The growth in the Indian telecom sector in the past few decades has been exemplary, making it one of the largest and fastest growing telecom markets in the world. Its impressive performance has attracted skilled talent over the years. Today, telecom jobs are among the most sought-after opportunities in the country.

As per the India Skills Report, 2016, an annual report prepared by PeopleStrong and Wheebox in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry, Linked­In and the Association of Indian Univer­sities, the sector is expected to generate 25 per cent additional jobs during 2016, as opposed to 6.8 per cent during 2015. The report further predicts that telecom and allied services are expected to generate over 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country over the next three years. Consulting firm Randstad India echoes a similar sentiment. It predicts that the telecom sector will be responsible for generating 400,000 direct and indirect jobs over the next five years.

This marks a turnaround for the sector, which had witnessed a slowdown in 2012 with the cancellation of 122 controversial licences and the scaling down and winding up of operations by several companies. Many telecom professionals had lost their jobs and hiring had remained subdued in the years that followed. In 2015, the telecom industry was one of the sectors that hired the least number of workers.

Turnaround in performance

While the cancellation of licences delivered a big jolt to various players, it also marked the beginning of consolidation in the industry. This brought some respite to the remaining players that had been dealing with high levels of competition, which, in turn, was impacting the industry’s profitability. These operators could now focus on improving their bottom line and expanding their coverage.

In the past couple of years, the sector has been treading a data-led growth path, with much activity being witnessed in this space. Smartphone penetration in the coun­try is on the rise, further fuelling the uptake of data. According to the Interna­tional Data Corporation, driven by the strong adoption of data consumption on hand-held devices, the total mobile services market revenue in India is expected to touch $37 billion in 2017, registering a compound annual growth rate of 5.2 per cent between 2014 and 2017. All these factors are contributing towards the sector’s rapid growth, generating greater opportunities for employment. Moreover, the constant expansion of the mobile, fixed line, wire­less and broadband subscriber base is driving job creation in the sector. As per the India Skills Report, the sector is now in­vol­ved in large-scale hiring, enthused by the government’s initiatives to provide a conducive environment for service provi­ders, including the auction of 3G and 4G spectrum.

The report notes that most of the jobs in the telecom sector go to engineering graduates. In 2015, almost 37.19 per cent of all jobs in the sector were estimated to be taken up by engineers. This number is expected to rise to 43.1 per cent during 2016. The second most preferred category is graduates from the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). While ITI graduates held 14.88 per cent of telecom jobs during 2015, this number is estimated to go up to over 25 per cent in 2016. ITI graduates are closely followed by management graduates, who are expected to make up 14.39 per cent of the telecom workforce in 2016, slightly up from the 14.05 per cent in 2015. Diploma holders and vocationally trained workers are expected to make up 9.35 per cent and 5.04 per cent of the telecom workforce in 2016 respectively. The report also studies the gender diversity in the country’s workforce across sectors. For telecom, the ratio of male to female workers is expected to worsen from 67:33 in 2015 to 70.71:29.29 during 2016. The average employee age in the sector is 35-45 years, indicating that telecom jobs are quite popular with the young population.

Government initiatives

While the private sector has been the prime driver of growth and employment in the telecom industry, the government, too, has had a role to play. The latter’s initiatives to improve the country’s overall employment scenario have led to an increase in the em­ployment opportunities in the telecom sector. Initiatives such as Skill India to hone employee skills, and Make in India to create entrepreneurial capabilities have begun to have a positive impact on the country as a whole and the telecom sector in particular. While the final impact of these steps hinges on how successfully the country is able to implement these, there are early signs to suggest that the government’s efforts are bearing fruit.

For instance, the government through the Make in India initiative is promoting single-window clearances, minimal procedures and the cutting down of red tapism. A number of domestic and international players has already started evincing interest in establishing their manufacturing base in India, which will, in turn, help in job creation.

Domestic handset manufacturer Mi­c­ro­­max plans to invest Rs 20 billion over the next five to six years to develop manufacturing facilities and establish a mobile phone ecosystem in India. The company will graduate from assembling mobile handsets, tablet devices and LED televisions to manufacturing spares and accessories for its entire range of products in India, and will eventually make the high-precision components that go into these devices. South Korea-based electronic goods major LG has started dom­estically manufacturing its smartphones in collaboration with Noida-based GDN Enter­pri­ses. Similarly, China-based Oppo will operationalise its smartphone manufacturing facility in Noida by August 2016 with a capacity to manufacture 10 million devices.

Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone ma­ker LeEco has sought the Foreign Invest­ment Promotion Board’s approval for setting up single-brand retail stores in India in a bid to sell its electronic products here and has sought exemption from the 30 per cent domestic sourcing rule. The company plans to open fully owned exclusive retail stores in 8-10 cities. In addition, it will open 500 franchise stores across the country. It also plans to set up a research and development centre in Bengaluru by end-2016. LeEco is the third such smartphone maker after US-based Apple and China-based Xiaomi to have filed such an application.

Driven by these plans and investments, institutes are gearing up to train smartphone technicians. For instance, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences initiated a course in January 2016, aimed specifically at imparting vocational skills to people for employment in electronics manufacturing facilities. The three-year degree course is expected to supply a workforce of super­visors, engineers and line operators for mobile manufacturing units in the country.

Future outlook

The number of opportunities in the telecom and allied service segments is clearly set to grow. It is now important that the workforce is adequately skilled to tap these opportunities. On the one hand, over 250 million young people are estimated to en­ter the Indian workforce during 2015-25. On the other, only 5 per cent of youth aged 20-24 years have obtained vocational skills through a formal training system. To add to this conundrum, with the average age of the Indian population reducing to 29 years by 2020, it is estimated that the country’s labour force will increase by 32 per cent due to this demographic shift.

Policy formulators are cognisant of the challenge of skilling the workforce and have, therefore, launched the National Policy on Skill Development and Entre­preneurship, 2015. The objective of this initiative is to provide an umbrella framework for all skilling activities being carried out across the country to align them with common standards and link skilling with demand centres.

Initiatives such as these, as well as the industry’s future growth prospects, can make telecom among the foremost sectors in generating gainful employment over the next few years.

Mridula Pandey