Telecom and OSS has a talent and diversity problem. Or does it?

The telecom industry is hurtling towards a staffing and skills precipice at a frightening pace, and truly embracing diversity and inclusion in recruitment and human resources strategies looks to be the only way to avoid a calamity, a somewhat sombre Keri Gilder [CEO of Colt Technology Services, a UK-based telco] told attendees here [at TM Forum’s DTW event] in Copenhagen this week… 
One of the big problems is the average age of the people employed in the operations departments of telcos. “Just look around – we’re facing a retirement cliff in our industry… The great resignation is upon us,” noted Gilder, looking around the keynote auditorium at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen. No one argued that she was wrong. (It was an issue also hinted at by Jon James, CEO of Danish service provider Nuuday, which has a business underpinned by an IT system that only a team nearing to retirement knows how to operate.)

Ray Le Maistre, in this fantastic article at Telecom TV.

The same precipice is seen by many OSS suppliers, especially those in western countries. There are so many facets to this issue, but we’ll cover three of them in this article today:

  1. They’re right about telcos (and OSS companies) having a lack of youth and diversity
  2. However, I believe they’re also wrong about the industry having a lack of youth
  3. Complexity is a barrier to entry that hinders skills development (and so many other aspects of what the OSS industry to trying to achieve for the telco industry)

On point one, the telcos are exactly right. Almost anywhere you look inside telcos or OSS suppliers, you’ll see an over-representation of older, Caucasian men, particularly in leadership and technical / operational roles.

On point two, I believe they’re quite wrong. Telcos don’t seem to realise that they’ve off-shored all the “apprenticeship” roles for years so the youth they want to see are largely overseas (out of sight, out of mind arguably). If that’s where the projects are, that’s where the skills are being developed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that Google (Sundar Pichai), Microsoft (Satya Nadella), IBM (Arvind Krishna), Twitter (Parag Agrawal) and other tech companies have CEOs that buck the trend being observed in telco. Leading telcos like Verizon (Hans Vestberg), AT&T (John T Stankey), T-Mobile (Mike Sievert), Deutsche Telekom (Timotheus Hottges), Vodafone (Nick Read), BT (Philip Jansen) and many others including Passionate About OSS (me), reinforce the trend.

However, working with the solution integrators where a lot of the apprenticeships are being done, it seems there’s a lack of diversity in the apprentices there too. It makes me wonder whether the current wave of homogeneous leadership might eventually be replaced by another wave of different, but newly homogeneous leadership. Time will tell.

Onto the third dot-point, one of the challenges we face is that there is so much complexity, so much fragmentation (500+ listings in our OSS/BSS Vendor Directory) and a massive lack of consistency (despite lots of standardisation efforts) between organisations. This means there’s a large barrier to entry for people to come from outside the industry, or even outside little niches within the industry, and be able to influence the entrenched ways of thinking. I sense that fragmentation means that the diversity of thought is spent on competition with others rather than carrying the industry forward at a more rapid rate. These are structural hurdles that prevent diversity and inclusion from taking hold, not just of diversity by race, religion, gender, etc, but diversity of thought.

I was lucky enough to start in an era where I could do my apprenticeship on challenging projects (although it took a lot of overseas projects to get the opportunity). However, it has always worried me that there are layers upon layers of group-think occurring in our industry. I include my own thinking in this worry. I’m always considering / seeking contrarian approaches, in a (perhaps vain) attempt to avoid thinking like so many others in the telco / OSS space.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your diversity of opinion on this vitally important topic in the comment section below!

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2 Responses

  1. Related to your 3rd aspect, namely, “complexity”, you may first check, simply:
    1. How many, that are involved in “Telecom”, had undertaken a training courses on “What a Cellular Network is?
    2. Related to Data/IP traffic in Cellular Network (now in 5G all the PDU/IP traffic (all 5 PDU formats) run on GTP-U…So how many had undertaken some training of GPRS…?
    3. In the last 10-15 years, how many had been involved in:
    3.1 Deploy and commissioning of complete, E2E Cellular Network (Core, Distribution, RAN,
    OSS/BSS, SL Platforms & Applications, Terminals and have some “basic” understanding “how
    it works” when one turns on her/his phone with RM and CM in the Network?
    3.1.1. How many in Telco have some “general understanding about the difference on the QoS
    requirements in LTE (QCI) and 5G (5QI) and the evolvement for E2E connection from the
    UE through RAN to CN in 5G for QoS?
    3.1.2 How many from the HCP vendors involved with Telecom Solutions will provide you with a
    reply “I know 5G”….that is quite unthinkable and uncomprehansable for those with
    “knowledge” and “experience” from Telco deploying and commissioning complete Cellular
    Network (“knowldge” and “experience” are 2 differents things, that many are aware what
    this means, but do not have an experience as the Telco “complexity” can only be grasp
    when one is involved in “designing”, “deployng” (turn-key) and “commissioning” an Cellular
    3.1.3 How many are training and has experience from selecting for the Customer Features and
    Functionalitis that togther provide Capabilities to resolve the Customer issues (short-term)
    in order the Customer reach their Goals/Objectives (long-term), but rather “simply sell”
    Fetures and Functionalities to the Customer that have some mening in line with the trend’s
    buzz words in variety of reports (IoT, Cloud-native, agile…) and nothing about the Services
    that these may or how will enable the Services the End-users will use….

    You may also look on the impact of abundance of PE & VC for alll the “acquisitions” and mushrooming of “start-ups” out there…

  2. Hi Ike,
    Thanks very much for this comprehensive analysis of the complexity of cellular networks. You’ve described the barrier to entry (and therefore barrier to diversity and inclusion) very well. You’ve shown very accurately the need for comprehensive training and experience / “apprenticeships” to be able to be competent and then be welcomed into “the team.”
    Similar to your point about 3.1.2, after spending over 20 years working on OSS, I feel like “I know OSS,” but I also know there are a million things I don’t know about OSS yet as well. 😀

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