Our industry is, in many ways, an unsung hero. It operates behind the curtain, yet it’s the machine fueling the connectivity our world relies on. Despite the insatiable demand for data and a promising future driven by digital infrastructure, the market is not immune to slowdowns.
Carrie Charles, who began her career in the Marines, is currently CEO of Broadstaff, a nationally certified, woman and veteran-owned staffing firm, specializing in telecom. I interviewed Carrie to get her take on what is happening in the wireless workforce– good and bad.
A Deceleration, Not A Pause
Some have suggested telecom has hit a full stop. However, Charles recently attended a private event alongside key industry leaders who instead described it as a “deceleration.” Carriers’ 5G activity has been more coordinated compared to years’ past. Plus, Dish reached its 70% buildout milestone in June. “All of that combined, it feels more impactful than ever before, even though it’s cyclical and we’ve been through this with every ‘G,’” says Charles.
That ‘deceleration’ has however prompted layoffs. There is a trickle-down effect stemming from the carriers, impacting all facets of the wireless infrastructure ecosystem. And it’s likely to continue, as Charles believes there are companies that are still in a contemplation phase, trying to determine when the turnaround will begin. “Those companies haven’t started the layoff process but may need to. It’s a matter of how long this cycle lasts,” she says.
In the wake of layoffs, many feel uncertain about their next move. As someone who works with both candidates and hiring organizations, Ms. Charles recommends taking on the search for employment, “like a full-time job.” Wake up, complete your typical routine, and approach the job hunt like your career.
“Be vocal and visible on LinkedIn and with your network,” she suggests, “You’re instantly a salesperson, for yourself. Re-skill and up-skill yourself,” via training programs through organizations such as WIA, TEC, Learning Alliance and community colleges. “Learn more about the fiber side,” says Charles. “There is $42B in funding that is going to be distributed soon, so there is a lot of opportunity.” (Editor’s note: Read the following article about BEAD by Amelia De Jesus)
It's not all doom and gloom. Charles identified a new trend: Unemployed wireless workers are being retrained and reskilled on the fiber side. “There are companies that are already having success with this. They’re training tower climbers and tower techs as fiber techs.” And in turn, many feel the experience will ultimately make them better tower technicians. Workers are applying transferable skill sets while diversifying their expertise. “There’s a silver lining there. There's an opportunity to keep our workforce employed while we wait this out.”
There’s also significant buzz about AI. Broadstaff is already using it for sourcing. Its talent platform delivers access to millions of skilled candidates, some that are never seen in resume databases. “I truly believe AI is going to transform every industry, our lives. It’s going to be everywhere,” said Charles, who is confident it will drive digital infrastructure. “It’s something we need to pay attention to, we need to understand it. We don’t need to be experts. But we can’t be afraid of it.”
More People in the Marketplace but a Specific Workforce Deficit Remains
According to Charles, there are generally more people in the marketplace due to macroeconomic factors, increased interest rates and the higher cost of capital. “There are more candidates in the broader sphere, but it’s challenging to find the right fit for niche roles. There’s still a looming shortage on the broadband side. We’re not out of the woods just yet,” says Charles.
She has seen a lot of activity and attention around workforce development, citing apprenticeships and even internal training programs. At the same time, Charles believes many of the initiatives need more time to gain traction. “People are identifying the problem and building solutions, but we haven’t seen them all come to fruition. There’s still a massive need for broadband technicians to complete what needs to be done over the next several years.”
What else can be done? “We need to educate young people about this prospect, particularly in middle school and high school. We need outreach to those who have taken breaks from the workforce and are looking to step back in. We need wider initiatives in the way of communication to say, ‘we are here as an industry and it’s a great industry, and it’s an option for you.’” Charles also says scaling the available programs across the country will be crucial.
A Forward-Thinking Future: Diversity, Inclusion & Retention
On the other side, companies need to focus on keeping the talent they have.
Recent research by Accenture suggests that 83% of employees prefer a hybrid work model. “Offering some sort of flexibility to your employees is going to strengthen retention. That’s the way the world is going – like it or not. It’s certainly a heated subject,” says Charles.
Leadership should create a candidate pool of diversity and inclusion. Charles notes it’s more challenging in certain industries like construction but that can be improved upon with better education and communication centered around women.
“Mentorship and sponsorship are also huge for women entering any male-populated industry,” says Charles. “Make sure you have mentors – male or female – and a sponsor inside your organization.” Last but certainly not least, prioritize personal branding. “I think that’s something we need to be better at. Just getting out there. We feel uncomfortable with self-promotion, but we need a brand within our network.” Once women are within the organization, ensure there is a clear path to leadership and growth.