November 6, 2023
India's telecom industry has been responsible for one of the fastest rollouts of 5G technology anywhere. Yet it is currently grappling with a massive 5G talent shortage of nearly 2.4 million people, according to a report titled "Telecom Talent in 5G Era: Demand Supply Skill Gap Report 2023–24," recently released by the Telecom Sector Skill Council (TSSC), in association with Draup, an Indian startup touting expertise in artificial intelligence (AI). This talent gap is likely to be 3.8 times bigger by 2030, says the report.
A key reason for this demand-supply gap seems to be the mismatch between academic requirements and industry demand. Only 40% of Indian graduates in mathematics, computer science and IT are employable in the technology sector, for instance.
"One of the major factors contributing to the demand-supply gap is the skill crunch observed in the early and fresh talent," said the report. "The gap is further widened with the surge in talent demand/job vacancies to be filled which arises due to constant shifts in the technological paradigm."
The industry has around 11.59 million employees today, with 2.95 million categorized as white-collar and the other 8.24 million as blue-collar workers. But the report says India will require 22 million skilled workers in 5G-focused industries by 2025 in areas such as cloud computing, robots and the Internet of Things (IoT).
"The fact that many students are not aware that the 5G industry offers career prospects and attractive earnings is now one of the main hurdles facing businesses looking for 5G talent," it said.
What further adds to the challenge is that 33% of the top network engineering and operations roles are not being equipped with the future skills they need to address the trending innovations, according to the report.
It defines the top job positions in telecom these days as machine learning engineer, deep learning engineer and data scientist. Cities where there most talent is available include Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru, accounting for more than 41% of the current total.
Can reskilling help in addressing the demand-supply gap?
Despite the gap, the report's authors express some degree of optimism. "India has a good chance to close the growing demand-supply gap by 2030 with the proper reskilling and hiring strategies that target adjacent talent in Tier-II & III cities and university supply," it said.
Quickly addressing the talent gap seems a priority given the economic importance usually attached to 5G technology. India also wants to contribute to the 6G standardization process, which could be difficult with a deficit of telecom talent.
"Telecoms have a short window of one to two years to develop 5G capabilities as service providers, quicken 5G rollout, and even get ready for 6G capabilities that will enable the realization of emerging trends like the metaverse phenomena," said the TSSC report.
Even as India struggles with the demand-supply gap, China may have an even bigger problem, according to the report's authors. "The gap is, however, relatively low compared to global telecom leader China, which also has a lower potential for talent growth,” it said.
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