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Diversification is key to addressing the telecom talent shortage

Lesley Holt, Lead for UKTIN Talent

The telecom industry faces a major talent shortage due to rapid tech advancements and competition from big tech. Lesley Holt argues that the answer to this problem lies in diversifying the talent pool. In this article she discusses how businesses and academic institutions can ensure they are inclusive, particularly when it comes to reaching neurodivergent individuals who make up a large percentage of the population, but often don’t feel supported by employers.

By now it’s well known there is a significant talent shortage spanning both telecoms and the tech sector more broadly. Most of this can be put down to a constantly evolving sector with advancements in 5G, the development of 6G and increased AI usage across all sectors demanding more and more relevant skills. Even now, 42% of telecoms businesses are reporting a specialist digital or IT skills gap in the external labour market.

Keeping up with this continued change requires a workforce with specialised skills and knowledge simply not available at scale in the current market. There is a lack of upskilling and insufficient numbers of trainees and graduates entering the telecoms sector to keep the talent pipeline full. Combine this with an ageing workforce, increased competition from big tech and a lack of diversity, and the issue is only exacerbated.

So what is the solution to bridging the talent gap in the telecoms industry?

Bridging the talent gap

The simple answer would be to expand the current talent pool. The talent is out there, it’s just how we go about finding them. In particular, the telecoms sector should look at how it can appeal to a more diverse workforce and foster greater inclusivity, which includes – among many other things – recruiting and nurturing neurodivergent talent.

Attracting a more inclusive talent pool leads to greater innovation and businesses can tap into a broader range of skills across various areas including data analysis, quality control, software development, and research, which are all currently talent-short.

Furthermore, companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion will be better positioned to adapt to technological advancements, meet evolving customer needs, and maintain a competitive edge in the global market. Recent analysis from McKinsey’s report found a compelling business case for gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity within corporate leadership. With the most diverse companies currently more inclined than ever to surpass less diverse counterparts in terms of profitability, only reaffirming the importance of diversity in telecoms.

By not supporting and understanding the different skill sets and working needs of individuals, the telecoms sector is missing out on a rich pool of potential talent.

83% of neurodivergent workers expressed anxiety or fear about talking to their employers about their neurodiversity

For example, neurodivergent individuals comprise a significant portion of the population (15-20%), yet the Sparta Global 2023 EqualTech report revealed that a large majority (83%) of neurodivergent workers expressed anxiety or fear about talking to their employers about their neurodiversity. This stems from a lack of perceived support, as 59% reported their workplaces don’t offer sufficient resources and believe disclosing that they are neurodivergent could negatively impact their careers.

How to reach new audiences

To widen the talent pool, the sector requires a strategic shift and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives that target underrepresented groups is an integral part of this. Businesses can implement changes to their current practices by ensuring their recruitment and screening processes are accessible, that they are offering training and development opportunities across the company to widen skills and that they are fostering a culture of understanding across their entire organisation. Additionally, businesses should partner with organisations and universities that support underrepresented groups and nurture their talent.

For example, to support the industry’s aim of recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce that is inclusive on every level, i.e. inclusive of gender, age, ethnicity, and neurodivergence, UKTIN has developed the UKTIN Talent Programme and our nationwide programme of action is aimed at convening the ecosystem, increasing awareness of the opportunities in the sector and encouraging all individuals to examine the possibility of a future in the telecoms industry.

An inclusive approach

Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the telecoms sector to diversify its talent pool. By creating an inclusive environment where individuals feel valued and supported, companies can attract top talent and drive personal well-being and organisational success. Organisational success hinges on a diverse workforce, which not only drives innovation but also significantly impacts the bottom line.

Lesley Holt, Lead for UKTIN Talent

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