2019 Learning Elite
AT&T - From left: Dahna Hull, Bri Thomas, Jason Oliver, Lisa Mitchell-Kastner, Jennifer Fitzmaurice.
From left: Dahna Hull, Bri Thomas, Jason Oliver, Lisa Mitchell-Kastner, Jennifer Fitzmaurice.
A Fixed Gaze Toward the Future
AT&T has created a culture of continuous learning, empowering employees to be future-ready.
By Ashley St. John
When it comes to AT&T’s learning strategy, future readiness is the name of the game.

“At the heart of everything we do, it comes down to our people,” said Dahna Hull, AT&T’s senior vice president of human resources. “We’ve created a culture at AT&T of continuous learning for all of our employees. We invest about $200 million a year in our internal training program, and we provide about 16 million hours of training a year. We also provide more than $24 million annually for tuition assistance. All of that heavy investment and being really transparent with employees about the need to be future-ready contributes to that culture.”

AT&T University, or TU, is the genesis for all of the organization’s learning and development programs. It comprises three departments: TU Operations, TU Leadership, and TU Shared Solutions.

TU Operations works with AT&T’s numerous business units to provide onboarding training, compliance training and reskilling for all employees. The main goal of the TU Leadership team is to align all employees with AT&T’s vision and strategy. They curate training that aligns with core values by focusing on leadership development, well-being, culture and strategy. AT&T’s flagship leadership development program, Leading with Distinction, allows the organization to keep everyone aligned on business priorities in a very short amount of time, according to Hull.

“Everybody from our front-line teams all the way up to our executive management goes through the LWD program,” she said. “It’s a highly effective way of keeping everybody aligned around our strategies and our priorities and keeping folks engaged.”

TU Shared Solutions supports the delivery of new training by running the company’s virtual studios and supporting augmented reality and virtual reality technology. This team also owns AT&T’s Personal Learning Experience.

“The PLE is a single place where employees can go to plan, access, view, manage and track their learning,” Hull said. The PLE is entirely competency based. An employee can go in and see what competencies are currently applicable to their job title and can also search for jobs that they may be interested in, see what competencies are aligned to a job title, and then easily access training to develop those competencies.

The Shared Solutions group also works alongside AT&T’s business units to ensure they are identifying emerging technology areas, Hull said.

“We want to stay one to three years ahead of what those business units are needing from a skills perspective,” she said. “As we continue to engage in those close partnerships, we are able to stay aligned with the needs of the business and work to create that content. We’ve been ahead of the curve now for many years and we absolutely plan on staying ahead of the curve.”

As a tech company, AT&T strives to leverage the technology it currently has and also to make sure it is creating new technologies to make training as effortless as possible, Hull said. Virtualizing all content has been a priority. Currently, more than half of their content has been virtualized, and 100 percent of retail training is completely virtual.

AT&T

AT&T took its journey to be future-ready beyond company walls with AT&T Learn. This initiative helps underserved people in AT&T’s communities prepare for success in jobs, careers and life. Within two months of launch, 350 people are already engaged in this reskilling.

Company size: 250,000
Location: United States

Hull attributes AT&T’s successful environment for its virtualization efforts to two specific technology elements.

“The first one is our T Virtual Campus,” she said. “Think of it like a MOOC platform. This allows employees to complete self-paced training anytime, anywhere. They can also engage and collaborate with other learners through a social functionality.”

The other element is AT&T’s T Virtual Studios.

“Our studios broadcast over 400,000 hours of live student training each year,” Hull said. “The experience isn’t just like a webcast — it’s very interactive. The instructor is able to see all of the students. It has many creative elements to keep the students engaged, whether that be through sound, video, graphics or other animations.”

According to Hull, they are now innovating a solution called T Virtual Go, which is like a mini T Virtual Studios. They will be able to deploy it to their instructors who are out in the field so that they too can move away from traditional classroom environments into a more virtual environment.

AT&T measures its L&D efforts in a number of ways. According to Hull, virtualization alone has delivered about $22 million in cost savings in their training budget and reduction in travel expenses. Additionally, 90 percent of their employees are engaged in skills transformation by completing one or more future-ready courses. More than 3,000 employees have earned nanodegrees; 5.2 million skills transformation courses have been completed since 2016; and more than 700 employees have enrolled in advanced degrees in computer science, data analytics, data science and cybersecurity.

“We’ve gotten our employees to the point where they don’t even think about it anymore,” Hull said. “When we introduced skills transformation, probably about 7 years ago, we were calling it Workforce 2020. Now we refer to it as Future Ready. It took a little time to get going, but by being transparent with employees and by providing them the tools like I talked about with the PLE, they really are engaging in this.”

Additionally, Hull said, internal applicants who’ve completed training as part of their reskilling effort are 50 percent more likely to get a new job within the company.

So, what’s in store for this future-focused company?

“We’ve done some investing in virtual and augmented reality, and we are seeing success there,” Hull said.

They are also working on something that they’re calling Real-Time Training, Hull said.

“It’s all about using data to identify and target real-time performance training content exactly when it’s needed,” she said. “Perhaps I have data around a technician’s performance, and I know that the technician is on his or her way to go take care of a customer. I can deliver training to that technician, real-time, based on data analytics, to help improve the performance right before they walk into that customer’s home.”

According to Hull, the future of learning at AT&T will be all about building on what is currently in place.

“It has to continue to be 100 percent mobile. And I really believe that when we think about machine learning, artificial intelligence — I think we’re going to see amazing things happen in that space.”

Ashley St. John is Chief Learning Officer’s managing editor. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.