Where are all the young people?

This year, the TM Forum underscored a key disadvantage in the telco talent pool. For a sector at the forefront of innovation & digital transformation, it is integral to start looking outward to new, fresh minds to keep propelling it forward.

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Sara Philpott, Product Line Management Lead


11 Nov 2022

Where are all the young people?

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With younger talent, come new ideas, and with new ideas comes groundbreaking innovation. In telco, innovation is the starting point of advances in tech, connectivity & the kinds of commercial services available. How can we turn young consumers into the new generation of telco? The short answer: incentive.

Nearly 30 years ago, I started my career as an engineer working in the telecommunications industry. Fortunately, this coincided with the birth of mobile technology, which evolved at a remarkable and rapid pace. Mobile technology has continued to evolve and now we are awash with tales of 5G benefits and opportunities, fueled by exciting advancements in technology and promises of faster communications, diverse connectivity, awesome user experience, and innovative services. So, as we tighten our seatbelts and await this spellbinding innovation. But the rate of new service innovation is less impressive. Why is this?

I believe the problem rests in the fact that the telecommunication industry is dominated by a similar age demographic as myself. This is clear, in the daily interactions, partnership calls, webinars, and conference delegations for telecommunications specialists and service providers. All one must do is look around at the attendees at the industry’s largest annual gathering, the Mobile World Conference (MWC) in Barcelona. This event attracts and draws together a massive collection of male-dominated, middle-aged subject matter experts and telco veterans. Where are all the young people?

Lessons learned over the last number of decades, as we moved through all the mobile technology generations and adoptions have helped to guide investment decisions, avoid repeat errors and plan the strategic course with steady hands. We all remember when the networks were brought to their knees by the unexpected upsurge of data traffic following the launch of the iPhone. But when an industry is overrun with an ‘Older mindset’ one can’t help but wonder, is this in fact an inhibitor to innovation? Is subconsciously a risk-averse mentality preventing and choking real and fresh ideas to change behaviors, business models, and adoption of services completely? Constrained by traditional ways of thinking, our ability to make bold decisions, experiment, and introduce truly inspirational and completely different services, is inhibiting our ability to realize the potential of the sexy technology advancements that make the telco engineer swoon.

TM Forum recognized that the telecommunications industry has suffered from a lack of diversity and at the Digital Transformation World (DTW 2022) Event in Copenhagen recently, it launched the TM Forum Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. This initiative acknowledges the importance of diversity, stating “Our industry is at a pivotal moment in its quest for growth, and recruiting, retraining, and reskilling the right talent is now a critical issue for most companies. Despite clear evidence of the business benefits of building diverse, inclusive teams, as an industry, our progress remains painfully slow. Individual companies can’t solve this challenge alone. As a sector, we need to be more attractive to the leading talent that will power us through our next phase of innovation and transformation.

I believe that this lack of diversity is one of our industry's biggest challenges. Our failure to recognize and act on this 20 years ago, means that the younger generations have migrated towards social media platforms, content, and service applications, leaving the telco service providers with largely a portfolio menu of ‘more of the same. If we look at some of the research statistics available, Zippia, we learn that for example, in the US:

  • There are over 38,419 telecom technicians currently employed in the United States
  • 8.0% of all telecom technicians are women, while 92.0% are men
  • The average age of an employed telecom technician is 45 years old
  • 4% of all telecom technicians are LGBT

Obviously, not all innovation comes from the younger generations, however, it is more likely that younger mindsets will drive change through the uninhibited adoption of new trends. Interestingly in the UK, according to a Gov.UK article, it seems that the fashion and computer gaming industries are attracting greater youth populations. A remarkable 62% of the 18-39 age workforce category are leaning towards computer gaming, followed by 59% (of the same age profile) to fashion.

This research article states that “like fashion, the computer game publishing industry is filled with companies led by young directors. In fact, computer game publishing had the highest rate of directors under 40 – nearly two-thirds (62%). A considerable proportion of them, representing more than a quarter (27%) of computer game publishing companies, were under the age of 30.”

This article goes on to explain, the ability of social media to connect like-minded creatives is invaluable in the computer game industry, owing to its collaborative nature.” In this collaborative environment, “the high rate of young directors in computer game publishing companies is not the product of a few young trailblazing executives creating change from the top down. Rather, a large network of talented, young, creative-minded workers in the computer game industry is taking advantage of new technology, including social media, to connect and collaborate in building brave new (virtual) worlds.”

Food for thought perhaps, when we try to comprehend the apparently sluggish introduction of truly inspirational and life-changing services borne out of our amazing technology.

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