Future of broadband depends on ending the skills shortage
The Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA), has welcomed the Government’s plans to increase investment in workplace training and apprenticeships, as part of its plan to avoid a rise in youth unemployment and to address the growing skills shortage in the sector.
However, the organisation warned that this may not be enough for the telecoms sector if the Prime Minister wants to deliver on his plan to roll out superfast broadband throughout the UK in the next five years. According to INCA, urgent investment in training and apprenticeships will be needed to boost the number of skilled engineers capable of carrying out the work required to meet the targets set.
“We are pleased that the Chancellor has recognised the need to help provide young people with the basic skills to secure full-time work,” said INCA CEO Malcolm Corbett. “Now we need the same commitment made to developing a new generation of engineering talent or we risk falling short of the 2025 gigabit broadband target by some way.”
It is two years ago this month that the Government published the findings of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review which set out the ambition to see 15 million premises connected to full fibre by 2025, with coverage across all parts of the country by 2033. A year later the Prime Minster declared this target ‘laughably unambitious’ and committed to achieving ‘gigabit-capable broadband’ nationwide by 2025.
Alongside the need to urgently reform planning regulations, a shortage of skilled labour has been identified as a key barrier to achieving the target. Following the initial success of the apprenticeship levy, the number of new starters on apprenticeships is falling. In fact, 72,400 fewer people were participating in an apprenticeship in 2018/19 than in 2017/18.
INCA believes that skills training should be accepted as being as important as higher education and wants the government to do more to direct resources to industry sectors in most need. The organisation is currently undertaking a consultation exercise to identify its members’ training needs and intends to provide the results to the Government soon.
“The independent sector is fully committed and ready to help the Government achieve its targets for broadband coverage in the UK, but it must also listen to the genuine concerns of those on the frontline,” added Corbett. “We look forward to continuing a positive dialogue with the Department of Culture Media and Sport in the coming week and months.”