How to attract digital talent to the telecommunications industry

How to attract digital talent to the telecommunications industry

Tim Arueyingho and Ruzanna Chitchyan

12 January 2023

Given the pervasiveness of telecommunication systems globally, it is normal to assume that this sector is ridden with talented recent graduates who have relevant skills to make game changing contributions. Discussions with the TM forum (an association of over 850 member telecommunications companies across 180 countries) have revealed that there is a serious lack of applications from digitally skilled graduates to the telecoms industry.

We would expect that the dynamic and evolving nature of technology in telecoms, the wide reliance on telecoms for both work and entertainment, and its well-established sectoral presence would attract both hard and software graduates.

Why then do telecommunication industries have challenges with recruiting the type of individuals that they require, especially at entry-level?

To answer this question, we undertook interviews with ten professionals working in the telecommunications industry (recruited through professional networks of BDFI and the TM Forum), and ten graduating (or just recently graduated) students. Based on interview study findings, a quantitative survey was designed and distributed across several countries in July-September 2022. The findings from the interviews and over 110 survey responses are discussed below.

Outcomes from interviews

The interviews revealed contrasting perceptions on the telecommunications industry between both employers and the students.

The employers saw the telecoms industry as dynamic, fast evolving and driving the cutting edge of digital technologies, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, software engineering, data analytics. They noted that the new generations of telecommunications employees need to have knowledge about the telecoms industry and practical digital skills (such as front- or back-end programming) which until recently were not considered key to this sector, but now are prerequisites for most entry level positions. The employers also noted the key relevance of such “soft” skills as curiosity, ability to adapt to change and willingness to learn - these are now essential due to the rate of change within the sector. Interestingly, most of the employers were under the impression that their sector should be very attractive to students and were surprised at the low level of digitally skilled graduate applications.

In contrast, the students perceived the telecoms sector’s offer as associated mostly with internet service provision, mobile communications, “cable laying” and customer-facing jobs.  The students thought that the sector lacked dynamicity and diversity.

Outcomes from survey

The survey findings corroborated responses from the interviews. Yet, it is critical to note the differences in perceptions based on respondents' culture and gender. For instance:

  • When comparing genders we observed that salary matters most to the males, while females prioritize work-life balance, career progression and good work culture. It is noteworthy that the different genders have very different points of view and different requirements for a job within the same country.
  • When choosing a job to apply, the graduate preferences differ significantly across countries:
  • Indian respondents ranked career progression, work-life balance and salary components highest. They thought of telecoms as related to research work and creating international connectivity. However, Indian females prioritise work-life balance, career progression and good work culture, additionally they perceive the telecoms industry as diverse and inclusive with Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning/Cloud focus.
  • British respondents consider the telecoms industry to be a software-focused and customer-facing with work that includes “cable laying” and “call centers”. The industry is perceived to have an outdated work culture where jobs are not ‘exciting’ or ‘innovative’.
  • Graduates from Brazil feel that the telecoms industry suffers from a severe lack of gender balance. They also prioritise flexible work hours and locations higher than respondents from any other countries.


Initial Recommendations to Telecoms Industry

The interview and survey outcomes have led us to the following recommendations:

  • Telecoms recruiters should work closer with education and training providers to promote awareness around the sector, e.g., by integrating telecommunications case studies into degree programs on Computer and Data Sciences or AI, providing opportunities for these graduates to meet with young employees within the sector and run Question and Answer sessions to learn about the jobs in the sector, sponsor events (such as hackathons etc.) to show prospective employees what the job content in telecoms are, etc..
  • Ensure online job advertisements present realistic skills requirements, are explicit about the novel technology stack used within the companies and avoid lengthy recruitment procedures.
  • To diversify talent intake, employers need to tailor their recruitment to the needs and expectations of the target demographics such as not only promoting financial benefits, but also larger societal impacts and the meaningfulness of the job, allowing flexible hours and home working for graduates etc..

    A belief summary of why the students should be engaged with this study is outlined in this video: Students: what do you want from a digital career? - YouTube