On 1 January 1985, the comedian Ernie Wise made the first official call across the first UK cellular network.
Wise called Vodafone’s head office in Newbury, which was then above a curry house. Ten days later, Cellnet made its first call, and a phenomenal industry was born.
With it came relentless growth, new investments and fabulous career opportunities.
It is worth noting the context of where we came from to understand the environment we are in now. It is time for a sober dose of reality that has been absent from the mobile industry amid the boom years of fat margins and double-digit growth, over such a short period.
Between 40 and 50 service providers quickly sprang up, all employing approximately 100 people each, supplying phones and airtime to dealers who were generally in-car audio specialists.
John Caudwell and Charles Dunstone led the industry’s gold rush, with massive rewards for people in the organisations.
Retail staff made £4,000 per month
That era seems a long time ago, reflected by the recruitment opportunities and the salaries at the time.
A junior Carphone Warehouse or Phones 4u staffer in a busy store was easily clearing £4,000 per month with commissions – a pay packet that dwarfed others on the high street. Pay has been declining for many years due to reduced demand for new connections.
Dealer managers at distributors were on salaries from £85,000 per year to levels that would match the Prime Minister at around £120,000. Many of those individuals would willingly accept positions for £40,000 now.
It is critical to move on and acknowledge that mobile is in a much healthier state than many other business sectors, but the new environment requires a smarter, hungrier worker.
UK unemployment now stands at 2.2 million after 250,000 job losses in Q1 2009, and 115,000 in March alone. Economists are predicting the three million mark will be broken by the end of the year.
Massive job cuts
The mobile industry hasn’t escaped, with over 2,000 redundancies across Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, Carphone and Phones 4u in the last few months. That number is only the tip of the iceberg.
Distributors have seen many cuts as a result of companies going bankrupt or downsizing. Unique employed 80 staff and Advantage had 30.
Redundancy is a deeply painful process. The first notification should come in the form of consultation. This is in effect notice that a position is at risk and that companies are doing their utmost to redeploy, but in a lot of ?cases full redundancy is inevitable. Candidates should not view this as ?failure of the individual but as a casualty of the economy.
Redundancy packages have either severely dwindled or disappeared as job cuts enter their third, fourth or fifth rounds, and there is less cash to disperse.
Many victims of redundancy look to travel or take a career break. Some have considered a move into other sectors.
There is much to be said for keeping within your skill set, where possible. If your skill is retail and you work for a network store, then focus on that sector but improve your abilities and core competencies.
Make yourself more attractive to an employer. Anticipate the other side of the recession, and the new technology, products and services that the industry is heading towards. Ensure you are on the cutting edge of that knowledge, understand it and embrace it. Develop service and sales skills that are better than the current standards.
Raise your game
There are still over 3,000 stores to choose from, and there is demand for high quality people to fill those stores. Competition is higher, so candidates must raise their game in CV presentation, interview techniques and be realistic in their remuneration expectations. It is vital that you are selective in your choice of recruitment agency.
GfK stats in October 2008 indicated that the telecommunications sector is still showing growth at 3.4%, and its ‘sister’ product group, IT, is increasing at 4.6%. If these two markets are converging then candidate opportunities will also grow.
Networks and specialist retailers are reportedly taking advantage of generous incentives from landlords, and this will create job vacancies.
It is a stark reality: accept a reduced salary, learn more skills and fight harder. Despite all of that, there are still few better sectors to be in than mobile.