Historic Fiber Deployments Demand Workforce Change
Consulting firm RVA’s1 recently released “2023-2024 North American Fiber Broadband Report: FTTH and 5G Review And Forecast” shared there could be 100 million+ fiber passings in the United States over the next ten years or so. This is in addition to the estimated 68 million homes already passed with FTTH in the US alone (63 Million unique homes excluding homes passed twice or more).
This effort demands a talented engineering and operational workforce. Unfortunately, the telecom industry faces a significant talent bottleneck, because older, more experienced workers are retiring or moving to new roles. Finding new workers who possess the talent, skills, and knowledge required to support the fiber rollout is becoming increasingly difficult.
Executives in the industry are not unaware of this challenge. According to a global survey by McKinsey,2 90% of tech executives and managers report skill gaps in their organization, or anticipate them to arise in the next five years. Furthermore, a recent study by Veriforce3 highlights that 86% of telecom company executives identified a lack of skilled workers as the primary challenge facing the industry.
Additional factors have further complicated the task of maintaining a skilled workforce—regardless of age. Industry perception is one. Educational upskilling is another. Not because there aren’t professional development options out there, but because they may be misaligned with industry needs, and the teaching methods don’t resonate with younger engineers who need upskilling.
The real question then is how can operators accelerate fiber deployments with these headwinds?
The key is to attract and retain and engage two groups of talented professionals:
- Experienced current employees who can be upskilled to meet providers’ engineering requirements.
- Younger digital natives who are motivated and excited by the latest technological advances.
"A recent study by Veriforce highlightsthat 86% of telecom company executives identified a lack of skilled workers as the primary challenge facing the industry."
Understanding Digital Natives
Let’s explore ways to do this. McKinsey’sstudy on “The Next Telco Battleground”4 shares that the network engineering talent of operators needs to move beyond specializing in radio capabilities. With virtualization becoming prevalent, differentiation will rely on a broader range of tech skills and capabilities.
Operators and recruiters can and should seize this opportunity by empowering the digital natives they may already have on their teams.
Remember, digital natives are those professionals who grew up with digital tools and technologies, since they were born after 1980. Vantage Circle5 does a good job sharing several key characteristics of digital natives.
- They are effortlessly comfortable with technology. They use multiple platforms to problem-solve and make decisions.
- They require immediate feedback for almost everything they do. Think about their social media habits; they seek high numbers of likes for posts.
- They value flexibility. They believe remote work and flexible hours allow them to be most productive.
- They demand cultural cohesion. They will only work for companies that value the same things they do. LinkedIn’s research found 86% of these professionals will take a reduction in pay to work in a company that acts on the same values as their own.
- They want consistent positive feedback. If they feel their efforts are not appreciated, they will move on.
Leveraging their strengths and upskilling this talented cohort may be one strategy to solve the workforce challenges the telecom industry faces. The characteristics mentioned above share why companies should speak to digital natives’ strengths by meeting them where they are—using technologies like interactive virtual training, gamification, and more. Then, take it one step further by upgrading the internal software used to manage their networks to be the "mother tongue" of those engineers who are digital natives.
Motivating Existing Employees
While a focus on new talent is crucial, operators must also remember to leverage the strengths of existing employees. The successful rollout of fiber relies on buy-in from all employees, ensuring everyone sees the value in new technology being implemented and feels actively involved in achieving business goals.
Operators should take existing employees’ wealth of experience into account during the evaluation, selection, and implementation stages. By actively participating, workers witness the tangible benefits of digital transformation firsthand. This leads to a virtuous feedback loop, where employees recognize how meaningful their changes are and feel even more compelled to support digital transformations.
Existing employees are the backbone of company culture. Ensuring they are involved in the digital transformation process creates a culture of innovation and collaboration. By keeping your current employees top-of-mind, operators are more likely to build an efficient, productive, and motivated workforce made up of highly experienced and knowledgeable workers.
Meet Employees Where They Are
Remember, digital evolution may feel daunting to employees, particularly those of older generations. There is a risk of leaving workers feeling disenfranchised as a new generation of employees with more compatible skill sets is introduced to handle new technology. Broadband operators must take the steps to clarify the benefits of modern technology and provide assurance that implementation of more tech-focused technologies is not intended to replace employees but rather to enhance their working lives.
Digital natives and existing older employees benefit when technology meshes with their value system. Operators should highlight how technology democratizes access to vital information, equipping workers with the necessary tools to complete jobs to the best of their abilities.
Involving the entire workforce is imperative in the swift and smooth rollout of fiber technology. Operators can achieve this by providing up-to-date operational technology that capitalizes on the competencies of both digital natives AND existing employees.
Both groups deserve to continue professional development that helps advance network evolution. Consider upskilling in digital twin technology, virtualization, edge computing and other future imperatives that will meet your end-users and employees’ needs.