other critical pillars of focus are retention and upskilling. A common challenge across the industry is the high turnover rates for new graduates. Inherently, retention is a complex process, but that is further exacerbated with younger generations of talent who bring exceptional skills and motivation, are seeking to make a tangible impact, have unbounded access to opportunities in today’s talent market, and have far less geographical mobility limitations than previous generations. With the GTLP, we focus on tapping into new graduates’ strengths, supporting them to contribute meaningfully to innovation-focused initiatives, expanding our diverse talent pool, and providing one-of-a-kind mentoring, learning and career development opportunities. Ultimately, as studies have shown time and again, culture is one of the most powerful levers to boost retention, and with our new graduate program, we are committed to sustaining TELUS’ world-leading engagement focus and bolstering that with an uber-personalized focus on the development of every single team member. 

Upskilling isn’t a new concept but its magnitude and criticality have snowballed, especially in the post-pandemic economy. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2024, close to 40% of workers will require up to six months of retraining. That need will be further intensified in the technology sector with the widespread demand for software, cloud and data skills across the majority of job functions. Additionally, close to 50% of the Gen-Y and Gen-Z workforce believes their skills will be outdated in 4-5 years (Capgemini), highlighting the need to step up the focus on training and upskilling as a key engagement and retention driver.

As we step fully into the hyperscale era and insights economy, our success as an organization will be contingent upon the thoughtfulness and rigour of our upskilling efforts, and the GTLP at TELUS are fast becoming the proving ground for our strategy. Today, our new graduates benefit from a multipronged focus on technical and leadership development (which includes in-house offerings as well as MBA-style courses from prestigious academic institutions), combined with strategic upskilling, targeted innovation opportunities, hackathons, personalized mentorship journeys, and networking opportunities with executives.  

The GTLP offers an unparalleled and accelerated career journey  

TELUS’ GTLP has evolved into a one-of-a-kind, progressive rotational program that supports technical and leadership skills development, while helping new graduates chart their own unique career paths. Today, new graduates in the program benefit from a peer network of hundreds of other graduates and co-op students, helping them to build their community while accelerating their career journey. Furthermore, we deeply care about each individual graduate’s journey even beyond their completion of the program, supporting them individually to land into roles and careers at TELUS that they are passionate about.  

Secondly, TELUS is one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers, and nowhere is this more evident than in our new graduate program. Both at the leadership and team layers, this program speaks to how highly we value diversity. 70% of the GTLP leadership team is female* and our team is represented by team members coming from the dozens of different cultural heritages that reflect the fabric of Canadian society. We are continuously doing our part to address imbalances in the tech industry starting right from the youngest minds in our organization - importantly, we have more than twice the number of women* in our program versus the tech industry, and we’re only going to amplify that more!   

Like any program that’s been in place for a couple of decades, we have morphed and progressed the vision, mission and strategic priorities in response to the needs of our team and our business, and will continue to do so into the future. Importantly, we believe that engaging the youngest minds of our workforce is essential to TELUS’ success, but more importantly, to societal and economic progress for our nation and planet as a whole. Gen Zs already make up the largest generation at 30% of the world’s population. Gen Ys and Gen Zs are redefining the future of work, with their deep passion for innovation, sustainability, healthcare, diversity, human rights and the issues that truly matter across our planet – we see this in action every day across our GTLP new graduates and remain committed to supporting their ideas and passions while engaging them to chart a vision for a progressive future for generations to come. 

*The GTLP team acknowledges that "women" or “female” is not an accurate description for the many ways people identify. We use * to include cis and transwomen, as well as women-identifying non-binary, agender, or other gender minorities.

Mentorship – technical and emotional – is the key to success

Another way the GTLP stands out is the level of personal investment and effort our executive team into this program from a mentorship perspective. Today, each and every one of our graduates benefits from direct mentorship opportunities with TELUS’ CTO as well as a number of vice-presidents and directors - there are not many organizations where this level of personal attention is possible or consciously created. We believe this investment of time is important on many levels – the science of mentorship suggests it has both technical and emotional impacts on individuals, and if our mission is to build the leaders of the future, the key to our success is creating both technically competent and emotionally intelligent leaders who have the broad entrepreneurial and collaborative skill set required to lead the increasingly complex programs of the future while keeping the virtuous cycle of innovation and talent acquisition evergreen.  

Bridging new graduate programs will fortify future talent for our industry at large  

Partnerships and collaborations have always existed to some degree in the technology sector, but will be even more important in the hyperscale era to unlock new possibilities in emerging business areas in an agile manner. As such, we believe that such partnerships should extend beyond merely a business and technology focus, and reach even wider to talent peering initiatives to enable upskilling and enrich our collective talent pool. 

Specifically, with the GTLP, we are in the process of bridging our program with partner organizations in different verticals to amplify the learning and career development possibilities for our teams, while expanding our joint access to the top tier of talent that has been able to benefit from this broad, multi-organizational experience in a condensed time frame. Multiply the access to hundreds of rotational streams with the richness of the experience gained across sectors, whether that be healthcare, energy or AgTech, and it is easy to see that we will be left with a new breed of ultra-qualified young engineers and technologists who will truly build the digital future. New graduate program peering is most definitely a winning formula for the future, at least in our TELUS reality. 

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