March 1, 2017
By Chris Collins
In the telecom industry, one does not have to look far to see the changes taking place. AT&T is virtualizing its network; cloud computing services are selling six times faster than overall IT spending; and consumers are spending more than 60 hours a week consuming content across multiple channels and devices. Each of these factors tells a story on its own; but, taken together, they show the marked shift that’s happening across the telecom industry. Everything from product development to go-to-market and channel strategy will be impacted. To be successful in this new era of telecommunications will require companies to pay attention first and foremost to the bedrock of their business: the workforce. Or, more specifically, its availability.
Traditional Hiring Practices Are No Longer Applicable
The old ways of recruiting and hiring skilled professionals capable of handling sophisticated telecom work are no longer effective. Rather than network engineers who can climb telephone poles to install cable modems or sales teams who can go door-to-door, the industry is desperate for innovators and software developers, particularly those who can set trends and form thought-leadership strategies as technology and customer demands continue to evolve. These individuals know they are in demand, so they choose to be selective about whom they work for and when. This leaves the rest of the market fighting for a select few individuals; in fact, of the 37,000 global employers interviewed in a 2014 survey by McKinsey, 36 percent reported they “could not find the talent they needed.” That’s a lot of unfilled roles.
Bringing on contractors who can reduce overhead, close gaps caused by understaffing and focus on immediate-need projects has long been a successful strategy for hiring managers, but posting a job ad and then handling the resulting influx of applications and interviews simply takes up too much time and energy. This is especially true nowadays, when the industry’s changing needs mean today’s exciting new hire could be next month’s redundant employee.
So, what is a telecom leader to do? In short, embrace the “gig economy.”
The New World of Flexible, Project-Based Work
To efficiently bring on the best-suited talent for each task or project, telecom leaders need to embrace a new workforce model. Popularized by customer-facing businesses such as Uber, using technology to hire contract workers and independent experts is beginning to extend upmarket and enter the business plans of larger enterprises. These innovative companies are finding they can access a specialized, professional, independent workforce using cloud-enabled talent-access platforms.
Many external specialists make some or all of their living through completing short-term, project-based work via these platforms. Nearly one-third of U.S. workers earns income by embracing a sort of “portfolio career,” during which they hop among several part-time gigs rather than spending eight (or more) hours every day enclosed within one employer’s four walls. This strategy is becoming popular among companies, too: As of 2015, approximately 90 percent of businesses in the U.S. used freelance workers in some capacity.
The reason for this is simple: Talent-access platforms help businesses get more done through less time and more efficient spending. Independent workers have chosen this path for themselves because it offers flexibility and freedom, and in order to embrace the agility and competitiveness that today’s telecom industry calls for, companies must do the same. Telecom leaders can bring on professional workers with track records of success and specific knowledge in areas such as small cell infrastructure, near-field communication or 5G, and once the project is complete, free them up to work on other projects until their skills are needed again. It’s a system that truly benefits everyone.
How to Get Started With the Future of Talent Access
To embrace this burgeoning opportunity and strip inefficiency from hiring practices, telecom business leaders need to make changes in five key areas:
Planning and budgeting. Leaders should prioritize the work that needs to get done and determine whether it should be executed by a full-time employee or an external talent. Budgeting should be adjusted in a way that managers are incentivized to find the best ways to meet their objectives, rather than simply increase full-time head count.
Procurement. Move away from traditional, one-size-fits-all contracting and payment policies and procedures. This way, it’s easier to make independent workers core to the company’s operating model.
Hiring-related technology. Onboarding and implementing a flexible talent-access platform isn’t very difficult, and requires brief training and onboarding to get up and running.
Human resources. The HR department will play a critical role in the implementation and coordination of a freelance workforce. They should focus on talent “access” rather than “acquisition,” as well as lead curation of the talent ecosystem. HR should strive to become the “partner of choice” for independent professionals and create and implement internal campaigns to this end.
Training. This was touched on above, but it’s worthy of its own spot. Managers will need to learn how to contract with, pay, and manage individual contributors, and they should be trained on managing scope, launching teams, and providing feedback and coaching to individuals they do not formally control. Finding the right platform that can make this easy will make a huge difference.
New technology and increased content consumption will continue to create challenges for the telecom industry, and the companies that succeed will be those that effectively leverage available resources such as gig-economy workers. Through freelance workers, real-time changes can be addressed quickly and at a lower cost, and efficient hiring can be approached proactively. The alternative — allowing a “this is just the way it is” mindset to interfere with progress — can no longer be entertained as an option.
Chris Collins is the general manager of the technology, media and telecommunications practice at Catalant Technologies. He frequently advises innovative technology, research and advisory services companies on driving dramatic growth and navigating change. Prior to Catalant, Collins served as the vice president of the technology and telecom practice at Millward Brown Digital.
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