Where are all the field engineers?

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Our NOC team are facing a daily challenge. It is by no means a unique challenge, but it is one that landed several of them a career at 01T as network engineers, and a challenge being faced by the global industry. There's a global shortage of network engineers.

As the demand on the connectivity industry grows like never before, the supply of skilled professionals is dwindling with a shortage of young people coming into the industry – affecting companies far beyond telecoms carriers, mobile operators and data centre companies. It is impacting end users and clients reliant on connectivity around the world.

At 01T, one of our guiding principles is to deliver connectivity with service at the forefront, rejecting long lead time and convoluted ordering processes, and delivering proactive and timely project updates and communications. It is a challenge to deliver this with a healthy supply chain, but  when suppliers and dependencies disrupt and delay our processes, all because of a shortage in engineers, it becomes increasingly challenging. Why is this shortage happening and what can we do about it?

1) Great ‘resignation’

We have all heard of ''the great resignation”. Many people are reassessing their careers and deciding to retire or leave their jobs as the Covid-19 pandemic eases. 

If they have not retired, the upheaval in professions in the wake of the pandemic has made retention harder and competition fiercer. Many of those who quit their jobs have left to search for nicer places to work and live, as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have replaced face-to-face meetings for many of us.

Talented people are pretty mobile now, which means the over-the-top companies and hyperscalers can more easily attract all the talent.  When one company starts large-scale hiring it can create holes in other organisations. This is especially the case if companies are looking for specific skills, such as SD WAN.

2) Retirement

Here’s another problem. Many of the workforce who were critical in shaping the growth and evolution of connectivity and infrastructure this generation are getting old(er). There’s a wave of retirement coming up over the next 15 years and with it, many of the skills, knowledge and commitment that needs to be passed down to the next generation. But where is that next generation?

 3) No new talent - why?

Young people are just not entering this industry. Why? There are various reasons. The heart of the problem is thought to be that students studying STEM subjects at school don’t recognise telecoms as a viable career option, largely because it's not presented to them as an option in the first place.

While children know what Facebook, Google, Spotify and TikTok, and Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, are, they do not know how these are all linked together by fibre and radio waves, nor what data centres, where all of this comes together, are.

Few are doing anything to encourage people leaving schools, colleges or universities to enter the industry. It is simply not prioritised. 

This introduces another reason - many believe that the connectivity industry is far too low profile for how important it is. Recognition grew amidst the pandemic, but there are decades worth of stories to tell in how vital this industry is for all of our modern processes many of us simply expect to happen. Many in the industry feel it lacks a collective voice that could be heard in high places and tell opinion formers and policymakers about its importance

What needs to be done?

Like many things, this comes down to Education. There needs to be more investment in earlier education in young people and more industry visibility at the same time. We need to inspire and recruit people who’ve lived their entire lives in this computing society, when the first thing they did was coding. 

There also needs to be more opportunity other than that of higher education - the skill and knowledge in network engineers’ role takes time, the right environment and a passion for the industry to build. It’s hard to imagine university or college being the correct breeding ground for this. 

01T, like other network providers, have introduced apprenticeship opportunities to begin tackling this industry-wide problem and present real opportunity to those that seek it. So far, our apprentices have made a huge positive impact upon our processes. They bring innovative and critical thinking to evolve industry-standard processes that, as a company, we have been challenging since inception, and the energy and determination to succeed in an ever changing industry that offers boundless progression ahead of them. 

Now, we are in a position where our new network engineers recruited under apprenticeship schemes face the very challenge they seek to solve. It will be interesting to see how this model is adopted in larger carrier organisations across the industry to remedy the shortage in field engineers.




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