The sheer scale and long-term focus of the National Broadband Network (NBN) project means that it seldom dominates the headlines, but it is likely to have a significant impact on how many businesses operate. What implications does it have for HR practitioners and what should they now be doing about it?
Scope of the project
The NBN project commenced in 2009 and is arguably the biggest infrastructure project in Australia’s history. Full details of the project appear on the NBN official website, including a timetable for its rollout to each region and Frequently Asked Questions for businesses.
Issues for HR to address
A recent article in HRmonthly (see under ‘Further Information’ below) claimed that while many businesses are now discussing the impact of the NBN at senior levels, there has been some reluctance so far to involve HR in those discussions. However, installation of the NBN will affect a number of issues where a contribution from HR will be essential. These include:
- New types of jobs will be created.
- The skills required from employees will change.
- Both of the above have implications for workforce and career planning.
- Opportunities for working remotely will expand, with implications for how those employees will be managed and motivated. Organisation policies such as relocation may need reviewing.
- The customer service playing field will become more level, so gaining a competitive edge in this respect may become harder.
- Relationships with educational institutions may need to be strengthened
- Outsourcing functions may become easier to arrange, notably the outsourcing of IT functions.
Industries most affected
The HRmonthly article identified the following industries as being the most affected by the NBN:
- health care
- education and training
- transport and logistics
- banking and finance
- media and entertainment
- technology and telecommunications — the first sector to be significantly affected.
New types of jobs
The article predicted significant increases in demand for the following occupations:
- online developers and designers
- digital analysts and strategists
- online marketing professionals
- user-experience experts.
As the NBN evolves and expands, other new types of jobs may also emerge. In general, jobs with internet-enabled work practices will become more widespread.
What HR should be doing now
So, given the identification of these trends, what should you as an HR practitioner be doing about the NBN?
- Firstly, there is the general expectation from senior management that HR should know how the business operates and how important issues affect it. This knowledge is essential if HR is to maintain its (sometimes self-appointed) role as a business partner. Therefore, HR practitioners need to familiarise themselves with the operation, timetable and scope of the NBN project, and its potential impact on their organisations.
- Secondly, HR staff can expect to receive questions from employees and their representatives on how the NBN may affect their employment, and need to be able to provide informed answers, or at least have ready access to another source that can provide them.
- Next, there is a need to review various HR functions and organisation policies that may be impacted by the NBN, to check whether they will be able to cope with its changes, or need updating. Such functions and policies may include job analysis and design, attraction and recruitment, training and reskilling, use of IT/internet, working remotely/out of the office, redundancy, relocation (see ‘Case study’ below), workforce and career planning, and remuneration and rewards. Note: any changes made in any of these areas need to comply with all relevant legislation and award/agreement provisions.
Training may include leadership development for managers, to assist them to manage a larger number of employees working remotely and/or organising their work based around outcomes rather than set working hours.
As the NBN rollout progresses, some types of assistance may become available to businesses to help cope with employment changes (eg retraining or relocation). HR will need to inform itself of types of assistance that become available and know the procedures for applying for them. For example, just last week the Federal Government announced a new round of funding worth $400,000 to support on-the-ground community and business awareness activities, with grants of up to $25,000 per Regional Development Australia committee. Businesses should tap into these regional implementation strategies to assist them in their own implementation.
NBN creates opportunity for relocation and cost savings
A dental laboratory and manufacturer of dental products located in a large Sydney industrial estate wanted to expand its business. Its current location did not provide enough scope for expansion plus it was notorious for traffic congestion. But the company did not want to move offshore (eg to Asia) because it needed to retain control over product and service quality.
The company studied the regional coverage of the NBN, following the route of one of the fibre optic cables until it found a suitable ‘break out’ point where it could join up, and eventually decided to set up a new laboratory in the small town of Woodstock, near Cowra in mid-western New South Wales, which had a current population of about 250 people. It is employing local residents to build the new laboratory (the building was previously a pub!), and will then employ around 100 people to staff it, according to media reports.
Because dental x-rays are digital, they can be sent to the laboratory for processing via the NBN and then sent back (usually to Sydney). This approach means that the work will be processed at lower cost than when the company was in Sydney, and faster than if it had moved to Asia.
Media reports have claimed that it would cost the company four or five times as much to expand its operations while remaining in Sydney.
B Howarth, ‘Into the Unknown: Is the National Broadband Network Sneaking Under the HR Radar?’, HRmonthly, Australian Human Resources Institute, May 2012, pp 21–22.
Mike Toten is a freelance writer and editor who specialises in research and writing about HR best practices, industrial relations, equal employment opportunity and related areas. He is a regular contributor to WorkplaceInfo, where this article was first published. WorkplaceInfo www.workplaceinfo.com.au is a publication of the NSW Business Chamber.