The Future of the workforce - Telco
The Telecoms industry must meet the challenge of both transforming its own business and publicly leading the charge, casting a sharp spotlight on the...
The changing shape of the telecoms team
Covid-19 has had the unexpected side effect of accelerating the digital transformation of many organisations.
The telecoms industry must meet the challenge of both transforming its own business and publicly leading the charge, casting a sharp spotlight on the sector. The role of the workforce is front and centre in this transformation, yet there remain many questions – and therefore considerable uncertainty - over what the future of the workforce should look like:
- What skills does the workforce need – and how does that map against existing capabilities?
- How will the workforce be structured?
- How will organisations adapt their approach to workforce management in order to make skills easily available?
- What is the right balance between internal employees and external expertise?
- How can diversity be encouraged?
- What will be the impact of AI and automation on the workforce?
- How do organisations take their people on the journey?
Answering these questions will be the first step for an industry already struggling with skills shortages. Better use of employee data through adopting AI and big data analysis tools will make a dramatic difference in the industry’s ability to manage and upskill its employees.
The message is clear: there is a huge opportunity now to drive change and become digital leaders for the future, but if the telecoms industry does not attend to these challenges and define its value to the market, it will be swallowed up by its more agile digital competitors.
Preparing for the workforce of the future
Disruption continues apace in the telecoms industry, but 2020 will no doubt go down as the year of make or break.
The emergence of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns has placed unprecedented pressure on the industry in terms of customer experience, service delivery and infrastructure resilience.
The pivotal role of telecoms in keeping UK PLC up and running has allowed many to quickly reposition themselves as part of the critical national infrastructure. It’s not a title of which to be envious: any failure is not just bad PR, it could literally be a matter of life and death – it’s a responsibility only the most robust organisations can withstand.
Yet Covid-19 has also resulted in the acceleration of digital transformation for many organisations: the adoption of cloud and collaboration technologies as organisations seek to support remote working is a prime example. Indeed the ONS statistics for April 2020 showed that 49.2% of adults were successfully working from home, due to social distancing measures. This is from a base of around only 5% at the beginning of the year. Having absorbed the shock, and dealt with the reaction, many telcos are already looking to reimagine their future, to understand what the next normal will be, and how they can reset their businesses and operating models to be fit for purpose in a more digitally advanced economy. More than this, they are looking to proactively lead the disruption that is affecting the sector.
A key part of this is the transformation of the workforce. Innovation begins and ends with people and culture. Already, many of the traditional roles within a telco are in decline, and challenges around the capability of the existing workforce are in question.
So what jobs will we see in the future telco, what will be the impact of automation, and what sort of skills will workforces need to deliver on future customer expectations? In this report we examine the challenge of skills shortages within the telco industry; consider how jobs are changing and the need to reskill the workforce accordingly; the role of new technologies such as AI in creating a hybrid workforce; and the impact this is likely to have on the telecoms workforce.
Meeting the challenge of skills shortages
The make-up of the traditional telco workforce has been in flux for some time.
The need to bring in skills to innovate and ultimately lead the story around IoT, 5G, Cloud, Software Defined Networks, AI and Big Data has had to be balanced against the need to maintain and support the legacy connectivity and infrastructure business – and its millions of customers. The result is that the workforce has remained heavily weighted towards engineers and contact centre agents, and telcos are having to face up to a huge skills shortage. Left unaddressed, this will have a seismic impact on the industry.
Understanding the Skills Gap
The skills gap in the workforce is a significant area of concern, with the WEF research suggesting that 75% of telcos cite a local skills gap as the main barrier to innovation, and that the average telco is already looking to reskill 50% of its workforce in order to be future-ready. Within the UK, the challenge is more focused around understanding and managing skills. Whilst HR leaders face a wide range of challenges in this area, the need to improve the use of data and insight is mission-critical:
- Only 24% claim to have full visibility of the current skills within their workforce
- 44% are assessing skills requirements by gut feel rather than through data and insight – with 42% feeling that this will always play a role regardless of the data
- Ironically, 50% are held back by what is often termed ‘analysis paralysis’ – there is simply too much data to generate actionable insight easily
Telcos must invest in analysis and AI solutions to help them turn their data into actionable intelligence if they are to meet their business objectives and deliver a workforce that is ready for the future.
Creating a growth mindset
Learnability is repeatedly described as the must have employee characteristic of the future. It refers to both the ability and the desire to learn new skills, and the willingness to adapt to change.
According to Capita’s research, 96% of telcos want to build skills internally rather than buy skills externally. Indeed, learnability is seen as key to creating the future workforce, with nearly two thirds (63%) agreeing it is fundamental to increased innovation and creativity.
It also works to futureproof the workforce: recruit and retain the people will the best ability to learn, adapt and reskill, and you don’t need to worry about what future knowledge you need, because your workforce can learn, adapt and deliver, regardless. This is why learnability is so relevant.
However, according to the Capita research, only 48% of the workforce currently display high levels of learnability. That leaves telcos with what must feel like an impossible task to address. The research revealed some wider challenges:
- Lack of top down support: often one of the first budgets to be hit, nearly half (49%) HR directors say they have no resources or budget to support the implementation of a learning culture
- No time for employees: where innovation-entrenched companies such as Amazon are giving employees dedicated time each week, less than 1 in 3 telcos (31%) is prepared to invest in learning / training that takes employees out of their role for an extended amount of time. In fact, the average time spent learning within a telco is a paltry 2.7 hours per week.
- However, when asked, HR directors felt on average that 3.8 hours a week learning would be sufficient. This is significantly less than more agile competitors are giving their staff today
- Culture is not embedded: only 22% are confident they have a firmly embedded learning culture within their organisation
Most interestingly, for a sector that wants to build skills internally, only a quarter prioritise promoting internally where possible.
There is then a disconnection between the clear ambition of the HR teams to deliver the right workforce for the future – one that will deliver on business performance, and the support they are getting from the board.
This may be because of perceived lack of tangible ROI. Yet evidence suggests that investment in learning is clearly linked to increased productivity. Again, investment in the right data tools and analysis will help demonstrate the ROI for the company and secure future funds.
Identifying skills for the future
The ability to adapt and integrate new technology is fundamental to business growth.
Thus, having a highly skilled workforce is paramount in the telecoms sector: it not only needs to respond to the technological change, it needs to publicly drive that change and innovation too.
That is why telcos can’t rely on having one or two high-powered figureheads akin to Elon Musk at Tesla: they need an entire workforce that can pivot to change quickly and fluidly in order to deliver for their customers.
This is a long way from where the industry is today.
Korn Ferry’s study on ‘The Global Talent Crunch’ found technology, media, and telecoms (TMT) employers will face a global shortfall of 4.3 million workers by 2030: in the UK, that will result in failing to realise almost 9% of TMT sector potential revenue, valued at £22.2bn.
Crucially, Capita’s research suggests that only 28% of HR leaders are fully confident the business has the skills they need to meet business objectives over the next 5 years.
The need to address the future skills and roles of the entire workforce is therefore compelling.
Capita’s research reveals both the skills that telcos should be looking for in their future workforce, and the role types they should consider building or – for the moment – buying in, when looking at reskilling programmes:
This shift away from jobs to skills is already underway. Evidence from the World Economic Forum (WEF) demonstrates that technology specialist roles that demand a broad skillset are already rapidly emerging at the expense of more generic administrative and secretarial roles, which are in decline.
This is a trend seen across many industries; those with this skillset will be in high demand and telcos will face stiff competition, especially
from new entrants into the digital communications space, where it is already losing the talent war.
The engineering-centricity of the telco world should not be forgotten. According to research from Qualcomm, skills to develop and deliver 5G will be essential – there will be an additional 605,000 5G-related jobs created in the UK alone by 2035. Indeed much of the AR, VR and related technology that the ‘emerging’ roles will support are intrinsically dependent on the successful roll-out of 5G.
"There will be an additional 605,000 5G-related jobs created in the UK by 2035."
One thing is clear: these jobs and skills are in their infancy today, and it will take a significant investment in training and upskilling on the part of telcos to deliver in order to close the gap.
RPA and AI are often seen as a cause for concern by employees, who can fear their work will be automated and their jobs made redundant.
There is certainly evidence to suggest that organisations are actively pursuing the automation of jobs which are highly repetitive and mundane.
The telecoms industry has been identified as being at particular risk of disruption: data from the Office of National Statistics suggests that many telco-specific roles are likely to be automated at least in part:
- Telecommunications engineers were listed as having a 49% probability of automation, with IT engineers just behind at 45%.
- Customer service agents – whom make up the majority of the telecoms workforce – were at 55%, with call and contact centre operators at 54%
- But no-one is exempt. Telecommunications directors and senior managers themselves face a 25% probability, with other telecoms professionals just behind at 27%.
This is supported by data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) which indicates that within the IT and Communications industry, people will lean more and more on machines to complete tasks.
It's important to note, however, that the WEF does not imply replacement, only that the workforce will begin to take a hybrid approach, with roles being completed through a combination of human and technological input.
This shift is already recognised with the telecoms industry.
Research by Capita released in 2019 found that 82% of HR Directors in IT and Telecoms expected the number of roles requiring people to collaborate with AI to increase in the next 5 years.
A final thought; where many have talked about technology augmenting the human workforce, it may be more appropriate to consider that human creativity, innovation and ability to solve complex problems will augment the mundane tasks completed by bots: human-augmented technology.
A streamlined, specialist workforce to counter digital disruption
As we have already seen, telcos will need to re-orientate away from heavily defined jobs towards skills and task-based roles: these roles will inevitably be hybrid.
But it’s not just about the jobs and roles. Moving ahead, telcos will need to reconsider the entire way their people and teams are structured, in order to foster a culture of innovation and begin to create their own disruptive momentum.
There are clear indications that telcos are already making these changes, moving towards a significantly streamlined workforce that is built around specialist expertise in new technologies.
Capita’s research supports this, with 93% of HR directors with IT and Telecoms agreeing that within 5 years they would have a core group of high performers, with remaining talent bought in when and where needed. Furthermore, 72% of HR Directors said they would not be increasing permanent staff. This speaks to telcos moving away from hyper-rigid hierarchies towards a more fluid structure. Indeed 87% of HR directors said they were already focusing on developing cross functional teams, which will be fundamental to bringing together the diversity of thought and perspective that is fundamental to innovation.
And this isn’t the only change underway. Whilst the future may feel impossible to predict, many HR Directors are already undertaking a broad range of activities to help reshape and optimise their workforce in line with a more fluid, innovative approach:
- 88% are redesigning jobs and creating new roles, reflecting the impact of hybridised job roles, changing customer demand and the need for new technological expertise
- In line with the need for learnability and the ability to change, 85% are providing options for non-linear career paths. This will be fundamental to retaining key staff.
- Having identified that 50% of the workforce needs reskilling, 85% are already upskilling their employees in new and emerging job categories.
Accelerating to deliver on these changes will be critical if telcos are to successfully transform their businesses and take control of the disruption that surrounds them.
Transforming skills into competitive advantage
Future success is built on a company’s ability to adapt quickly and innovatively to customer demand.
For the telecoms industry, the success or otherwise of its transformation will be built on the ability to exploit their data more effectively, using AI and other data analysis tools to inform and accelerate decision-making as well as to justify spend. For its workforce, this means:
- Understand the skills gaps and opportunity: The HR team must take control of the vast employee data available to them and use it to gain clear insight into the skills gaps within the company and inform their upskilling and reskilling initiatives if they are to meet their business objectives and deliver a workforce that is ready for the future
- Create a memorable customer experience: The telco industry is ripe for automation. But rather than seeing it as a risk, employers must help their people to embrace automation, AI and other technological enhancements to their roles. This way they can use the enhanced insight to create amazing customer experiences that build loyalty and advocacy
- Provide justification of investment: The jobs and skills of tomorrow are in their infancy today, and it will take a significant investment in training and upskilling on the part of telcos to deliver in order to close the gap. For the board, data must be used to understand and demonstrate the clear ROI of people transformation, and to justify further investment to their investors and stakeholders.
Expectations are high both within the industry, and for those watching. There is a sense of changing perspective and priorities. The days of technology dominating the innovation conversation at the expense of the people who will develop, implement and adopt it are gone.
The reality is that people now form the basis of competitive advantage. It is time for the telecoms industry to act, because only by taking these three steps can the telecoms industry can transform itself into the digital leaders of the future.