Convergence drives jobs uplift

The move to converged networks and the increasing deployment of voice over IP is driving a resurgence in demand for IT skills in the telecoms sector

IT recruitment in the telecoms sector is on the up, driven by the increasing delivery of voice services over IP networks and the convergence of voice and data networks.

As the technology matures, many businesses are keen to take advantage of the cost savings offered by voice over IP, said David Atherton, senior consultant specialising in telecoms at recruitment firm AMTech. At the same time, he said, telcos are pushing convergence between voice and data networks to the point where it is almost no longer appropriate to call them telecoms providers.

Stuart Packham, director at recruitment company Michael Page Technology, said, "A lot of telcos are now describing themselves as media companies. As the fixed-line and mobile markets have matured, there is less traditional telco IT work focused on the core engineering of networks, and more focus on the application layer, building applications to deliver content to mobile devices, 3G and over broadband."

Mergers are also driving this evolution in telecoms work as companies move to what is often termed "triple play" and "quad play", and there are fewer small start-ups entering the sector. Recent examples of this consolidation include Virgin Mobile and ntl:Telewest, Sky and Easynet, and Tiscali and Home­choice.

However, new entrants are coming into the market, with several Asian companies choosing the UK as their European base. These firms are hiring locally as well as transferring staff internally. There are also plenty of positions in smaller companies that offer niche systems to the big suppliers.

All of this means that the telecoms sector is picking up after spending 2006 in the doldrums, said George Molyneaux, research director at analyst firm SSL, with the numbers of jobs advertised increasing in the latest Computer Weekly/SSL survey of the jobs market.

For those already working in the telecoms sector, the emphasis will be on re-skilling into VoIP and on application development for mobile devices, said Packham. He sees potential for developers to move into telecoms from sectors that already have experience in supporting real-time, high-availability or rich media applications.

Sean Quinn, principal consultant in the telecoms division of recruitment consultancy Hudson, said, "If you are motivated by technology, there are definitely some sexy and pioneering areas, such as VoIP and internet TV."

He added that integration and project management skills were also in high demand.

"Telecoms firms are looking for managers at mid and senior levels who have experience in change management, service improvement, cost reduction and culture change," he said.

However, telecoms salaries and contract rates are not always among the highest. According to Molyneaux, permanent salaries for the sector average £26,520 nationally, with senior engineers earning up to £36,863. For contractors, rates range from £32 per hour for network engineers to £50 per hour for senior engineers.

Atherton said, "Compared to other sectors, employers get a lot of talent for their money."

On the plus side, Quinn said the large telcos, in particular, offer good benefits packages - and one area where telecoms companies score highly is in providing excellent training for permanent staff.

Atherton said telecoms firms typically send their employees on between two and five training courses a year.

Packham agreed. "Retaining talented staff is as big an issue for this sector as recruiting them. If you are prepared to invest in yourself, these companies are prepared to invest in you," he said.

Case study: getting projects right thanks to all-round skills

Although rates often aren't as good as in some other industries, Mike Nunn thinks there are compensations to working in the telecoms sector.

Nunn is a deployment designer for BT's 21CN voice over IP project, which aims to get all calls on the BT metro and core networks transferred to VoIP by 2010. He has worked in several other industries in infrastructure roles with a strong networking bias.

"Because IT is core business, there is a different mindset in the telecoms industry," he said. "You have more time to focus on getting projects right, rather than just getting them in and firefighting.

"Telcos are also more interested in the results than in using particular technologies. And they are more willing to go for solutions that are standards-compliant and offer long-term integration, rather than putting in the most expedient solution."

Nunn likes the way the telecoms sector has challenged him to become more of an all-rounder. At BT, his role is to take high-level designs and translate them into servers, circuits and bandwidth.

"I need to understand how the applications work and communicate with each other, because this infrastructure is being deployed to support those particular applications," he said.

"I decided a while ago not to play catch-up with the myriad of supplier certifications, because there are so many Supplier certification is useful when you are starting out, but it is more important to understand the underlying technologies."

Nunn has almost completed an Open University degree in computing for commerce and industry, which has given him valuable skills in application development. However, he said that not having a string of supplier certifications on his CV can put him at a disadvantage in getting interviews when job hunting - even though he has eventually been offered most of the jobs for which he has been interviewed.

Computer Weekly/SSL salary survey

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