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Heading for a talent shortage perfect storm?

5G is taking the telecom sector by storm as it is a bedrock of new jobs, salary growth, and immense opportunities in cross-functional roles.

The telecom industry worldwide is hurtling toward a staffing and skills precipice at a frightening pace, and truly embracing diversity and inclusion in recruitment and human resources strategies looks to be the only way to avoid a calamity.

As India too rolls out its 5G services and moves into 5G-led technologies, IoT, AI, robotics, and cloud computing, the sector is likely to face a 28-percent shortfall of skilled workers in 2022, according to a recent report by the Telecom Sector Skill Council. India will need 22 million skilled workers by 2025. Over 150,000 new roles are likely to be created.

Both tech and telecom companies are looking to hire professionals with expertise in infrastructure develop­ment, equipment, network operations, spectrum services, and telephone services to carry out jobs like network management, testing, and software development. The talent overlaps between the two sectors.

India’s IT services companies also face a similar challenge. “India IT companies could continue to report high attrition and margin pressures, limiting pace of QoQ improvement in the coming quarters versus what is built into consensus estimates,” reiterates Morgan Stanley.

There are certain challenges that are specific to the telecom ecosystem. Core solutions and data models for people and equipment management may be similar, but most address only a subset of the requirements. Very few include the degree of integration and optimization that today’s operators require.

End-to-end network installation, maintenance, service activation and troubleshooting are usually provided by a mix of internal and external staff, but different departments handle very different types of orders. Workforce management relies heavily on inventory data, workflows require robust systems integration across service provisioning and assurance, and mobile apps need to work in the field. Specific requirements include managing service-level agreements and the settlements between the operator and its contractors.

The right workforce manage­ment solution will work seamlessly across multiple devices, providing technicians, field personnel, and support staff with the right information in the right format – anytime, anywhere.

Further, it will enable the operator to efficiently manage work orders and task schedules with skills-based dispatch and testing.

All required information can be kept current, correlated, and accessible for work orders, mobile applications and access, remote assistance, asset management, preventative mainte­nance, stock management, real-time metrics, and reporting analytics.

With a constantly evolving skill mix due to automation, emerging technologies, and new business models, familiar telecom roles are undergoing a transformation of their own.

Many of the most common roles and skills are not currently addressing inno­vation trends. When it comes to technician roles, including switch engineers, network technicians, network administrators, and BSS engineers, 33 percent of the top network engineering and operations roles are not yet equipped with future skills to address trending innovations, says Eightfold AI.

However, by evaluating skills adjacencies, these common network engineering roles can follow alternative career paths to transition into rising roles, such as cyber security engineers, cloud engineers, and performance engineers.

While the industry is better positioned to build out capabilities for cloud and edge computing as well as big data, the industry’s lowest talent readiness is in areas like 5G and Open RAN.

Telecoms have a short window of one to two years to build 5G capabilities, as providers accelerate 5G expansion and even prepare for 6G capabilities that will contribute to making emerging trends like the metaverse phenomenon a reality.

McKinsey Research found three key skill areas that showed the strongest growth and potential trajectory for further disruption in the future – digital architecture; embedded systems, and internet of things (IoT); and advanced analytics and AI. Telecom companies are embracing each of these areas as 5G technology evolves, and the reality of smart cities nears.

AI is becoming a funda­mental aspect of every part of the telecoms stack. Today’s telecom vendors need to look at how they can intelligently support everything from productivity to agent management with the right services.

AI is able to sift through talent-related data at speed to find insights that would take humans significantly longer to identify – if they are able to identify them at all. When AI allows recruiters to spend their time working more closely with candidates, it also provides the opportunity to identify the best candidates and match them with the most appropriate role within the organization.

The result is a pipeline that is more in sync with the company’s needs, with the best-fitting candidates spotlighted more quickly and moved from screening to interview to offer more efficiently.

It’s a candidate’s market. The challenge is of finding digitally skilled workers while at the same moment those workers have a wealth of job opportunities across dozens of industries. “Workers in digital roles emerged from the Covid crisis relatively unscathed, and are now entering an overheated talent market with many options,” says BCG.

The good news is that many workers with existing tech and digital skills are willing to stay in the field, even as they look for new job opportunities.

While 73 percent of workers in digital roles are planning to switch jobs within the next three years, most plan to continue working with technology.

Meanwhile, many workers, who do not currently focus on digital technologies, are nevertheless interested in becoming tech workers if they can develop the right skills.

While most advanced digital skills workers want to stay in their field, far more non-digital workers would reskill if they could land a job in IT, automation, analytics, or digitization.

While Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal in so many ways, it has also spurred feelings of liberation for millions of workers who can now envision what they want their jobs to be, not what they have been. Workers know the difference, and they are voting with their feet.

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