Communications: IT makes the connection
You can read this article on a computer screen in a café. You can read it on your mobile phone while you’re on the bus. You can text comments about it to your pals while you’re reading it. You can enlarge it if you have trouble reading small print, or if you have the right App you can have a tablet read it out to you in a mild, friendly mid-American accent. Hell, you can even print it.
You can do all this, seamlessly, without even thinking about it, because IT-enabled communications technology makes it possible. It took the Romans centuries to build their aqueducts and sewers; it took gas engineers decades to construct their gas mains, and it took electric companies years to develop the National Grid. Every day, something new is happening in telecommunications. And there’s no sign the pace of change is going to let up.
In the 30 years since Britain’s telecommunications industry was de-nationalised, we have seen an explosion of innovation and product development. New companies have entered the market, hungry for clever new ways to make sales. New technologies have been warmly embraced and turned into viable commercial products. And the internet has gone from being an interesting communications experiment for American military academics to being the great enabler of the modern economy.
Career opportunities in telecommunications
Digital communications is at the very heart of everything we do as individuals. It governs everything we do as businesses. And it increasingly colours everything we do as a nation.
Once you realize that; once you start to look not simply at the results of our connected lifestyles, but at the means by which those connections are made, you begin to see the immense career opportunities the ‘comms’ sector can offer.
See those unimpressive green cabinets at the street corner? They are the point at which the World Wide Web touches our individual households: the last connection point between the exchange and the individual dwelling. Making those connections, at the cabinet and at the exchange, is the work of a skilled telecoms engineer.
See that roadie at the festival, checking the guitar transmits correctly to the amp, and talking with the sound technician, the security guys and the band backstage with his handset? Making all that happen is the work of a skilled radio engineer. So is the simple, everyday matter of talking on your mobile or streaming music. All done via radio waves. All carefully configured by people who understand how radio spectrum works, and how best to set out their masts to minimize the ‘not spots’.
And all that data – voice, sound, video or text – needs to be accurately captured, encrypted, digitized, transmitted and de-coded at the other end in fractions of a millisecond.
You get the picture. Comms is absolutely everywhere, and digital data is driving our lives.
- You can’t take a bus or train out the depot without it;
- you can’t watch telly or listen to music without it;
- you can’t run a railway, an airport or even a building site without it;
- you certainly can’t respond to 999 calls, organize the Olympics or report the news without it.
And the need, going forward, is for more, not less. For more integrated and responsive networks. For more internet capability. For more and better ways of capturing and compressing data. And for more points of access so we can make the most of it wherever we are, however we are on the move.
The future of telecommunications careers
The good news is that a career in communications guarantees a lifetime of challenges and progression. Whether you come into the industry because you like dealing with people, in one of the many call-centres or customer-service roles, or whether you’re technically minded and seek a product development role or hands-on engineering.
The bad news is that nobody today knows for sure what you’ll be doing in 10 years’ time. Barriers are tumbling on a daily basis, and skills have to be developed and refined to keep up.
The traditional route in to the market as a graduate was via an extensive technical apprenticeship, learning how to use copper wire carry voice messages. Now, in the age of Skype, voice is simply another application carried over the internet. And for that, you need a core network of fibre-optic cable and maybe copper or radio waves to complete the final stage of the journey to and from your device.
Tomorrow will be more about developing new functionality than rolling out UK fibre networks, and the emphasis will change again as analogue gives way increasingly to digital, opening up new ways for customers to use communications that they had never thought possible before.
Significantly, E-skills, the electronics industry’s sector skills council, is currently in the middle of an extensive review to ensure the skills management trainees undertake today will properly equip them for the future. This starts at school-leaver entry level benchmarks and maps up to senior management MBA and above skill-sets, ensuring there is a skills underpinning for every stage of an individual’s telecommunications career.
Joining the telecommunications network
The communications industry is developing and transforming daily. So when it’s looking for new recruits, it has two main requirements: good people in the back office and good people in the front office. Innovation is driven by IT specialists, programmers and electrical engineers developing new ‘apps’ and new interconnectivity. And it’s turned into successful commercial products by designers, marketers and sales engineers who can take the good news to the marketplace and make customers’ dreams a reality.
Communications is all about people and machines interacting with one another. This is a growing and developing industry, focused on the future and hungry for new talent and fresh ideas. If connecting with people floats your boat, the communications industry wants to meet you.
Chris Pateman is CEO of the Federation of Communications Services (FCS), the UK Trade Association for the communications services industry. The FCS provides a voice for competitive companies that deliver innovation into the UK market via radio, mobile, fixed and IP telephony.