While new technologies, applications and services are progressing at a rapid clip for service providers, skilled employees who are able to develop and implement them are in short supply.
Virtualization of networks, the move to the cloud and digital transformations -- for carriers and their customers -- have led to a dearth of skilled employees across areas -- such as DevOps, big data and security.
According to new report that was published this week by the Linux Foundation, the most sought after employee skills are open source cloud (47%), application and development (44%) and big data (43%) while security and DevOps each were at 42%.
Due to the lack of skilled employees across various sectors, service providers are faced with re-training their current employees or hiring new ones who have IT-based experience. These cultural transformations for current service provider employees are further exacerbated by the prospect of automation and machine learning leading to fewer jobs down the road.
"We hear abut this from operators all over," said IHS Markit's Michael Howard, senior research director of carrier networks, during a Telco Transformation radio show earlier this month. (See IHS Markit: Service Providers' SDN Ambitions and Plans.) "They have to have employees that know about not just networks, but also about IT. It's one of the prime barriers. It's not one of the top two, but it's definitely a prime barrier."
Howard pointed to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as a prime example of a service provider that took training its employees to heart when it first started its virtualization effort with Domain 2.0. AT&T's Vision 2020 was created to transform the telco's workforce with new skill sets but to also build a "one team" culture. (See For AT&T, Cultural Transformation Begets Digital Data Transformation and DevOps: AT&T's Saxena on Building a 'One-Team Culture'.)
"What we all have heard in the news is that AT&T has set up classes, and they told their employees that everything's changing." Howard said. "They've told them 'We need to be online. We need to be automated. We need to be on-demand. Everything is changing in the operational procedures. We want you employees to come along with us.' They have a number of programs put in place."
While virtualization technologies, such as SDN and NFV, are relatively new, a lack of engineers in the telecom sector is not. Companies such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)
started sponsoring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and FIRST Robotics programs years ago.
But service providers are now competing with other verticals, such as healthcare, financial, and enterprises companies, for qualified employees.
"It's a problem for us," said BT's Neil McRae, chief network architect, when asked if there was a shortage of skilled employees. "I think it's a problem for everybody."
With more than 100,000 employees, BT is well equipped to shuffle employees from one area to another as needed. For example, McRae said "a load of ATM experts" were now SD-WAN experts.
"We've got the machinery in BT to really reuse, train and educate our people," McRae said. "Will we need more of those people? Will we need some leaders or teachers in that space? Absolutely. We will bring those people on board at the appropriate time to build those centers of excellence."
In the UK, McRae said BT has been working with the government to help secondary schools and universities put more of a focus on programming, logic and math curriculums prior to technology apprenticeships. Once they join BT, McRae said his company would build curriculums around the new hires to make sure they were learning the specific skill sets needed for their new jobs.
"We need to train the existing colleagues that we've got, we need to ensure that there's a trickle of new colleagues coming into the industry and we need to make sure that there's a really fulfilling career for them," he said.
You're invited to attend Light Reading's Virtualizing the Cable Architecture event – a free breakfast panel at SCTE/ISBE's Cable-Tec Expo on October 18 featuring Comcast's Rob Howald and Charter's John Dickinson.
McRae said that he goes to schools to talk with students all of the time about the opportunities in telecommunications, but "it doesn't feel quite like an exciting industry to go into."
"I think our industry hasn't done a great job of selling how exciting it is," he said. "We genuinely are one of the few industries that can actually influence the world in terms of connecting people and making things happen. I think that connecting people is what we have to sell to encourage more people to join us. IT, data centers, clouds, the web; these are an exciting places to work. It can really be lucrative and it can be very fulfilling, but we have to do a better job of selling it."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation