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inca calls for action on skills.

Fibre broadband technology is about as futureproof as it gets, with the capacity to carry multi-Gigabit and even Terabits to meet our demand for fibre network capacity.
And while the government has back pedalled on the 'full fibre for all by 2025' pledge, the race to build full fibre infrastructure is going full speed ahead with companies including BT Openreach, Virgin Media and Hyperoptic ramping up the UK's capacity from 11% to 13% in the months between January and April 2020.

With Covid-19 accelerating the digital revolution, fast and reliable broadband is at the top of every business' wishlist, providing jobs in civil engineering through a raft of newly announced infrastructure projects. 

But the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) is warning that the new generation of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) networks cannot be achieved without significant investment in skilling up new telecom's engineers.

Skills shortage

The race to provide new Gigabit-ready networks to serve rural communities, SME's and large organisations alike has led to a skills shortage, putting a strain on contractors across the country.

The demand for skilled fibre engineers has been further exacerbated by the uncertainty over Brexit and the difficulty of attracting skilled workers from overseas with every country invested in the race to full fibre. 

Creating engineers from scratch can be a time consuming and costly process and operators and sub contractors are often unwilling to make the investment in training until a contract is definitively secured.

Kickstart scheme

In his summer statement, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a £2bn Kickstart scheme to create jobs for young people and prevent an entire generation being left behind. The new fund is designed to subsidise 6 month placements for young people aged 16-24 who are currently claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long term unemployment.

While INCA welcomed the scheme, they called on the Chancellor to go further and make a commitment to developing the new generation of engineering talent required to ensure the UK doesn't fall short of its fibre broadband targets.

Sunak also announced 30,000 new traineeships for young people in England with firms given a £1,000 bonus for each place they create. The Kickstart scheme will cover 25 hours of paid employment at minimum wage, with employers given the option to top up if they wish.

The scheme will run until December 2021 with an option to renew at that time.

Demand on the rise

The demand for skilled engineers shows no signs of diminishing, with competition high between FTTP developers in rural and urban areas. This, in turn, will push the number of jobs in civil engineering posts higher as a proliferating number of companies compete to deliver the infrastructure that the 'new normal' requires.

So will the UK get full fibre by 2025? The emphasis has now shifted to achieving 'gigabit capable' coverage which could be achieved through a hybrid of FTTP, 5G and Hybrid Fibre Coax.

As for full fibre, that could remain a pipe dream at least until Britain has trained the next generation of engineers.

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