If you’re thinking of a future role that involves you with technology at the cutting edge and where constant change is on the menu, why not connect with a fast-moving career in the telecoms industry?
Telecommunications is a wide-ranging, competitive and fast-changing industry, offering an array of career options. Driven by advances in communications technology, notably smartphones, the internet and broadband, telecoms is fast becoming indistinguishable from IT. Many of the new technologies use broadband data networks carrying high volumes of multimedia traffic, which is reflected in the skills required and the job roles available.
Traditional phone calls continue to be the industry’s biggest revenue generator, but thanks to advances in network technology, telecoms today is less about voice and more about text (messaging, email) and images (e.g. video streaming). High-speed internet access for computer-based data applications, such as broadband information services and interactive entertainment, is pervasive. Indeed, the fastest growth is coming from (value-added) services delivered over mobile networks.
If you’re thinking ahead to a career in telecoms when you hang up your uniform, you need to be familiar with the term ‘information and communication technology (ICT)’. Indeed, the convergence between the IT and telecoms industries mentioned above is demanding upskilling in telecoms to a profile more similar to that of the IT industry, with skills that were traditionally regarded as being IT- rather than telecoms-based now being required. To find out more about this, you might want to take a look at our Computing and IT feature. Also as with the IT sector, business and interpersonal skills are becoming more important too.
The convergence of the telecoms and IT industries means that voice and data communications, which used to be two separate areas, are now linked and using the same communications channels.
To most people, mobile telecoms means mobile or smartphones, linked using radio and microwaves, via the masts and dishes seen all around. Satellites may also be used in both mobile and static telecoms networks. Digital TV uses both cable and satellite services, while 4G technology (and increasingly 5G), smartphones and tablets are commonplace.
Fixed telecoms may include all the infrastructure necessary to run a local (LAN) or wide area network (WAN), and the links between the two. It may provide business services, telephones, television and much more besides, and may be used to transmit voice, data, video or any combination of these. The most common carriers of fixed telecoms are cables, made from both copper and fibre-optics.
Typically, a number of different commercial organisations will both provide and share telecoms network facilities. Signals pass through switches and links owned by many companies and rented by the service provider. The routing is up to the owner of the links, and a smartphone call will account for just one message among thousands from many other phone users.
Messages need protocols to ensure they get to the right place. They may need to be compressed and then decompressed, and they may be split into tiny fragments, with each one being sent separately and the whole being reconstituted.
THE DAY JOB: TELECOMS TECHNICIAN
Telecoms technicians install, repair and maintain broadband, mobile phone and landline telephone networks. They also work on satellite, digital TV and fibre-optic systems. If you have good practical skills, and can track down and solve problems, this could be the job for you. You need to be well organised, able to follow technical diagrams, and happy to work as part of a team or on your own. You will need a background and qualifications in a related area, like electronics, electrical servicing or computer networking.
As a telecoms technician you would install, test and repair communications and data communications systems, such as:
- fixed-line and mobile telephony networks
- copper-wire and fibre-optic cabling
- VoIP communication systems
- analogue and digital satellite systems
- wireless radio networks providing internet access via PCs, smartphones and tablets.
Your work could vary in scale from setting up a communications network in a large organisation to the installation of a home satellite system. It could involve:
- laying, connecting and testing underground and underfloor cabling
- testing and repairing faults in public and private exchanges
- working with aerial rigging and related equipment
- installing mobile and static antennae on buildings or masts
- designing, building and testing telecommunications components and equipment.
Source: National Careers Service
Skill up while serving
Each Service has its ‘expert’ telecoms staff in the specialist communications and electronics branches, although there may be other people serving who have considerable expertise. Some will have appropriate degrees and some other relevant qualifications. You may have specialised in telecoms and/or electronics as part of your career pattern. If so, you are likely to have a number of very transferable and marketable skills, although these may need to be targeted in a particular area. Even without the necessary technical background, you can still enter the industry, but probably at a lower level. Your personal qualities are valued, as are the core skills you may bring, including map reading, first aid and even an ability to work at heights. And of course, any relevant qualifications and certifications you can get in the bag while you’re still serving can only help your cause, so don’t forget that you can use your ELC – see below – to work towards qualifications at level 3 and above while serving and for up to five years after you leave the Services.
TRANSLATE YOUR SKILLS
You need to discover the area of telecoms that is right for you, and for which you can reasonably expect to have the necessary qualifications and background. There is a wide range of resettlement training courses in this sector, but it’s a good idea to talk with people already working in the industry to try to establish a reasonable starting point based on your skills and experience. You should then look for the courses and training that suit you. The key is to start early and take suitable training, so that this can be enhanced by self study, academic qualifications and, ideally, an industry placement.
As noted above, you can gain qualifications through your employment and personal development while still serving. This is likely to be primarily to do with the theory necessary to use equipment, its actual use, and how to pass on that knowledge to others. The academic background and the principles of certain equipment use will be highly relevant to future employment, so your aim should be to build up these qualifications. If your career path does not include such courses, look at day release, evening classes, open learning and the internet for opportunities to learn before you leave.
Once you have left the Forces, you will normally receive training from your employer, as well as ongoing courses to keep you up to date. You may also be able to work towards industry qualifications, such as:
- level 3 Diploma in Telecommunication Systems
- level 3 (NVQ) Diploma in Cabling Installations
- level 3 (NVQ) Certificate in Rail Engineering Telecoms Installer
- HND in Electrical or Electronic Engineering (Communication)
- foundation degree, HND or degree in telecommunications, data communications and digital communications.
Below are listed a few more courses you might like to consider (although please note that this is a hugely diverse area, and job opportunities are increasing and branching into many different kinds of workplace):
- Diploma in Engineering Computer Systems and Telecoms
- BTEC level 3 Extended Diploma in ICT Systems and Principles, or Networking and Systems Support
- NVQ level 2 Installing Structured Cabling Systems
- seven-hour online course for employees working in the area of voice switching (combining telephony, telecoms and voice over internet protocol, VoIP).
As well as these, many other courses will give you everything from a basic introduction/refresher course to a doctorate.
- Short (one to five days) courses in, for example, wireless communications, IP networks, traffic engineering or managing product development provide basic information that will enhance your skills in many work environments or help you to choose a specific skills area before seeking higher levels of training. These short courses are often privately run and tailor-made; costs vary but may typically start at around £600 for one day, £1,000 for one/two days and £1,400 for four/five days.
- Longer part-time or full-time courses are likely to result in, for example, BTEC diplomas (i.e. an IT and Telecoms Professional Intermediate or Advanced Apprenticeship). These courses will take a minimum of one year and include an element of workplace learning. You may need up to five GCSEs to gain entry to a course at this level; alternatively, you may need to gain other relevant qualifications (such as maths and English) alongside apprenticeship training. This level of study will ensure good progression through your chosen industry.
- More complex training includes undergraduate degrees such as Electronics with Satellite Engineering, master’s such as Telecommunication Engineering, and doctorates such as Intelligent Systems and Networks. Professional doctorates are the more obvious choice for those wishing to go straight into a work environment, rather than staying in academia or research. Although entry requirements can vary and are sometimes negotiable, generally you need A-levels to take a degree and you need a degree to progress to master’s or PhD study (although search for our features on Access to HE Diplomas elsewhere on this website, as these can – as their name suggests – help you access higher education without the conventional qualifications in hand). Length of time to complete this level of study can vary; part-time, it could take six years or more. Typically, costs range from around £10,000 to £60,000, but at this level of study there may be funding opportunities. These qualifications would lead to management and consultancy roles.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.
COVID-19 DISTANCE LEARNING UPDATE!
NO NEED TO PUT YOUR LEARNING ON HOLD
The good news is that a huge number of telecoms-related courses and qualifications are available to study online under normal circumstances, so there’s no need for COVID-19 to be an obstacle to the study and acquisition of the skills you’ll need to work in this sector. Nevertheless it’s still wise to confirm with training providers that the course(s) you are interested in can be completed fully online or, where necessary, with safe face-to-face interaction.
Get telecoms industry news direct to your inbox
The telecoms industry is characterised by constant change and evolution, which is why it is crucial for telecoms professionals (potential and current) to keep up to date with the latest developments. To keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry, visit the Total Telecom website and sign up to its free newsletter service.
There are various ways in to the industry. To become a telecommunications technician for instance (see panel), you may be able to complete an apprenticeship with an electronics, telecommunications or IT company. Vacancies in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. Alternatively, you may be able to get a trainee position with an installation company if you already have experience and/or qualifications in electronic or electrical engineering, or servicing. If not, you could take a college course to gain qualifications in these areas.
Some websites where you can look for job vacancies are:
Specialist recruitment agencies may also look to fill vacancies.
As data (IT) and telecommunications systems continue to merge, demand is increasing for technicians who have skills in both fields, especially wireless broadband technologies and VoIP. Typical employers include telephone and broadband network providers, mobile phone operators, cable, satellite and digital TV companies, rail signal engineering and power transmission companies. There may also be opportunities with the Ministry of Defence, the police and emergency services.
With more experience, you could progress to network planning and design, the research and development of new products, and project management.
Networking is important, so make an effort to establish contacts during any placement or temporary work. It is also a good idea to try to make contacts at employer presentations and engineering careers fairs.