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Focusing on Talent Supply Chain to Power India's 5G Ambition

Telcos need to keep basic supply chain principles in mind to ensure that talent does not become the roadblock to the 5G dream for them and for the country.

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By Deval Singh and Jayashri S. Patil

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Telecom employment is expected to grow from 4 million to 8 million by 2025 in the most conservative of scenarios driven by 5G. Telcos need to keep some basic supply chain principles in mind to ensure that talent does not become the roadblock to the 5G dream for them and for the country.

With about 1.2 billion wireless subscribers and another 800 million broadband subscribers as of October 2021, India's telecom industry is not only one of the world's largest but is also one of the fastest-growing. While pundits expect India’s 5G adoption to be less than 10% of its user base by 2025, the new wave of digitization and demand for high speeds due to the shift to a hybrid may quickly change that. Regardless of which forecast one wishes to believe, the human capital investment to get to 5G is going to be massive. Already Telco employment is expected to double from the current 4 million and reach 8 million by 2025, the forecast adjustments will likely only move the target up.

The advent of futuristic technologies like AI and IoT holds tremendous promise for India, and for the world – these and several other new use cases like AR (Augmented Reality) and such had been banking on the super-high-speed and ultra-low latency that 5G promises even before COVID-19. Now, with COVID short-circuiting the digitization strategy for the world and providing a never before witnessed appetite by both public and private sectors to try new innovations, more use-cases that need 5G are likely to become mainstream faster – this only means that the penetration and proliferation of 5G are going to surpass anything we have seen in older technologies and may exceed any adoption forecasts that the pundits have.

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The telco industry will hence confront a surge in network traffic volume through an unprecedented proliferation of connected devices, new customers, and new use cases – both B2B and B2C. All this is going to bring a myriad of operational challenges that the industry needs to be ready for. But it doesn’t stop there, Telcos are set to face a double whammy with more complex infrastructure management with almost 50% more frequency bands for 5G alone than 2G, 3G, and 4G combined!

Over the past two decades, we witnessed the Telecom sector connecting more people by penetrating every corner of the country. But the upcoming challenge is the biggest Telcos have faced yet, however, it also brings along with it tremendous opportunities – for Telcos, Service providers like SaaS companies, and for the country as a whole, creating along the way a tsunami of jobs - jobs to enable 5G, jobs to manage 5G, and jobs for services enabled by 5G.

An INR 12,000 crore is already set to come into the Telecom sector through the PLI scheme, of which about 25% will go into creating new jobs, generating the momentum needed towards the greater number of employment opportunities in this sector. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The implementation of 5G in the country needs millions of skilled and semi-skilled workers, and the OTT services enabled, as a result, will create an even larger set of roles across almost all industries.

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Unlocking talent supply chains is going to be a universal challenge. While it is not as urgent a situation for other verticals, for Telcos resolving this should be a top priority – it could spell the difference between whether you will be ahead on the 5G highway or, will you see the competition's taillights driving off into the distance. There will be a lot that will have to be said and done before we reach a steady state. For now, we offer three basic pieces of advice to keep in mind on this journey:

Focus on skills needed for implementation and planning different scenarios

We have already established that the rate of demand for 5G is going to be immense. As Telcos prepare for implementation, the runaway leaders in the sector will have a clear view of the skill sets they need to implement, manage and maintain the future infrastructure. They should already have at least a rudimentary model of labor demand forecast for all the skill sets along with the timing for when these will be needed.

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We expect that the forecasts of 5G adoption could be significantly lower than reality; the smart players will thus have several scenarios ready for the demand forecast and an understanding of indicators that will allow them to know which scenario to trigger.

Engage with your talent supply chain partners early

To allow for sanity checks on your talent demand models and scenarios – the real question for them (and for you) would be their readiness to support your talent demand. Supply chain partners can be your launch boats to help build a talent base for the skills that are in scarcity today, especially in the context of anything new needed for 5G.

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Your talent supply chain partners, can by themselves, or through their ecosystem provide the necessary training, upskilling, and cross-skilling that may be needed for both external and internal talent. Telcos must also explore their HR and operations staff to identify SPOCs to work collaboratively with the supply chain partners to ensure that the latest and greatest information on talent strategy is transmitted in real-time so as to prevent anyone in the supply chain from being out of step.

Refine Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) metrics to “actually” increase your talent supply base

“Metrics drive behavior” - while all companies are doing a commendable job of increasing workforce diversity, the right D&I metrics for your hiring team will help increase your talent supply base for better choice and stronger final selection. Take a scenario where you have 40 men and 20 women applying for 30 jobs, a hypothetical metric of 50% gender balance could mean that 15 out of 20 female applicants need to be hired. Now consider a metric for the hiring team to increase the number of female applications to match the number of male applicants. The hiring team now has to create a lineup of 40 male and 40 female candidates – you now have 80 candidates to choose from, a wider female applicant base, and a stronger resulting workforce.

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Especially now, with hybrid workplaces becoming more ubiquitous, the hiring teams have more leeway to reach wider geographical bases to tap into diversity and achieve this and other D&I metrics. Ironically, implementing 5G will further enable and expand the hybrid workforce. So, having your hiring team working on the right D&I metrics at the pipeline stage is going to prepare them even more for the hybrid workforce reality of the future.

In summary, take a leaf from the manufacturing industry and use the analytical toolkit from their material supply chains to improve your human capital supply chains. 5G is going to be a game-changer and will fuel the next industrial revolution and ideas across the globe. Preparedness for 5G, with the right policies, the right partners, and the right workforce is the need of the hour and all eyes are on the telco players. At Teamlease, we are constantly working on new tools and ideas to help our customers achieve their talent strategy goals, and we find best practices across functions and industries to maximize efficiency and effectiveness in all things Talent.

Deval Singh is the Business Head- Telecom, IT& ITes, Media and Government, TeamLease Services, and Jayashri S. Patil is the Head- Research, TeamLease Services

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