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Telecom managers dial up temps
User demands, shrinking staff cause crunch






News Story by Kim Girard

DECEMBER 02, 1996 -

Telecommunications managers whose jobs once entailed little more than ordering services from the telephone company are scrambling to find employees with the skills to handle the job's increasing complexity.

In this environment, many companies are recruiting temporary workers, outsourcing or training more staff members in telecommunications basics.

``Most telecom departments are lean and overworked,'' said Patricia Tilley, an adminstrative analyst at the University ofCalifornia's telecommunications department in Oakland.

The workload problem can be attributed, in part, to increasing corporate demands for a more flexible phone system.

``A person who used to want a phone now wants voice mail, and they want their voice mail to call their pager, and they want a cellular,'' Tilley said. ``Ultimately, they want a PC with [E-mail], and, ultimately, they want [the phone and the PC] to come together.''

Those new services require knowledge of product interoperability, new protocols, networking and computer telephony standards. For many companies, the changes have brought increased sharing of computer and telephone knowledge and a pooling of resources.

``I think it's critical to have those close sides, especially because some of the voice systems are using [LAN] protocols now and PC-based operating systems for voice,'' said Dave Vande Voort, manager of corporate technologies at CUNA Credit Union in Madison, Wisc. Vande Voort is in charge of telecommunications but works closely with the company's data communications manager. ``We're learning some of this together.''

Finding temporary employees who possess skills that complement the system a companyuses can be difficult, said Dawn Kaminski, manager of telecommunications at Epsilon, a Burlington, Mass.-based subsidiary of American Express.

Because it is hard to convince management to hire full-time workers, Kaminski recently contracted a temporary high-level analyst to do a network switch and routing analysis. In the past, she has hired technicians for projects, such as installing phones or moving systems from floor to floor.

It is key to have employees with LAN and WAN skills work together, she said.

``We're not getting more bodies,'' she said. ``I provide solutions for the wide area and the Internet. The LAN guys do routers and firewalls. You merge and share your skills.''

``Finding the right skills in telecom is hard,'' said Tony Wright, program coordinator for the Massachusetts Telecommunications Council. Many human resources departments are struggling to hire people to fill telecommunications jobs. One problem, he said, is that many applicants lack the ideal candidate's qualifications, including an engineering degree, networking background and knowledge of wireless and on-line technologies.

Temporary telecommunications workers earn, on average, $25 to $50 per hour and can make $50,000 per year with continuous work, said JoanRodenberg, president of Telecom Interim Staffing Corp. in New York.

MANAGEMENT CAUTIOUS

Rodenberg said studies that show downsizing hasn't boosted profits have made management more reluctant to lay offtelecommunications managers.

Instead, the trend is to hire low- to midlevel employees as temporaries or outsource telecommunications management through a program such as AT&T Corp.'s Solutions, Rodenberg said.

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