Telecom Mergers Fueling Mega Job Opportunities

Faced with a widening skills gap and growing staffing needs, the telecommunications industry is reaching out to more nontechnologists and recruiting in nontraditional areas.

The big news in telecommunications is about megamergers — where the revenues at stake have more digits than a telephone number. What will it all mean to information technology professionals in that industry? Nothing but net gain, say many staffing experts.

Consider the case of Sprint PCS Group. "Sprint PCS is on the verge of becoming part of the largest telecom company in the world and the fastest-growing wireless company in America, in terms of adding new customers," says John Yuzdepski, vice president of product management and development at the Kansas City, Mo.-based subsidiary of Sprint Corp. "People here are excited about that and motivated. It also makes recruiting a little bit easier."

It's a good thing, because the telecommunications industry is so hot, it's generating new IT jobs far faster than companies can fill them.

While mergers often translate into staff reductions, "we don't see a lot of fallout from the telecom mergers," says Rita Cook, president of Professional Recruiters Inc. in Bethesda, Md. "Telecom companies are so anxious to get people on board that they want them to start right away — forget about three weeks or a month from the time the offer is accepted," she says. Like many hot industries for IT professionals, qualified candidates usually can choose from among several offers, Cook says. Some accept a job with one company, only to take another job instead. New hires often bolt for better opportunities.

"People are the major issue. There are just not enough of them," says Yuzdepski. But not just anyone will do. "Everyone in the value chain must be capable of original thought and be able to move quickly."

This demand for combined skills and intelligence is also taking its toll on payroll. "A good candidate will have three or four offers," says Yuzdepski. "We make our offer compelling, with salary ranges that are competitive not just in Kansas City but in all the areas we target." The company also offers bonuses, incentive programs and stock options, he says.

Skills That Thrill

The industry's most sought-after skills are in data warehousing, project management and Java programming, according to IT hiring managers. Others skills are in high demand as well.

"Systems integrators are needed by start-up telecom companies that bring in COTS — commercial off-the-shelf software — for order entry, billing and provisioning," says Linda Church, a 15-year veteran of the telecommunications industry and former senior manager at MCI WorldCom Inc. in Washington.

Basically, "the demand for IT skills goes across the board," says Philip Arnold, director of software development and applications in IT at TeleCorp PCS Inc. in Arlington, Va. "We are continuing to hire aggressively this year," says Arnold, who says he expects to bring on people in systems, network, applications and database administration, plus desktop support and applications development.

Numbers Game

How do telecommunications companies lure the top talent? "We've seen an increased use of stock options across the corporation to retain and recruit," says Jeanne Sokol, a human resources leader at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Middletown, N.J. In addition, AT&T's technical career plan gives IT people dual opportunities for career advancement — either as individual contributors or in supervisory roles.

"The biggest motivators for our people are the opportunities for working in new territory, making meaningful contributions and growing in ways they wouldn't be able to anyplace else," says Sokol.

Working around the skills shortage, Sprint PCS develops talent in-house by providing non-IT people with technical training, according to CIO Sherry Browne. "We're looking for project managers and team leaders who understand the business, are flexible and can make split-second decisions," Browne says.

"The industry is looking for new blood," says Kelly Coleman, a recruiter at Manpower Telecom, part of Manpower Professional in Atlanta. "Telecom is a good industry to start at the ground level and move up in."

Coleman's clients — major telecommunications switch manufacturers — hire technical school and college graduates and train them to install, test and maintain switches that link voice and data transmissions around the globe. For those with more experience, telecommunications companies need network analysts and anyone with expertise in video transmission. "Now that voice and data are running pretty well, the next hot trend is video," Coleman says.

Advice for job-seekers

"Know your priorities up front, because in today's telecom job market, as soon as you make yourself available for consideration, you may have to evaluate very different offers in terms of opportunities, compensation, work environment, responsibilities and location."

— Philip Arnold, director, software development and applications in IT, TeleCorp PCS Inc.

"Don't be afraid to leverage your skills. Be flexible and willing to do a variety of things. Use your existing IT knowledge to help you learn more about telecom."

— Rita Cook, president, Professional Recruiters Inc.

"We never stop recruiting; we are always looking for the next great candidate. Send your resume, call and keep calling. Don't lose patience."

— John Yuzdepski, vice president of product management and development, Sprint PCS Group

"The telecom industry is an area of great exploration. Constant change makes the industry fun. It will satisfy anyone who wants to learn."

— Linda Church, telecom industry staffing expert

"Telecom is not for the faint of heart. If you want 25 years and a gold watch, don't come to work here. We're on the cutting edge of everything that's happening in the world. The industry is dynamic, interesting, extremely volatile and fun."

— Sherry Browne, CIO, Sprint PCS Group

Vitiello is a freelance writer in East Brunswick, N.J.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon