With several operators winding down their businesses, job losses in the beleaguered telecom sector have been heavy. Telcos are expected to let go of around 50,000-75,000 employees in 2018, according to one estimate by Randstad India. Others like TeamLease Services peg the number at an even higher 90,000.
Kamal Karanth, co-founder Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm based out of Bengaluru reckons that since 2016, about 50,000-70,000 jobs would have been lost in the telecom sector following managements’ efforts to optimise workforces and save on salaries. “If you add the indirect jobs which were dependent on the business provided by some of the telecom operators, the number would be 1.25-1.50 lakh,” Karanth said. Among the departments where companies are trimming workforces include sales, customer support, human resources and finance.
While fewer people are expected to be laid off in 2019, the number could be sizeable said HR consultants FE spoke to. Paul Dupuis, managing director and CEO, Randstad India believes the sector could shrink by another 5-10% over the next 12 months.
Moreover, those doing work specific to the industry such as running tower operations would find it difficult to get employment elsewhere. Typically, super-specialised skills account for about 30% of the jobs in telecom. While not everyone will lose their job immediately since the businesses are running, opportunities are limited since growth in general is stunted, consultants explained. Also, companies could increasingly resort to more automation, so there will be fewer customer-support kind of roles on offer, Karanth said. He observed that while the drastic one-time surgery had been done, telcos would shed a few more jobs and maintain a bare bones structure to run the operations.
The good news is that Reliance Jio continues to hire. Sanjay Jog, chief HRO, Reliance Jio said in April, on the sidelines of an HR event, the company plans to recruit 75,000-80,000 persons in 2018-19. It already has about 1,57,000 people on the rolls.
Dupuis, however, feels that the job losses in 2018 so far, resulting from the consolidation in the services and infrastructure providers spaces as also closures would have outnumbered the recruitments by Reliance Jio and others. “Through 2018 the combined workforce of prominent players would have shrunk by about 5%,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder, TeamLease believes telecom will create around two million jobs in the coming year. “There will be a need for people in the manufacture of phone accessories, domain experts in data management, service and maintenance. Companies where these jobs are better placed are Airtel, Nokia, Ericsson, Foxconn, Thomson Reuters, Exxon Mobil, Dell, Atos, GE, AT&T, HP and VMware,” Chakraborty said.
However, it is people doing contractual jobs, at the lower end have been the biggest casualties with around 81% of them being laid off. In comparison, just about a fifth of the permanent employees — in middle and senior level management — have been asked to leave.
Reliance Communications (RCom), which at one-time employed 52,000, has seen a 94% reduction in these numbers to approximately 3,400, Anil Ambani, chairman, RCom, noted in the firm’s annual report for 2017-2018. Bharti Airtel’s total employees count stood at 17,263 at the end of March, 2018, down 12% from 2015-2016. During the same period, Vodafone India (standalone) saw its employees count fall 17% to 11,086. At Idea Cellular, the workforce was lower at 11,784, as on March 31, 2017, down 6% from the numbers in FY16.
Since September 2016, when Reliance Jio was launched, the sector has been roiled by a tariff war that has taken the wind out of the sails of incumbents like Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone. Even before that, telcos such as Tata Docomo had started slowing down operations. Around August 2016, Idea Cellular was reported to have initiated talks for a merger with Vodafone; the company reported a loss of Rs 831 crore in FY17.
Tata Teleservices sold its mobile business to Bharti Airtel in October 2017 at virtually no consideration, while Aircel announced partial shut down of operations in December 2017. Reliance Communications (RCom) is selling its wireless assets — spectrum, tower, fibre and media convergence node (MCN) to Reliance Jio. Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea did not respond to queries sent for the story.