By Askar Sheibani, Comtek CEO and Entrepreneurship Champion for Wales
UK employers are optimistic in terms of their hiring intentions, according to a Manpower survey, which predicted that in the third quarter of this year – July to September – jobs will increase by nine percent.
This optimism is also apparent in the telecoms industry, where employment growth in the third quarter is expected to rise 17 percent, 12 percent more than the second quarter of the year – April to June – and will continue to increase seven percent year-over-year. Manpower suggested that superfast broadband and 4G deployments will fuel this spike in predicted employment and, while this is most likely the case, one has to question whether it will only boost employment in the short term.
Volatile employment in the telecoms industry will not only lead to job insecurity in the medium to long term, but it may also deter potential engineers from joining the industry and could, ultimately, widen the skills gap, as young people choose alternative careers. This is despite the fact that there will be a requirement for telecoms expertise as our networks become more sophisticated. It is in the telcos' interest to show potential employees the benefits and potential for a long career in the telecoms industry; critically, they must be sure not to let hype around 4G and 5G projects create a reputation for job instability.
Stop-start growth’s effect on job creation
While there is no doubt that superfast broadband and 4G investments will drive employment and innovation across Europe in the telecoms industry, consider what’s likely to come next. If the latest reports are anything to go by, 5G will be the next big thing, but there will be a fair few years before it makes its appearance. 4G projects cannot be solely relied upon to keep employment in the telecoms industry ticking along in this gap and it could create uncertainty in the job market.
Repair and maintenance on the existing 2G and 3G infrastructure is one way that the telecoms industry can sustain employment growth and offer longer job security to potential employees. With a more robust strategy for repairing and maintaining their infrastructure, telcos will also benefit from a more reliable network; outages in data services, poor call connectivity and the failure to send text messages will be minimised, in turn, enhancing customer satisfaction. The extra resources may even allow telcos to extend their rural broadband network, increasing the number of customers and potential profit.
The skills gap
For the European telecoms industry, in particular, the fact that much of the manufacturing is done overseas, predominantly in China, means that this is where the core telecoms skills sit. A further by-product of this is that a telecoms career in these countries is far more respected, causing much more enthusiasm for subjects such as engineering, that lead to a job in the sector. This is another battle telcos in Europe need to tackle, if they are to create dependable jobs and not suffer from a skills shortage.
Training and apprenticeships are a good way to attract young people to industry and develop skills that will be essential to networking in the future. Not only this, but businesses will benefit from a workforce that has developed a specific and relevant skill-set, as well as a loyal attitude to the company.
It’s often the case, however, that telcos don’t have the connections or resources to facilitate such training opportunities, and so it is essential that governments open up partnerships with local councils, schools and colleges. Some companies are already reaping the rewards of this, for example, the aeronautical giant Airbus, offers combined college or university studies with practical training.
Governments also have a role in changing the perception of the industry to open up potentially untapped resources. For example, the telecoms industry has historically been ‘male’ dominated, but by boosting awareness of the professional expertise in the industry, women may be more incentivised to train for jobs in telecoms, as they are in countries like India.
Job creation in the European telecoms industry has been given a huge boost with the rollout of next generation networks, but this could be reversed, if the industry fails to address its employment needs. Whether the answer is network repair and maintenance or providing training and apprenticeships, this will help to sustain employment growth in the industry and is vital to counteract the impact of stop-start growth caused by next generation networks.