Features & opinions | Allison Kirby, Rainer Deutschmann, Robert Finnegan, Three Ireland, Three UK

DTWS: Can telcos win the war for talent?

August 17, 2022 | DTW news room

CxOs throughout the first week of TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World Series discussed the leadership challenges the telecoms industry faces as it competes for scarce digital skills while enabling employees to adapt to new technologies and ways of working.

“If you ask me what keeps me up at night, the biggest thing, is the talent crunch. It’s a global talent crunch. It doesn’t matter if it’s us, or India or Europe. It’s the same everywhere. Every industry … needs these technology skillsets,” said Anthony Goonetilleke, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President, Media, Network & Technology, Amdocs.

Companies across the telecoms sector are taking a multi-pronged approach to addressing the skills deficit as they compete with sectors ranging from high tech competitors, through to banking, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing.

Like many communication service providers, Three, which operates in the UK and Ireland, runs a graduate scheme to attract university leavers.

“We want to be the employer of choice for these grads that move forward, because … getting that fresh thinking and diverse thinking into your organization is really, really important.”

Robert Finnegan, Chief Executive Officer at Three Ireland and Three UK.

Nonetheless, top graduates with the right skills have the luxury of choice. “When I started work many, many years ago, a company chose you to work for them. Now. It’s the grads, the individuals that are choosing the company to work for,” said Finnegan.

In a highly competitive global jobs market, many CSPs hope recruits will be drawn to telecommunications by a sense of purpose, having witnessed the important societal function of the sector throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a war for talent. There are certain areas where it’s really tough to compete for the talent. But what we are seeing is … some of those young people … we’re starting to attract them back because they’ve seen the important role we play in society, and how people cannot live without connectivity going forward,” said Allison Kirkby, CEO of Telia. “And I see that just getting stronger.”

BT’s CEO, Philip Jansen also stressed the attractiveness of working for a company that has a social purpose as BT and other telcos become more software-driven. “We all recognize that it’s a very competitive arena,” he said, as he believes BT’s efforts in sustainability, inclusion, the environment, as well as providing national connectivity, security and emergency call services and generally “doing things the right way” can serve as a lure to future employees.

Internal culture change

However, CSPs recognize that they cannot rely solely on attracting new people to acquire the digital know-how they need. They are therefore helping existing employees shift from manual processes and the telco industry’s traditional pursuit of precision towards a more agile and automated way of working, where employees are encouraged to try quickly without fear of failing. Managers play a crucial role in structuring and facilitating the change.

At Telenor, for example, what we are working on now is what we call tight, loose, tight,” said Telenor’s CEO, Sigve Brekke. “What that means is that a leader needs to be much tighter on setting the direction and setting expectations, then you have to be loose on letting your team figure out how to solve the problem, not kind of sitting on top of them all the time letting them fail. But then you have to be tight … on the follow up. And if we’re able to do that, I think you create … innovation, you create freedom, and but you also create a very different way of working,” he explained.

The change he is trying to bring about is common across the telco field – “the shift from kind of providing mass market connectivity into actually partnership, partnerships where we are the developing growth coming from services, not only from connectivity. That’s a major cultural change for us,” said Brekke.

Telenor has put in place company-wide initiatives to foster a new culture.

“To really shift into that agile way of working, you need to rescale an entire organization. So, [at Telenor] we’ve introduced this 40-hour challenge,” according to Cathal Kennedy, SVP IT Europe and Global Architecture, Telenor.

“Everybody should spend 40 hours a year learn something new. A culture of learning is actually very important in digitization … because it actually means that you recognize you need to change. And by recognizing you need to change you’re able to make the shift.”

 Cathal Kennedy, SVP IT Europe and Global Architecture, Telenor

Telia is another example of a CSP that stresses the importance of managerial investment and engagement.

“You cannot run such a transformation on the side. It is set … by the group executive management, we are sponsors for the key transformation themes that we have set out,” said Rainer Deutschmann, Group Chief Operating Officer of Telia Company. “These are thousands of people that are engaged on a daily basis now in those transformation initiatives on top of across what we run in our normal operations in the daily operations. And this is one important other factor: we have now created a full visibility on the entire program across the company into what I call a cockpit which allows us to choose early indicators of deviations tend to go in and help rectify those situations quickly.”

Telstra has also benefited from greater transparency implemented by a management team that was committed to driving change. “We have a much better planning process where the way we allocate capital and OpEx is a lot more transparent. There are no black holes; there are no secret projects; there are no pet projects. It is a lot more efficient because everything is a lot more transparent,” he explained.

“People feel free to interact directly cross functional teams, so you don’t have to escalate everything, the moment something to get stuck, the team tries to resolve as many things as possible by themselves. I’m not suggesting it’s perfect,” said Katinakis. Nonetheless, he says it’s “much, much better in different environments and things seem to work a lot faster.”