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Securing staff for the Ultra Fast Broadband project

01 Nov 2011
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Over the next ten years, around 75% of New Zealanders will gain access to fibre optic broadband, thanks to The Crown’s Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) project . Broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps download and 50Mbps upload will be available to all homes and businesses in the main centres and larger towns around the country. Christchurch owned fibre company, Enable Networks, has been awarded the contract to build 3000km of fibre that will connect 180,000 premises in the city and surrounding areas. Similar projects are occurring  simultaneously around the country with Enable responsible for  around 15% of the total project coverage. Since launching in 2007, Enable Networks’ revenue growth has seen the company make the top 10 in 2010 Deloittes Fast 50 business awards. "The growth we need to achieve now will take us from around 14 staff to around 60 by early next year and many of those people need to be highly skilled telecommunications specialists,” the general manager for marketing and sales at Enable Networks, Malcolm Campbell, says. "The GPON switching and fibre technology that will be used to deliver bandwidth cost effectively is new to this country, so even experienced telecommunications and network engineers have a certain amount of learning to complete before they can design, install and operate the new network.”In the meantime the existing copper networks need to be maintained and will meet demand for the while the UFB fibre is constructed, therefore the overall size of the telecommunications workforce will  need to expand. This all adds up to some great job opportunities in the technology sector, and at the same time some short term challenges while people move around the industry and acquire new skills required for the fibre and associated electronics. Christchurch also has it’s own unique, post-earthquake set of recruitment circumstances. While there still remain potential employees reluctant to relocate to the region, thinking is changing as the earthquakes subside. "The population here will have to rapidly expand and as a new city emerges from the rubble, we think Christchurch will become a city of choice for many,” Campbell says."The currently competitive job market has presented some challenges in recruiting roles and surprisingly the hardest role to recruit haven’t been the technology related ones but rather professional supporting roles like marketing and finance. As a general rule people seem to be attracted to the world of fibre optics as it is seen as a new innovative industry, and once the UFB project gains wider recognition it should become a preferred career path.”Enable Networks has noticed technology candidates have often been mature people with careers evolved from traditional telecommunications technology to working with fibre. It seems most skills in this area are gained through the industry itself.  "Training institutions aren’t generally producing telecommunications and fibre construction specialists. The ex-Telecom and Post Office linesmen with good fibre splicing skills are now in hot demand, and already the companies like Transfield Services Ltd who are contracted to build Enable’s Christchurch network, are having to look at off-shore candidates.” To attract candidates Enable Networks has tried a number of media options but has had greatest success with web based advertising including social media sites such as Linked In.  Campbell says that while the web has also been the best medium for reaching overseas candidates the company has found there are still good candidates nationally who are keen to be part of the UFB project. "The Telecommunications industry in New Zealand is quite tight knit so we are finding that word of mouth is also leading to a number of direct approaches from excellent candidates.”Among the types of roles required to deploy a fibre optic platform include project managers, marketing and communications who play a critical role in educating the community about how fibre optics will benefit them. Currently Enable Networks is  recruiting network designers, network architects, deployment managers and specialists to design and build the network, and shortly will be looking  for customer service and operations people to ensure  on-going network maintenance and service delivery. In the recruitment process the recruitment team are focusing on technical and IT skills such as IP/Ethernet networking, IT operations and Telecoms experience preferably in fibre optics, but also on team fit and attitude. "Many of the non-engineering recruits have come from different industries and are learning about a new industry as they go. Enable has a great culture of dedication, openness, trust and adaptability so we have tried to find candidates who will add to the culture.”One of the keys to retaining and attracting good technical staff, Campbell continues, is to enable them to be involved in innovation, development and problem solving. Opportunities to further develop and share their technical skills are valued alongside team work and recognition and there will be many chances to learn about technology developments from suppliers  as well as other educational forums.In the light of this massive nationwide investment in a new UFB fibre infrastructure, the future is looking very bright both from a direct employment perspective and equally as important, the innovation and growth that will occur in the retail technology services companies that will deliver their service over the UFB network to thousands of homes and businesses around the country.