Telecommunications: Excitement, Innovation, Competition

If the excitement of working in an innovative industry is for you, you feel at home in the world of technology, and you thrive on competition, a career in telecommunications may be just the ticket. Technological advancement is improving the way the industry works, but at the expense of a slight decline in job numbers – making this a very competitive arena for men and women looking for work over the next few years.

The biggest telecommunications companies are wireless operators, satellite companies, cable companies, and Internet service providers. The industry used to be made up of a small number of large players, but less regulation and fewer barriers to entry have allowed a lot of smaller companies to join the game. The bigger companies tend to be full-service shops, and the smaller businesses focus solely or primarily on selling and servicing the equipment.

Mobile devices are the main driver of innovation. They are driving more video streaming, more use of mobile payment, and the development of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The volume of mobile payments continues to grow every year as retailers upgrade their payment systems and consumers get more comfortable using a smartphone to pay for their coffee, gas, etc. For many early adopters, this has already become the payment option of choice.

The “things” of IoT are a mix of hardware, software, data, and service. They can be heart-monitoring implants, sensors in cars, devices used in the field to facilitate rescue operations, and even systems that can analyze the safety of the environment and food without constant human attention.

As the number of mobile devices and “things” grows, the telecommunications industry will look for opportunities to increase revenue. For some, it will be expanding the use of wearable devices such as smart watches. Companies will also look at how they can participate in the future of “smart cities” and driverless cars.

Other growth areas include mobile advertising, even more use of video, and a continued focus on fifth generation mobile networks (5G). While we are still years away from true implementation of 5G networks and their promise of more speed, better efficiency, and less lag, their potential already has heavy-use consumers excited.

JOB NUMBERS BY INDUSTRY

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a part of the United States Department of Labor, compiles job numbers by industry in accordance with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The Telecommunications industry is a “subsector” within the Information “sector” of the economy, and has an NAICS code of 517. For a description of NAICS codes, see “Understanding Employment Statistics” in the September-October 2016 issue of Search & Employ®.

According to the BLS, employment in NAICS 517 is in gradual decline. This subsector has gone from 1,115,200 jobs in 2004 to 855,800 jobs in 2014, and is expected to decrease to 779,400 jobs by 2024. The loss of 76,400 jobs from 2014 and 2024 will represent an annual rate of change of -0.9 percent. By contrast, the BLS projects a 0.6 percent annual rate of growth for all sectors of the economy. The BLS updates these statistics every two years; the most recent update was in April 2016 and includes projections for the years from 2014 through 2024.

Within NAICS 517 are the “industry groups”:

  • Wired Communications Carriers (NAICS 5171)
  • Wireless Communications Carriers (Except Satellite) (NAICS 5172)
  • Satellite Telecommunications Resellers, and all other Telecommunications (NAICS 5174 and 5179)

It should be no surprise that most of the decline in NAICS 517 is coming from Wired Telecommunications Carriers – a loss of 113,400 jobs from 2004 to 2014 and an anticipated loss of another 97,800 jobs by 2024. A continued switch from land lines and other wired communications is playing the biggest role in this loss. More and more people are “cutting the cord” and using their mobile phones only.

NAICS 5172 had also been in retreat. This group dropped 34,400 jobs from 2004 to 2014. But there is better news: The BLS expects it to add 21,200 jobs from 2014 to 2024, reaching a total of 176,500 employees. This rebound comes as technology continues to improve – the industry will need to keep pace with the technology as it improves. Other factors include increasing expectations from consumers and the eventual move to 5G networks that will necessitate equipment and network upgrades.

Satellite Telecommunications Resellers, and All Other telecommunications (NAICS 5174 and 5179) really took it on the chin between 2004 and 2014, losing more than 50 percent of its jobs – from 205,100 to 93,500. But this group has stabilized, and is supposed to decline by only 2,000 jobs from 2014 to 2024. The technology of this group is not advancing as rapidly as that of Wireless Communications, and the businesses that rely on it are declining every year. It is important to realize, however, that satellite technology will continue to be needed.

Radio and Television Broadcasting (NAICS 5151) – an industry group within the Broadcasting subsector (NAICS 515) is also in slow decline, though this is also a group that will never entirely disappear. Although the group will improve and evolve, technology is reducing the need for some of its occupations. NAICS 5151 has gone from

239,500 jobs in 2004 to 222,800 in 2014, a loss of 16,700 jobs. The BLS predicts that it will lose another 12,200 jobs by 2024, dropping to 210,600.

Cable and Other Subscription Programming (NAICS 5152) is a smaller group, but it mirrors NAICS 5151. It has gone from 85,500 jobs in 2004 to 62,900 jobs in 2014, and is expected to drop another 6,800 jobs by 2024. New technology plays the biggest role in this group, with many jobs either being replaced or absorbed by other jobs as the equipment improves. The “cut the cord” phenomenon also plays a role, as more people turn to the Internet for entertainment. The explosion of Internet subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu, as well as the ability to see many sporting events and other shows online without paying fees led many people to leave their cable companies behind.

Better technology is causing a decline in the Communications Equipment Manufacturing group (NAICS 3342) – a part of the Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing subsector (NAICS 334) – as equipment now lasts longer and needs fewer repairs. This group has fallen from 143,000 jobs in 2004 to 93,500 in 2014, and the BLS expects this trend to continue, with a decline of 24,000 more jobs by 2024.

Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing (NAICS 3343) is in much the same boat. It has dropped from 32,500 jobs in 2004 to 18,900 in 2014 – and the decline will continue to 2024, with a loss of another 4,300 jobs. Much of the decrease is attributable to slowing demand, more use of automated manufacturing, and higher-quality products that do not need to be replaced as frequently.

JOB NUMBERS BY OCCUPATION

The BLS uses the Standard Occupational Classification and Coding Structure (SOC) to classify occupations, and compiles employment projections for those occupations. For a description of SOC codes, see the article “Understanding Employment Statistics” cited above. For the most recent projections, click here. For background information, click here.

The BLS projects that the “detailed occupation” Audio and Video Equipment Technicians (SOC 27-4011) will grow by 11.9 percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment will increase from 70,900 jobs in 2014 to 79,400 in 2024, a rise of 8,500. During that same period, there will be 21,900 job openings due to growth and replacements.

The detailed occupation Broadcast Technicians (SOC 27-4012) is headed in the other direction. The BLS expects there to be 5,700 job openings from 2014 to 2024 – but only due to replacements. The number of jobs will decrease by 1,900, or 6.5 percent. In 2024, there should be 28,200 people working in this field.

Radio and Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers (SOC 49-2020) is a much bigger detailed occupation, with 232,000 employed in 2014. It will decline by 3 percent, or 7,000 jobs, between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. There should be 21,800 job openings due to replacements during that time.

Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers (SOC 49-9052) will grow from 118,000 jobs in 2014 to 118,700 jobs in 2024, up 0.6 percent. A lot of workers in this category are expected to retire; there will be 22,200 job openings due to growth and retirement from 2014 to 2024.

Communications Equipment Operators (SOC 43-2000) includes switchboard operators, telephone operators, and communications operators. It employed 128,000 people in 2014, but is expected to drop by 42,400, to 86,400, by 2024. That is a whopping 32.9 percent decline, one of the biggest among all occupations in the country during that time. Even with that big drop, however, there will be 17,300 job openings due to replacements.

Electronic Home Entertainment Equipment Installers and Repairers (SOC 49-2097) is another small occupation, but this one is expected to grow as more and more people turn their homes into movie theaters with huge TV’s, surround sound, and theater seating. This group is expected to grow from 29,600 in 2014 to 30,300 in 2024, a 2.4 percent rise. The BLS expects there to be 4,900 job openings due to growth and replacements during that time.

Tuesday October 25, 2016

This article appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine