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5G revolution will create a no-collar workforce, COAI

Job roles responsible for repetitive tasks in the telecom industry will start vanishing soon with the 5G revolution, Lt Gen Dr SP Kochhar, Director-General of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), told Moneycontrol in an exclusive interview.

He said various tasks of white- and blue-collar jobs will get subsumed to create a new ‘no-collar’ workforce. Further, software domination is everywhere. Kochhar said the telecom industry currently has an increasing demand for talent in AI, digital analytics, and, especially, embedded software.

He coined the term ICTEC, a.k.a., information, communication, technology, electronics and cyber, and said candidates cannot avoid any of these fields to excel in the current times. Edited excerpts of the interview:

With all the recent developments concerning 5G, can you explain the changing requirements of workers?
There are two segments where we require talent. The first is the providers – Digital Signal Processors (DSPs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), etc. They will require people with core technologies as they are not customer-facing. Their requirements will be more restrictive towards subject matter talent like AI, switching, and routing. All these things are witnessing software domination.

The second segment is about applications, which will ride on 5G. Since this tech will affect all businesses and their verticals, one must be aware of how exactly 5G works and its various uses.

Earlier, the knowledge of tech was limited to chief technology officers or CTOs but today, a person who is making a business plan must know what 5G can do and he must be able to interface with customers. There is a requirement for a small thin layer of technology knowledge – broadly on what it can deliver, rather than manipulation.

At last, candidates have to realise the importance of translating technical engineering requirements into one cohesive solution, including customer requirements, which will require a lot of communication skills. HR teams in the telecom industry are specifically looking for communication skills, both written and spoken.

Now, some of the talent responsible for repetitive tasks will start vanishing. For example, engineers are required to perform network configurations, which was done manually, in a routine manner. This can now be done by AI. With innovations, various tasks of white-collar and blue-collar workers will get subsumed to create a no-collar workforce – they’ll do both.

Do you think the talent today’s institutions are creating is in line with the telecom industry’s requirements?
The standards bodies and government are convinced that the standards should be made by technologists and by academia, in conjunction with the industry. The industry gives the user requirements and that is translated into technology.

Subsequently, it is implemented by OEMs. It is a cycle which is now recognised by academicians much more because placements are a little less than what they used to be.

Now, academics do a lot of industry interaction. But I feel that industry interaction, by itself, by having only people visiting for guest lectures, etc., is not sufficient. People should be on deputation. For instance, I am working with Ericsson, and I should be on deputation for six months or one year. That should give you a flavour of what the industry is wanting, and I should get a flavour of what we can measure.

Similarly, professors should also come into the industry for a sabbatical. However, we are not there yet. Everyone has recognised this but the question is: who will bell the cat?

When you interact with industry leaders in the telecom sector, what challenges do they highlight in terms of finding and recruiting deployable talent?
Whenever a new field emerges, experienced talent will be in demand and better incentives enter the game. So, the question of demand and supply is there, especially in niche areas.

The more significant part is the recruitment part where there are two schools of thought. One is that well-established companies say that if we advertise for one job, we get 100 people standing in the queue. But they can’t retain them after some time.

The second school of thought, more practical in India, is the difficult skilling ecosystem – not training but mobilising the right kind of students for training.

We recently saw a talent war in the information-technology sector. Do you think it is something that the telecom sector can also expect with the 5G revolution?
It is obviously going on. With the constant evolution of tech from 2G to 5G, coupled with the emergence of smartphones, the software, which is going to be in demand, is not going to be the office automation software the way it was, because it has peaked.

The software which will be in demand now is embedded software, such as AI, VR etc., and not so much of coders. I feel the current IT bubble will burst in 1-2 years.

What kind of training do people working in the erstwhile technologies require to migrate to 5G?
Firstly, CXOs have to change their mindset because the parameters under which they were confronting 4G are very different from 5G. They have to become conscious that they have to get into 5G.

The second type of people is mid-level employees who are currently deployed on 4G networks. That is easy, but they have to ignore reskilling and go for upskilling – start learning about security and data science.

I coined the term ICTEC (information, communication, technology, electronics and cyber). They have to work together. In 5G, this is becoming more apparent. Now, the person cannot avoid any of these fields to excel.

Thirdly, the migration to 5G doesn’t make a difference for the blue-collar workforce because the tower deployment, the fibre, etc is the same. Moneycontrol

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