Making a Future-Ready Telecom Workforce

India Skill Report says about 4% aged 18-21 years are employable and only 39% aged between 22-25 years are employable. With the advent of latest technologies, the point to ponder is–are we really job-ready for the future?

The skill gap whirlwind is gradually engulfing the entire world today. The US, the UK markets are experiencing the repercussions of skill gap and how it affects the economics of a country. And now, with the advent of latest technologies like Machine to Machine, Internet of Things, Automation, Robotics and or in other words, with Industry 4.0 also paving its way, it has become important to talk about skill shortages.

According to a Talent Shortage Survey, 40% employers find it difficult to fill roles globally and 48% Indian employers are facing talent shortages. With respect to India, there are some startling numbers coming from the India Skill Report 2017 that says about 4% aged 18-21 years are employable and only 39% aged between 22-25 years are employable.

At the same time, as per latest data, the telecom industry would need over 47 lakh additional skilled manpower by 2021-22 over and above the present strength of around 40 lakh. According to industry experts, service providers will need to recruit more zonal managers, O&M professionals, BTS engineers, network engineers and many others.

Over 70% of the requirements of service providers will have to be filled by individuals in graduate and above categories. Similarly, infrastructure providers will address over 50% of their requirement from higher secondary and below categories. Seventy percent of the requirement in equipment manufacturing sub sector will have to be filled by graduate and above categories, with engineering roles accounting for a lions’ share.

And with the coming of latest technologies, the situation becomes more severe. An Infosys study has highlighted that “67% of telcos and communication service providers have a difficult time finding qualified staff to lead integration of AI technologies, so there is still a long road ahead when it comes to closing the skills gap in the industry.”
The study also pointed out that by adopting AI, telecom operators will have the advantage to “improve efficiency in network performance monitoring, predictive performance and configurations of data routing. It would also help in restructuring of business models. But still a lot more to be done for integration of AI and for the same, up-skilling turns out to be the need of the hour.”

The New Tech Era

Globally, only 17% telecom and communications companies are deploying technology of any significance, and a lot more needs to be explored, the Infosys survey said.

“By adopting AI, machine learning and robotic automation, telcos can reduce manual intervention, manage volume, introduce flexibility, and increase speed to respond. When it comes to business model, it is important for telcos to constantly focus on innovation. We have demonstrated in field significant savings in term of open and time to market that automation can bring to the fold,” says Sanjay Kaul, Managing Director, Service Provider Business, Cisco India & Saarc.
Cisco spends over $6 billion a year on R&D and all that is fructifying into creating a compelling offering for telcos – a network they need to thrive in the marketplace. That’s the key is to success, Kaul adds.

Today, the telco sector is contemplating to up-skill workforce through integration of latest technologies. Integration of CRM systems with customer data and automation would help telcos to enable the intersection between data and AI, which would result in smooth functioning of complex operations.

Vodafone has already launched an AI-based assistant called TOBi, which is a chatbot that can handle end number of customer queries. France-based Orange has also launched an AI-powered virtual assistant –Djingo that helps to improve the user experience for services such as TV and online banking. Meanwhile, US-based AT&T is also mulling to make AI as a ‘key enabler’ of next-gen wireless technology, with this AT&T hopes that 75% of its network will be virtualized by 2020, as per media reports.

“We believe that for telcos to flourish, they need to make bold calls in terms of getting rid of legacy to usher into technologies that bring in substantial efficiency rather than piece-meal optimization. New age technologies like network functions virtualization, self optimization network, software defined Networks, segment routing, telemetry, automation of data centers and network have the potential to reduce cost of production to the levels to make business case for data fly,” adds Kaul.

In India, although the latest technologies have created a lot of buzz, but the demand is skill development of current and future workforce.
With growing deployment of networks and applications/services in Digital India, a cross section of skill sets ranging from network deployment to maintenance are required. Since telecom network has become critical infrastructure covering many important verticals in the context of digital payment/financial network, smart city etc, diverse skill sets in applications and services have also become crucial.
Security also holds significance and we need large manpower who are skilled in network and cyber security aspects.

“With 4G deployment on-going and expected trial and roll out of 5G in near future, we need to be prepared for specialized knowledge and skill sets that these technologies would require. We need more thrust on training in Cyber Security, IoT and Machine to Machine networking, Cloud networking and services etc. With future networks enabling convergence of computing and communications and increasing softwarization of networks, skills in specialized software will become important. We need to develop a roadmap for capacity building in these areas,” says Prof Abhay Karandikar of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B).

According to Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder, PayTM: “The most important skills are now using technology very comfortably across everyday life. Led by smartphones and cloud, we will need new age technologies like big data analytics and app development related skills as necessity. We will provide internal training and training by experts to upgrade our IT people.”

Skill Sets for Digital India

Initiatives like Digital India, Make in India, etc. need huge resources with different skill sets. Though there are many institutes in India which are working towards the skill development of the young population, unemployment is still high.
The objective is to educate and train youth with skill sets that is required on the job. To achieve this, the academia needs to align themselves properly with the industry.

Today, the market is disrupted by emerging technologies (sensors, IoT, crypto-currency, blockchain, robotics, etc.), the young should be equipped with skills to survive in a world of automation. The curriculum in ICT based universities need to be upgraded to meet the demands of Industry. Vocational courses, internship with enterprises, R&D Institutes, etc. can reshape the students and make them ready for future opportunities.

“The key to counter unemployment is to make sure that the young population is job ready with new-age skills rather than debating on creating more employment,” elaborates Hemant Joshi, Partner, Deloitte India.

Many telecom operators are working on retraining their workforce into new ways of working like design thinking, squads and tribes approach of product development. However, still a lot of awareness is required when it comes to skill development. In a positive move, telcos have started investing in startups, which are into latest technologies such as machine learning, digital studio, and security capabilities, to bridge the skill gap.

Last year, Bharti Airtel tied up with online education and learning company Coursera to equip its employees for future technologies. More such initiatives are required by the telecom companies and they should tie up with universities to align the future workforce accordingly. Currently, Coursera, Educart, Udacity, among others are some institutions which are offering courses related to future technologies.

Some skill building initiatives have been taken by industry bodies such as Assocham and Nasscom. Assocham has entered into a deal with the Ministry of Electronics and IT and has zeroed in on eight important upcoming technologies of the future– AI, VR, Robotic Process Automation, Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, 3D Printing, Cloud Computing, Social and Mobile.

Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also launched the ‘Future Skills’ platform while addressing the World Congress on Information Technology recently. “Digital India will necessarily have to ride on a robust digital infrastructure. The rolling out and subsequent operationalization of this robust digital infrastructure will require skilled manpower in both digital infrastructure companies as also other businesses that will be exploiting this infrastructure. TSSC is therefore, laying great stress on making the ‘Skill India’ an initiative of Government of India a reality”, says Lt Gen Dr. SP Kochhar, CEO, TSSC.

“The key to creating talented personnel is imparting the right set of skills and providing proper hands-on training. A strong and skilled workforce will aid the growth of local manufacturing and increase job opportunities, thus strengthening the overall economic position of the country. At Xiaomi, we believe in providing our employees with regular professional trainings, enabling them to be competitive, adept and enhance their personal skill sets. Today, we have close to 400 employees working with Xiaomi and we have created over 10,000 jobs through the manufacturing facilities, service network, offline retail etc and they all have played an immensely important role in building the company and contributing to its success,” opines Raghu Reddy, Head – Online Sales, Xiaomi India.

Broadly, the academia and the industry should join hands for skill development. A strategic partnership between them would create a smooth path to bridge the skill gap.

Academia and industry should refine workforce to develop the Digital India mission. The government’s Skill India program needs to be revamped with a fresh thinking and approach to ensure that the Telecom Sector Skill and Electronics Sector Skill councils are able to endorse these future skill requirements.
The K-to-12 academia must also introduce these skills from the beginning so that interested youth may develop learning and interest to work in ICT ecosystem.

“In the telecom context, existing skills such as network management, coding, big data analytics, etc. are all being replaced through automation. Hence, it is about time that the present and future youth are exposed to new skill opportunities, where academia and industry will play a key role. The government must ensure that its job creation agenda is more focused, realistic and able to accommodate the future requirements in order to build a true Digital India,” opines Rahul Singh, Policy Analyst, Cuts International.

“For the inclusive growth of the economy, all the schemes need to work simultaneously and not individually. More than 5 lakh people have enrolled in the telecom sector in the last four years and our focus is on skilling the people by equipping them well in digital literacy and entrepreneurial skill set. Skill India Mission is cultivating an environment that fosters Make in India, Digital India and other schemes across the country,” informs Jayant Krishna, ED & COO,NSDC.

The new skills which can be acquired by the candidates are in big data, data analytics, cyber security, IoT and android. Big data is everywhere and there is almost an urgent need to collect and preserve whatever data is being generated, for the fear of missing out on something important. There is a huge amount of data floating around. What we do with it is all that matters right now. This is why Big Data Analytics is in the frontiers of IT. There are more job opportunities in Big Data Management and Analytics than there were last year.

According to Railtel: “For internet service providers collaboration will be the key to success. The collaborative business models will create value across the board. For example- The retail broadband service of RailTel- RailWire- is a collaborative model where RailTel has roped in local cable operators to solve the last mile issue in bringing internet to home. The right model for building the ICT skill and talent pool in India is to build the necessary institutional linkages so that the funds which are spent on skill development leads to entrepreneurship and jobs by dovetailing the connected programs”

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