Telco skills in demand: key trends in hiring patterns

Telcos require access to new skill sets to manage transformed networks and operations, as well as to offer and scale differentiated services to customers. This article identifies which skills are in-demand in the telecoms industry and leverages LinkedIn data to illustrate how hiring patterns are changing.

As the telecoms industry evolves, the roles that it hires for are evolving too

The telecoms industry requires different skills to manage and deploy new network technologies, operate with new IT tools, and innovate and deliver new products and services. Telcos’ hiring and upskilling focus is shifting to support these changes. STL Partners has undertaken an analysis of skills trends based on LinkedIn data. We looked at the numbers of recent recruits (Less than one year and one to two years tenure) in selected role categories to determine which skills are in demand among operators.

Figure 1 shows the average percentage of new hires within specific job functions across a sample of ten telecoms operators. It shows that telcos are hiring/acquiring skills in less traditional telco job functions, including cybersecurity, full-stack development, cloud, automation and user experience, at more than twice the rate they are hiring for roles like network engineers and systems architects. The reasons for this trend are multiple and include the industry’s push towards cloudification, the continuous emergence of new cyber threats, and the desire for better integrated customer solutions.

Figure 1: Telecoms skills in demand – Recent recruits as a share of total headcount in role category

Source: STL Partners, LinkedIn analysis May ’23

Figure 2 shows that these new roles still represent a small proportion of most operators’ total headcount, but we expect the proportion to grow, based on the proportion of recent appointments in these roles. This article considers the drivers of the new requirements in the telecoms industry, in particular requirements for cybersecurity, full stack development, cloud specialists, automation specialists and user experience experts.

Figure 2: Headcount in a role category as a percentage of total headcount

Source: STL Partners, LinkedIn analysis May ’23

 

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Becoming cyber secure

As telcos continue to expand their digital footprint, they become more vulnerable to cyber threats. Disaggregation and cloudification have created many new points of attack in the network that didn’t exist before transformation. The need to secure these new networks, protect data while also monetising it, and maintain the trust of consumer and enterprise customers has made cybersecurity a top priority. Our data shows that 65% of people in ‘cybersecurity’ positions at telcos have been in their role for two years or less, this is a sign that telcos are growing their cybersecurity functions quickly to meet business needs. Individuals in these roles would have responsibilities that might include network security, incident response, designing and implementing security architecture, and ensuring compliance with data protection laws.

The rise of full stack development

While comprising a lower share of the workforce overall (0.15%) versus cybersecurity professionals (0.29%), a similar percentage of full-stack developers are recent recruits (61%). One of the drivers of this trend is the telco move away from pre-integrated, pre-tested technology stacks provided by traditional NEPs: They now need full stack developers to manage their new, disaggregated, multi-vendor network solution stacks. The move to multi-vendor stacks is still a new process for telcos, and lots of recent hires of full stack developers suggests that telcos are trying to improve their internal skills to make the transformation a success. These professionals are typically capable of handling all levels of application development – from user interfaces to server-side infrastructure – and allow telcos to maintain a streamlined, agile approach to software development. They also enable operators to respond more quickly to changing customer needs, bringing new products and services like edge, private networks and slicing, to market more quickly.

Championing cloudification

As telcos look to leverage public and private cloud for their IT, and increasingly, their telco workloads, there has been a surge in demand for cloud specialists. The roles they are hiring for in this category include cloud architects who design and implement cloud-based strategies, and cloud engineers who manage and optimize these solutions. Our data shows that approximately 0.4% of the profiled telecoms operators’ employees work in cloud specialist roles. 55% of employees in these positions have tenure of two years or less in their roles, with some telcos reporting figures as high as 70%, suggesting, that telcos are trying to hire more employees in these roles.

The push for automation

As telcos evolve and modernise as organisations, they are increasingly leaning towards automation. The benefits of automation, such as cost reduction, increased efficiency, and enhanced customer experience, are well documented. In telecoms, where service delivery, speed and network uptime are critical, automation can be a game-changer. At STL, we have reported on the positive impact of automation on greenfield operators like Rakuten and Dish. To harness those same benefits, brownfield telcos are also hiring for roles focused on automation (52% of such roles were filled within the zero-to-two-year period). Telcos have been seeking professionals proficient in the development and implementation of automated processes. Such roles encompass automation architects and engineers who can leverage AI and machine learning technologies to automate various network functions and service operations.

Improving user experience

As telcos come to the realisation that service level differentiation is not enough to secure competitive advantage, they are turning to user experience (UX) to deliver this distinction. Telcos are increasingly recognizing the importance of providing seamless and intuitive user interfaces (like self-serve/self-heal) across existing and nascent products and services. Consequently, they are recruiting for UX roles. Our analysis found that 51% of telco UX employees have been in their roles for between zero and two years. This indicates a growing trend of fresh talent being recruited to transform the user experience landscape. Interestingly, despite the increasing emphasis on UX, the data also reveals that UX roles represent only 0.12% of the total workforce in the same sample. This suggests a significant potential for further expansion in UX hiring as telcos recognize the need to invest in this specialized skill set to thrive in the digital era.

Reaching maturity in data and analytics

Telecoms operators are increasingly hiring more people in data analytics roles due to the growing importance of data-driven decision-making and the vast amount of data they generate and manage. According to our data, 4.16% of the profiled telecoms operators’ employees are now working in data and analytics positions. Employees in data analytics at telcos have responsibilities such as collecting, processing, and analysing large volumes of data to extract valuable insights, identify trends, and optimize business operations. They develop and maintain data models, create predictive analytics models, and provide actionable recommendations to enhance customer experience, optimize network performance, and drive revenue growth. Compared to other areas like cybersecurity and cloud, telco transformation in analytics has advanced more rapidly, resulting in a relatively lower number of new hires over the zero-to-two-year period. However, the increasing demand for data analytics expertise in telecoms highlights the industry’s recognition of the strategic value that data-driven insights can bring to their operations and decision-making processes.

Telco variations

Figure 3 indicates the share of employees in each role category with two years tenure or less at each of the telcos in our sample. These differences might be explained by some telcos being more mature than others in terms of their transformation journey, or they could reflect employment competition within home markets, for example. We are less inclined to read significance into trends at the individual telco level, than we are at the overall level.

Figure 3: Employees in role for two-years or less as a percentage of total number in the role category

Source: STL Partners, LinkedIn analysis May ’23

The chart does show that, for some telcos, recent recruitment rates are consistent and high across the selected role categories (e.g. Vodafone, TELUS), whereas there is more variation in role recruitment rates at others (e.g. Telstra and Swisscom). This might be because they are more progressed in their skills transformation than others.

Conclusions

Telcos are building their skill sets in new areas (new role categories are currently a low proportion of the total workforce). These skill sets align to the technical transformation that the organisations are undergoing (e.g. cloud, automation, disaggregation). Telcos undertaking similar transformations must look to identify the supporting skills requirements and master the challenge of sourcing those skills.

Anna Boyle

Author

Anna Boyle

Senior Consultant

Anna Boyle is a Senior Consultant at STL Partners. She has supported Tier-1 telecoms operators with their edge computing and 5G strategies. Anna sits in STL’s Edge Practice covering topics including the global edge computing market, investment trends and adoption of enterprise and consumer edge computing applications.

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