NBNCo - Insight from Australia

HR news - Australia - NBNCo - Melbourne

What are the HR and L&D challenges involved in Australia’s biggest ever infrastructure project? Tim Drinkall of the National Broadband Company tells all.
Interviewed by Peter Barber, Frazer Jones, Australia.

The National Broadband Network is what’s called a ‘government enterprise’. We’re not a government department as such, we’re actually commercial in structure with 80% of our board of directors coming from the corporate sphere and 20% from government. Our task is to connect every home in Australia with broadband internet. By the end of five-to-eight years, 90% of Australia is going to be covered by fibre optic cable, 5% will be covered by fixed wires and 5% by satellite. It is Australia’s largest infrastructure project ever at $37.5 billion.

The bulk of the people were on board two years ago and we started connecting homes about a year ago. We’ve tripled the internal workforce from 1,000 to 3,000 staff in just over 18 months and it’s not stopping there. We top out at about 3,500 employees by the end of this calendar year and it’s likely we’ll actually hit that before, given the current rate of expansion. We will then contract out to service delivery partners – companies within Australia who can actually lay the cable in the streets for us – with around 20,000 workers, so it’s a combined workforce of 23,500.

When Peter and the Frazer Jones team contacted me to go for my first interview, my Chief HR Officer basically said “you have the background and the qualifications. This is what the NBN is, now how can you help?” So we brainstormed the service delivery model. When hired, I was given a free rein to build the team and structure I needed. I have a business partnership role for training, going out to each of the key divisions within our business and determining training needs and then looking for solutions based on fulfilment of a capability framework and a leadership framework.

The focus currently is the design and roll-out of a training accreditation programme for our service delivery partners. Anyone who works on the NBN has to be accredited to our standards. When working with glass fibre optics you’ve got to handle it with care and there are different procedures and standards that you must work to. We’re building the accreditation programme at the moment to set that standard so that when each of the delivery partners ramp up their recruitment to get to the 20,000 mark that we need, they will all go through this accreditation programme before they can actually work on the NBN. We’ll license accredited training providers to do the training for us. By the end of this year everyone needs to be trained and accredited. With 20,000 people to train we’ve got to make sure that we have enough accredited providers in all regional locations.

The NBN is the biggest show in town, it’s got a very unique delivery model: there is no fibre optic cable in the streets at the moment so this is the first time it has ever been done. It’s not mature yet, we’re still going through the growth stage of the business and just trying to form the business into what we think is a right model to deliver this project for the Australian people.

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