Over 30,000 jobs cut in telecom in 5 years

Rashmi Pratap Mumbai | Updated on January 08, 2018

The wave of consolidation in the telecom sector, which has peaked in the last one year, has also contributed to the job cuts   -  REUTERS

With mounting debt and losses, telcos are either merging or exiting the business

Listed telecom operators have cut about 22,000 jobs in the past five years in the sector that was once the poster boy of India’s economic reforms. Combined with over 4,600 jobs that the unlisted Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) slashed during FY17, besides others such as Uninor and Videocon, the numbers would be over 30,000. Now with Reliance Communications exiting the business, more heads will roll in the months to come.

Already, the bulk of the jobs cut in the past few years has been at RCom, where the headcount is down almost one-fourth to about 6,800 last fiscal, from over 24,000 employees in FY13. This will be down to about 2,000 after the 2G business is shut down. With mounting debt and losses, telecom operators have pressed the panic button and are merging or exiting the business, which is impacting jobs.

“The majority of the staff at telcos were focussed on field operations, which was fine during the hey days of the sector. Now the job cuts have been largely in marketing and sales operations as subscriber additions are stagnating for all except the top three operators,” says Pankaj Dutt, Managing Partner of executive search firm Alexander Hughes’ India operations.

Changing models

Rituparna Chakraborty, Executive Vice-President of Staffing at TeamLease, says the business models of operators have changed rapidly in the past few years. “Now, customer acquisition for telcos happens digitally, not on the streets. So a lot of jobs have become redundant.”

New entrant Reliance Jio has been hiring people, but at a far slower pace than what the industry had witnessed earlier. “New players are able to significantly leverage technology, as a result of which the number of people required to do a job is much less,” says Sinosh Panicker, Partner at executive search firm Hunt Partners - India.

Moreover, the wave of consolidation, which has peaked in the last one year, has led to job cuts. TTSL’s annual report for FY16 says: “The company had a total of 5,513 employees on its rolls as of March 31, 2016, against 6,247 as of March 31, 2015.”

The figure in the 2017 annual report stands at 910 — reduction of 4,603 jobs in a year — ahead of the exit it announced earlier this month.

Similarly, Telenor’s website mentioned its India employee strength at 4,010 as of September 2016. While there is no headcount available on the website now, it is unlikely that Bharti Airtel, which took over Telenor’s India operations, would be absorbing all these employees.

Chakraborty says with Jio eating into the market share as well the margins of other operators, consolidation was inevitable. “And it will spill over to human resources as well. When mergers happen, there is duplication of profiles. So rationalisation of headcount is bound to take place.”

The road ahead

So what happens to those who lost their jobs? Dutta says the majority of the staff cannot be employed at other places. “They were being run like retail operations. So the re-deployability of these people seems difficult. Moreover, I don’t see jobs coming back for another 2-3 years as telcos are sufficiently staffed. Those who are leaving the sector now will not come back.”

But the technical staff, who largely work at the back-end, stand a better chance. “India remains an under-penetrated market, especially for data services. There will be a sustained increase in demand for people, as operators move ahead with implementation of newer technologies. So the technical staff will increase going forward,” she says.

For those not equipped with tech skills, switching sectors will be the only option.

Published on October 26, 2017

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