Job loss stats are at their highest since 2002: 157,000 jobs were lost in October in the private sector alone, the Wall Street Journal reports.
It’s no surprise, then, that the economic crisis topped telecom managers’ list of threats to their jobs in our survey, coming in ahead of “outsourcing” and “telecom being folded into IT departments.” The economy even has some telecom managers doubting whether they’ll still be employed in a year. Only 42% of telecom managers in our survey say they are completely confident their jobs are secure.
Tightening credit and sluggish cash flow have companies examining their budgets more closely than they have in years, “and even their sort of bearish budgets don’t hold up in this unprecedented economic downturn,” explains executive Martha Heller, managing director of Westborough, Mass.-based ZRG, who specializes in recruiting technology managers. “With telecom being more of a cost center than a revenue driver, it’s one place that is most likely to take a hit.”
Median Salary Dips; Buyers’ Market Likely Culprit
The troubled economy of the past few years has made the job market a buyers’ market, where employers can hire better talent at lower starting wages, Heller adds.
Those are the most likely factors behind the slight decline in telecom manager salaries our survey has uncovered in recent years, especially since a large majority of our survey respondents report getting a raise each year and only a few report that their salaries have dropped.
Our 2008 survey found a median salary of $78,000 for telecom managers, down slightly from last year’s $79,000 median and 2006’s median salary of $79,500. [See table for salaries reported by all titles represented in our survey]
Some telecom managers also report that the crummy economy has forced employers to cut non-wage benefits, like matching 401k contributions.
Consumer-Dependent Sectors Pinched
The faltering economy likely will put more pressure on salaries in some industries than others. [See table of telecom managers’ salaries by industry] Telecom managers in the financial sector, real estate, manufacturing and other industries that rise and fall with consumer spending – like retail and travel – are feeling the worst of the effects, Heller says.
Indeed, some of these telecom managers already are feeling the pinch of pay and hiring freezes, Voice Report’s survey discovered: Almost 67% of communication technology pros in the media industry are under such freezes, and it’s nearly as bad in the hospitality (60%), manufacturing (55%), retail (50%) and technology (49%) sectors.
Telecom managers in these five industries also report the lowest confidence in their job security. For example, telecom pros at work in media firms ranked their job security an average 3.20, on a scale where 1 means “my job is secure” and 5 means “my job is in jeopardy.”
On the flipside, telecom managers employed at government agencies, consulting firms and educational institutions report the highest job security across all the industries represented in our survey.
“When the going is good, those are the industries that don’t fare quite as well as some of the consumer-oriented industries, but of course when the going is bad, those are the companies that are somewhat protected,” Heller notes.
Budget Cuts Haunt Telecom Job Security
Some telecom managers aren’t worried about how their salary ranks so much as whether they’ll still have a job in a year.
On our 1-to-5 scale (where 5 meant “my job is in jeopardy”), 27% of telecom managers rated their job security a 2; 25% were slightly more worried; 4% rated their job security a 4; and 2% said their jobs are in jeopardy.
The fragile economy is the biggest threat to telecom manager jobs, say 30% of the telecom managers who responded to our survey.
Heller agrees. “As an executive recruiter, I’m getting an unprecedented number of resumes from people who say, ‘Because of the downturn, I was laid off.’”
“My job security is definitely threatened,” says Kathy Orlow, telecom manager for the Chicago-based Orbitz Worldwide. Her department is downsizing such that one person will now be responsible for two or three people’s jobs. Orbitz terminated several contractors last quarter, too, she says.
The trend of folding telecom into IT departments was named by 24% of telecom manager respondents as their top concern, while another 21% fret about outsourcing.
But outsourcing isn’t the threat many make it out to be, Heller says. Service levels often fall when voice services are outsourced, and some companies unwittingly outsource so much that they can’t determine their own telecom and IT strategies. Heller’s talked to many CIOs who are reversing the outsourcing trend and bringing voice operations back in-house.
Another 20% of telecom managers in our survey mentioned the possibility that technology will advance beyond their skill level as the biggest threat to their jobs. Respondents aired other fears, too, like the repercussions from unsuccessful technology spend decisions and even being fired on a “whim.”
Play Defense: Cut Costs, then Cut Some More
So what’s a telecom manager to do?
When asked how they make themselves indispensible to their employers, telecom managers in our survey most often replied “take on more responsibility.”
Look at yourself as an individual entrepreneur, and think to yourself, “What are the products and services I can provide to my company?” recommends Craig Nathanson, a Petaluma, Calif., man who has trademarked his title as “the vocational coach.”
Demonstrate your leadership skills by taking on some of a laid-off coworkers’ duties, for example, Heller instructs. It’ll add to your skill set, which will come in handy in future salary talks or when you spruce up your resume.
Your peers are also cutting costs to demonstrate their value. Heller agrees with this strategy. Cost-cutting is the name of the game in telecom, so working with IT to come up with innovative ways to slash expenses will win you points, she says.
California State University will buy more used equipment, for example, reports Auralynn Adams Kelly, telecom analyst at the school, in Long Beach, Calif.
Meanwhile, 44% of enterprise respondents say they’re trying to stretch out the lifespan of old equipment; 39% are implementing new technology (like video conferencing) to make end users more productive.
Half of the enterprises in our survey are cutting travel to save money. [See chart on how enterprises are coping with the down economy, and ‘10 Bright Ideas to Cut Costs’]
Take initiative, too: Don’t wait for your boss to ask for a report or a revised budget, Heller says.
You should also be on the lookout for the silver lining. Try to fill in the blank: “The economic downturn can be good for my telecom organization because _________,” Heller challenges. Then act on it.
But some telecom pros aren’t losing sleep over the potential for hiring freezes or layoffs. The fact remains that every company needs voice services.
Here’s how Kathy Burek, senior telecom analyst at Froedtert and Community Health in Milwaukee, sees it: If you are good at what you do, you have nothing to worry about. (