The Fibre Skill Challenge

Over the last 18 months, there has been substantial investment pumped from private investors into the fibre and broadband sectors in order to achieve the government targets of full fibre by 2025. This is on top of significant public spending throughout the infrastructure sector which is anticipated to be over £30bn.

For clients in the fibre industry, there is a very real race taking place to create as much value as quickly as possible, before the market begins to consolidate. Consequently, our clients have been asking how they can attract and secure the best talent ahead of their competition for two distinct groups: construction/programme leadership; B2C and B2B sales experience (depending on whether you’re a wholesaler or retailer).

Re-cap of the Fibre Race:

Following the Government’s ‘Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review’ in 2018, the sector has seen significant investment from the private sector. Most notably, Goldman Sachs invested in City Fibre alongside Antin Infrastructure Partners to the sum of £2.5bn; Virgin Media’s owner, Liberty Global, appointed Robert Dunn to lead a new JV in fibre infrastructure with a ‘war chest to take on Openreach’; Macquarie have purchased KCOM and Voneus; Infracapital have invested in Gigaclear; Amber Infrastructure have made several investments including Community Fibre & Toob; and most recently, KKR announced their acquisition of Hyperoptic.

The Challenges

  1. Changing Leadership Behaviours

The UK fibre market’s investment from private equity and institutional investors creates a different dynamic than publicly funded projects. Investors are seeking to create value quickly, ahead of their competition and before the period of market consolidation. This fast-paced, commercially aggressive model requires leadership to be dynamic, business savvy and operationally very strong.

  1. Pace

Fibre players are in a race against one another to recruit strong leadership. They will make the difference against the competition. Organisations needs to act decisively to recruit the best talent, but must also avoid mis-hiring – a difficult balance to strike.

  1. Competition

The market is fiercely competitive for these individuals. Many are in secure roles awaiting a sustained period of infrastructure spending and show signs of caution during the economic and political instability.

What Can Companies do?

Where to look?

Beyond BT’s roll-out of the copper network, there is limited expertise directly in fibre. Organisations must look broadly and think creatively to source the best talent.

Major Projects For operational leadership. – Major project such as Crossrail and HS2 will present opportunities to recruit from. HS2 has been in a holding pattern for a while and with the current Oaktree Review in motion, there will be individuals considering their future.

Utilities Water (alongside aviation) is the major infrastructure asset to have undergone substantial private investment. As the industry embarks on the latest AMP cycle, it may provide a good opportunity for strong operational leadership to look outside of the industry for a 4-5 year spell and gain valuable experience, before potentially re-entering during the next AMP Cycle.

Transportation/Logistics – Thinking laterally, the transportation arena prides itself on strong operational leadership. Fibre roll-out is less about engineering complexity and more about logistic complexity and could be an excellent source for talent.

Consumer When considering talent for sales & marketing positions, the consumer industries will be a strong place to recruit from. Whether B2B or B2C, the industry has some excellent talent that is used to large online marketing campaigns, in fast-paced and high-growth industries. The sector is also in a tough place as consumer spending trends stall and talent may be available without a competitive premium.

Consider ‘Overseas’ Talent

Brexit has created an unclear future for many British expats in overseas markets, and there is an opportunity to explore talent which has gained great exposure to large infrastructure programmes in other countries. The Middle East, Canada and Australia have historically benefited well from UK infrastructure leadership talent and there are opportunities to attract this talent back.

Team Cohesion

Creating enterprise value quickly won’t come down to any one individual. It is crucial to have a diverse group of perspectives with the leadership team to strive towards the best performances and avoid groupthink. Team profiling and leadership capability assessments should be incorporated into the recruitment process.

Conclusion

This is an exciting time for UK infrastructure. The opportunity over the next 10 years could create a world-class ‘centre of excellence’ for major programme and project delivery. By thinking creatively, exploring ideas and creating high-performing teams, fibre businesses have the opportunity to set themselves ahead of the competition.