Talent [R]evolution

How can telecom tackle the ageing workforce?

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At this year’s TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World event in Copenhagen, Keri Gilder, CEO of Colt Technology Services, made a sobering observation. Casting her eyes around the auditorium at the Bella Centre, she said, “Just look around – we’re facing a retirement cliff in our industry…the great resignation is upon us.” Undoubtedly, the ageing workforce in telcos is driving the industry towards a human resources crisis.

In her capacity as the chair of the Inclusion and Diversity Council at the TM Forum, Gilder has headed up a two-year research project about how telecom can win the war for talent. This project has gathered over 180,000 data points from more than 11,000 industry professionals and aims to modernise the industry’s approach to talent sourcing.

This couldn’t come at a more timely moment, as the threat of the Great Resignation arrives in tandem with greater pressure from other verticals, including hyperscalers – the top seven of which now have four times the market cap of the top 78 telcos. Gilder’s diagnosis was that diversity will be an essential strategy for facing the pressure of an ageing workforce. 

Other industry professionals argue that it won’t just be embracing diversity in the traditional sense that will be a vital weapon in telcos’ arsenal. From technology to talent sourcing strategy, one of the key ageing workforce strategies is diversification. Let’s look closer at the debate.

How can we deal with an ageing workforce?

Diversification is an urgent issue across all industries with a stake in the tech sector. 

This is because supply simply can’t keep pace with demand. It’s not only because the industry is ballooning – European tech unicorns created 135,000 jobs last year – but it’s because the pool of experienced talent is shrinking. 

According to statistics published by the European Commission, the share of people aged 55 years or more employed in the EU-27 increased from 12% to 20% between 2004 and 2019. But how does the ageing workforce affect business in concrete terms? According to data published by the IMF, we’ll be looking at a shortage of 85 million tech workers going up to the next decade. Perhaps even more astoundingly, this will translate to a loss of $8.5 trillion USD.

This proportion of near-retirement-age workers signals a full-blown HR crisis in Europe and beyond. In the face of the ageing workforce, this means diversification across all frontiers. This will cover who we hire, when we hire them, and how we hire them across three major areas: diversity and inclusion; automation and new technologies; and hiring strategy.

Closing the gender gap in telecoms

Diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda in all sectors as we seek to make sure we’re always hiring the brightest and best. In telecom and the wider tech industry, an aspect of inclusion that’s particularly pressing is gender equality. According to data collected by WICT UK, of leading global telecom companies, just one had more than 40% women in the directorial team. Meanwhile, four had none at all.

A lack of female representation at the top leads many talented women to consider exiting the industry. In a recent survey, NTT DATA found a concerning trend of dissatisfaction amongst female employees in the wider tech sector: 42% have considered leaving the tech industry to progress their careers in another field.

In the face of the ageing workforce, this means diversification across all frontiers

In the face of an ageing workforce, this is the sort of talent exodus that the telecoms industry can absolutely not afford. To take concrete action, leadership should consider what diverse talent might look for in their workplace experience. This could mean offering more flexible hours, work-from-home options and placing women in senior positions are baseline strategies. 

Embracing new technologies

It’s not news that automation and AI are critical tools for telecom companies to run better and stay relevant. In a recent interview with Telecom.com, Tom Craig, VP and General Manager of HPE Communications Technology Group highlighted that it will also play a key role in facing off against an ageing workforce

A particular area he highlighted was network operations automation. He describes how his organisation is using AI and ML to configure the network while maintaining the flexibility to intervene if needed. Ultimately, it’s about meeting customer expectations with less manpower. Naturally, this is a key strategy in the face of a shrinking talent pool.

It’s also a matter of gaining a competitive edge in the field. As Craig observes in the interview , if you go to the customer operations centre of many carriers you only have to see the number of post-it notes on service agents’ screens to see where they are with automation. However, what the anecdote unwittingly emphasises is the urgent need for tech talent – so it all comes back to people power in the end.

Diversify hiring strategies to reach fresh talent

To face the crisis an ageing workforce presents, telecom companies need to attract younger workers. This might seem like stating the obvious, but in order to do this, companies need to completely reappraise their hiring strategies. A key strategy will be to fully embrace more flexible working arrangements, including greater engagement with freelance talent. 

According to data published by Gallup, an incredible 94% of workers want hybrid or exclusively remote work options after the pandemic. Telecom players should baulk at this information; not only does it open doors for a more diverse workforce, Gallup’s research also demonstrated that they were more productive.

The natural progression of this policy is to increasingly turn to the more established variety of remote workers – the freelancer. This is a particularly powerful strategy to engage with younger talent; research from Deloitte suggested that even before the pandemic, 61% of millennials and Gen Z employees planned to go freelance in the next two years.

Diversifying hiring strategies doesn’t only enhance access to talent, it also dramatically increases efficiency. In the 2023 A Team HR & Hiring Outlook Report, 67% of founders and tech leaders told us the traditional recruitment process is “broken and needs an overhaul—primarily because it’s too long and expensive.” 

Meanwhile, forward-thinking companies that have dived into liquid talent are enjoying the savings that come with pay-as-you-go employment models. They’re also saving time – analysis shows that hard-to-find tech rolls take three months to fill, on average. Meanwhile, companies leveraging the right intermediaries are filling rolls in as little as 48 hours.

Time to take action

In her speech, Keri Gilder said the telecoms industry is in a downward spiral. She said if something isn’t done about the ageing workforce, we’ll be looking at a very different landscape. If most telecom professionals weren’t already aware of this, these words certainly hammer home the depth of the crisis.

To exacerbate the situation, other industries have the same problem and are battling it out for the same talent. These forces are placing huge pressure on operating models and telecoms must adapt – or face an existential threat that the growth of hyperscalers has already foretold.

Real change to precipitate real business outcomes will lie in how telecoms strategise in the war for talent. They need to embrace diversity and inclusion, particularly to attract and retain female talent. They need to deploy new technologies and secure the talent to do so. And, to find this talent, they need to look to the freelance market to expand their talent pool. But, the first step will be identifying the correct tools to tap this market.

The right partner for telecoms

Outvise was founded by three ex-telco consultants and MBAs. Way back in 2014, when the liquid talent revolution was in its infancy, Eusebi, Alex and Pau met at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. We agreed that telecom companies needed new solutions for talent sourcing and that’s how Outvise was born.

Today, the network has gone from strength to strength, with profiles from over 36,000+ of the highest calibre Business Tech professionals. These profiles are fully verified and positioned all over the world, ready for work on-site or remotely. With a special emphasis on telecoms, companies can find the technical, financial, and management talent they need in just a few clicks.

Find out more about Outvise for telecoms here and take the first step to diversify your talent sourcing strategy. 

Seasoned marketing professional with 13 years of international experience working in hospitality, financial, technology, retail industries and consumer brands.
FTTH Council Europe Women in Fibre Committee Member.

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