Orange pledges $1.6B to retrain some of its 148,000 employees worldwide

Orange announces a new program to re-train employees across AI, cloud and cybersecurity. (Pixabay)

France-based Orange is forking out $1.6 billion to retrain some of its 148,000-employee worldwide workforce in the face of increased automation.

As part of its five-year plan, Orange plans to double the number of employees to more than 20,000 across key emerging areas such as network virtualization, cloud, data, artificial intelligence, coding and cybersecurity. Orange's "skills challenge" is a key component of its "Engage 2025" strategic initiative.

Orange said in its announcement that by 2025 it will be "more international, more focused on B2B and younger, while remaining multi-generational and at the forefront of new technologies."

"Younger" should give Orange's current, older employees plenty of incentive to sharpen their skills across cloud, software-defined networking, network functions virtualization, and artificial intelligence (AI), among other skill sets.

Automation, along with mergers in some instances, has been the key culprit for layoffs among large telcos such as CenturyLink, AT&T, Verizon and Orange. As networks become more complex through NFV and SDN, tasks that were formerly performed by humans are increasingly being automated.

Two years ago, Verizon announced a 7% cut—about 10,000 employees—of its workforce as part of a voluntary separation scheme. In its recent fourth quarter earnings call, Verizon's Matt Ellis, chief financial officer, said the voluntary separation program resulted in approximately $1.3 billion of expense savings in 2019.

RELATED: Communications Workers of America: AT&T culls over 4,000 jobs in Q4

Also in the fourth quarter, AT&T cut its workforce by 4,040 jobs, according to a press release by the Communications Workers of America (CWA,) and plans to cull an additional 200 technician positions in California next week.

Going back two years, CenturyLink said its merger with Level 3 and the implementation of automation across its network were the key factors in cutting 1,000 jobs, which was followed by additional job cuts.

In addition to strengthening its employees' tech expertise over the next five years, Orange plans on developing the use of AI, data and cybersecurity across all of its business lines, and in particular with its marketing and network management teams. Orange said all of its employees would be "introduced to these new skills."

Orange employees can also develop "soft skills" regardless of their current function or localization, which sounds like a good way for employees to learn new job skills outside of their current tasks.

Orange will also open the doors on "Orange Campus," which will initially be used to train managers before becoming available to all employees. The online Orange Campus school will focus on four key areas: data, AI, cybersecurity and management for soft skills.

In addition to the online school, Orange will also implement on-the-job training by 2025. Orange also plans to launch its own Apprentice Training Center this year.