November 2009

Telecom Job Market

The Evolution of the Telecom Workplace: Trends in the Job Market

By: Kristin Masters

As other industries flounder in an anemic economy, the telecom industry has experienced steady expansion, and in some ways has even struggled to keep up with rapid changes and increasing demands. The upsurge in telecom service popularity parallels an evolution in telecom technology, which has revolutionized the telecom job market.

The industry has enjoyed global growth; indeed, internet and telecom job vacancies grew 30 to 40% last year, as the country’s economy flourished and businesses increasingly went online. Meanwhile domestic recruiters like Allstates Technical Services report widespread demand for telecom job expertise in all sectors of the telecom industry, from tower technicians to ISP engineers. The greatest shortage of telecom jobs, however, is in IP management, as network complexity and functionality expands.

New Technologies Breed New Telecom Job Demands

The primary reason for increased telecom job demand is the move from hardware – to software – based telephony systems. The move from TDM to IP PBX and VoIP systems has shifted the focus from hardware management to software integration and programming. As a result several shifts have occurred in the industry:

  • Software lifecycle management has gained importance.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) is of increasingly greater concern.
  • The role of applications has grown, as that of network hardware components has shrunk.
  • Service Oriented Networks (SON) have gotten more popular.

The hallmark of this new generation of telecom is automation: functions once performed by humans, such as provisioning network paths or reconfiguring short fibers, are now an automated part of networking hardware. Thus networking testing and planning requirements have become more sophisticated.

Now telecom employers need to fill telecom jobs with employees who can address programming needs and launch applications across networks. They need an IT staff that can conduct congestion and traffic planning for data services, along with predicting and detecting rogue elements that endanger smooth operation. With the integration of SON, infrastructure virtualization and blended partner capabilities impact both businesses and users alike. Businesses must find employees who maintain familiarity with hardware like electronic gateways, but have expertise in software development, programming, and maintenance so they can these fulfill specific telecom job requirements.

A Shortage of Skilled Workers in Telecom Job Market

These far-reaching kinds of changes have taken place in the telecom industry before. In recent years, however, the industry has evolved so rapidly that it has outpaced the talent pool of those looking for a related telecom job. To remain competitive, telecom companies need to fill telecom jobs with employees who have a rare blend of disparate competencies. They must also attract those in the telecom job market with redundant – yet complementary—skills, to fill the need for fluency in both hardware and software. Other conditions have exacerbated the shortage of skilled telecom workers:

  1. Limited experience: Most prospective employees in the telecom job market who have Ethernet experience gained it at small or middle-sized corporations. That experience is largely irrelevant in situations where carrier Ethernet is used. While these employees in the telecom job market may have routing certificates and be experts at command-line code, they have no experience managing the thousands of devices necessary to run the typical complex network.
  2. Multidisciplinary demand: The same software skills are now desirable in multiple industries. For instance, Verizon is now tapping the same applicant pool as Google does, because it has similar needs. Prospective employees, however, still don’t look to the field of telecom to find job, making recruitment more difficult.
  3. Incongruous curriculum: Most universities have yet to revamp their curriculum to reflect new telecom job demands. The ATIS, which sets US telecom standards and that develops corresponding business solutions, has stepped in to encourage changes, but long-term, comprehensive curriculum adjustments will take some time.
  4. An aging workforce: In the future, the impact of an aging workforce will certainly reach the field of telecom. As Baby Boomers retire in greater numbers, there will be more telecom job vacancies. This phenomenon may have more influence on telecom companies, which have not undergone downsizing and restructuring to the same extent as other industries. Therefore the shortage in the telecom job market is not merely a temporary result of technological innovation, but a condition that will require long-term planning.
  5. Further changes: The telecom industry is a constantly evolving one, where new technologies and capabilities are emerging all the time. This perpetual evolution of technology ensures the telecom job demand for forward-thinking, adaptable workers with a broad skill set will remain steady.

Training offers provisional respite

Many companies have adopted aggressive programs to provide current employees with indispensable training on advancements in IP networking. Verizon created a comprehensive program that blends in-house training with those from telecom equipment providers like Avaya and Cisco and third-party vendors. The CWA has also stepped in, offering classes in union halls and other venues, to help workers maintain and improve the breadth and depth of their networking expertise.

Yet higher-level IT employees need more. University of Texas Electrical Engineering professor Duncan MacFarlane told Telephony Online magazine, “[Telecom workers] will have to go back and not just put a lick and a promise on their skill sets, but actually go back and get a serious degree with some periodicity.” Increasingly these professionals, who hold undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering, find they must return to the classroom to supplement their education with a master’s in software, computer, or telecom engineering.

As current staff hits the books, telecom companies continue to seek new talent in the telecom job market to fill knowledge gaps. However, they continue to use traditional recruitment strategies to initially attract employees. These financial incentives may be appealing up front, but they do not reflect the priorities of employees newly entering the telecom job workforce. Recent graduates are just as likely to look at potential for career growth and employee satisfaction, as they are to seek a generous signing bonus.

In the future, some relief could come from the industry move toward compartmentalization. New generations of IP multimedia systems will likely be governed by series of software modules. Specialized companies can sell and service individual modules, and problems can be addressed through IMS software architecture standards. This trend of specialization could potentially mitigate the current demand in the telecom job market.

With the rapid transition from hardware- to software- based networking systems, the telecom community faces the challenge of educating the current workforce and adding new talent from the telecom job seekers. These growing pains will undoubtedly be mitigated by educational adaptation, new recruitment techniques, and new developments in the telecom industry. |TF|

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