BT is worried about its shortage of broadband engineers in the UK, according to a former BT executive and telecoms export, who recommended to a parliamentary committee that a national apprenticeship scheme could boost broadband rollout speeds and ease unemployment.
BT has committed to upgrading 1,450 exchanges in the UK that will receive fibre and currently employs approximately 4,000 engineers to carry out the work.
However, Lorne Mitchell, who was providing evidence at a parliamentary committee investigating the UK’s superfast broadband rollout, suggested that BT is anxious that it does not have enough engineers available to it.
“I know people in BT who are concerned about the capacity problem within BT to deliver its exchange upgrade programme. There aren’t enough people on the ground to face this problem,” said Mitchell.
He provided an example that in Kent, the area where Mitchell lives and is working on a community project to deliver broadband to residents and businesses, where 80% of exchanges have no plan to be upgraded.
Mitchell argued that the government has an opportunity to introduce an apprenticeship scheme that would not only aid the rollout of superfast broadband but get the unemployed back to work.
“For every person that leaves university we need 10 people behind them to help deploy these networks. From what I gather we aren’t training enough engineers,” he said.
“You need an apprenticeships scheme because there is an opportunity to get people back to work with this,” he added.
“Maybe we should look at a National Infrastructure Access Plan, where the government calculates the number of engineers we need make this deployment work. There is an enormous amount of potential to help the economy with this.”
BT has denied the claims put to the parliamentary committee and insists its fibre deployment is on track.
“There is no shortfall in the number of engineers needed to deliver our fibre programme and our deployment continues apace,” said a BT spokesperson.
“In fact, we recently recruited around an additional 800 engineers from the armed forces to complement the existing 4,000 strong engineering force working on the project.”
The government has committed £780 million to support the rollout of superfast broadband in the UK, where it hopes to create the best network in Europe by 2015.
However, last week former BT CTO, Peter Cochrane, slammed the government, claiming it had “no vision, no mission and no business plan” for delivering a 21st century infrastructure.