The sector is on a hiring push in the drive to upgrade broadband networks © Bloomberg

Britain’s telecoms sector has continued its hiring spree after Openreach, BT’s networking division, pledged to create 5,300 new roles next year as it speeds up broadband upgrades.

It is the latest recruitment drive in the sector which has assumed more importance against a backdrop of higher unemployment because of the pandemic and is driven by the rush to upgrade broadband networks to full-fibre lines and wireless networks to 5G.

Openreach, which has added a net 5,000 new roles since March 2017, will take on 2,500 new staff as part of the new round. The additional 2,800 positions will be created by a handful of third-party contractors that work on Openreach’s behalf — including Kelly Group, Kier, Telent and John Henry Group — to service and build fibre networks.

Ericsson this week said it would create 800 engineer roles after picking up new contracts on the back of the government’s move to phase out Huawei equipment. Smaller companies including G.Network and CityFibre have also revealed plans to hire thousands of workers to build new broadband networks while Virgin Media has added 1,700 new customer service and engineering jobs this year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak welcomed the latest hiring round. “Throughout this crisis I’ve been clear that our number one economic priority is to protect jobs, so I’m delighted to welcome this announcement of 5,000 new skilled roles,” he said.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, this week said 5m UK homes — about 18 per cent of the country — can now connect to a full-fibre line, up 80 per cent on a year ago, after Openreach and its network rivals invested in upgrades.

News of the Openreach hires comes as BT faces potential industrial action over plans to restructure other parts of its business through compulsory redundancies and site closures. The Communication Workers Union held a consultative ballot this month that showed support for potential industrial action in 2021. BT has said that it will continue to consult the union and to pursue voluntary redundancy where possible.

Meanwhile, Openreach has been taking on more roles as it looks to deliver on a promise to connect 20m homes to full fibre within 10 years.

Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said the new roles were vital to achieving that target. “Our full-fibre network build is going faster than ever and we’re now looking for thousands more people to build a career with Openreach and help us upgrade broadband connections and continue improving service levels,” he said.

The annual starting salary for the new roles will be £21,845, which will potentially rise to £28,353 within a year.

Openreach also said it would upgrade all 27,000 of its vehicles — the second-largest commercial fleet in the UK — to electric by 2030.

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