5G’s Talent Challenge

The new wireless technology could provide massive benefits to the organizations that can find the talent to harness it.



Talk to tech experts and they’ll gush about the coming rollout of fifth-generation (or “5G”) wireless technology. The raw power offered by 5G, experts say, can exponentially expand the types of applications available for mobile devices, make the “Internet of Things” a part of daily life, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world.

But many in the industry aren’t anticipating one of 5G’s slightly less positive effects: creating a massive shortage in the number of people who can make sense of and harness the new technology. “Getting talent into the incremental roles needed to deliver 5G initiatives fast enough will determine winners and losers in all industries,” says David Barnette, the sector leader in Korn Ferry’s Communications and Devices practice.

In a new report, Barnette lays out the opportunities and risks of the 5G rollout, an event already underway as wireless carriers in the United States and elsewhere set up trial runs. Barnette says 5G’s impact is in the same category as the steam engine, electricity, and even the Internet itself; it is a disruptive technology that will create massive economic growth and far-reaching benefits to society. 5G’s sheer power over existing wireless technology will allow a big increase in the number of devices deployed for things such as asset tracking, remote monitoring, and connected shopping. That could allow companies to innovate faster and stronger customer relationships.

But all those benefits are predicated on having people who understand how to use 5G, the report says. Businesses not only have to expand their own use of connected devices but also manage, protect, and analyze the massive amounts of new data those devices provide. Companies that don’t have those people to do the work, the report says, could pay a steep price as they become less competitive or, worse, obsolete.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5G could trigger, by 2026, a more than 30% rise in demand for application developers and close to 30% increases in demand for security analysts. The agency also predicts a 12% increase in demand for general leadership roles. Talent leaders must think now about how they will acquire, develop, and retain enough skilled, digitally adept people to thrive as 5G approaches, Barnette says. Those leaders should also expect talent shortages. Indeed, Korn Ferry estimates that, worldwide, the technology, media, and telecommunications industries could have a labor skills shortage of more than 4 million workers by 2030.