The Australian telecommunications industry has a long history that has been shaped by the vast size of the continent, as well as its distance from Europe and Asia. The country’s first telco grid – a network of telegraph cables connecting Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Tasmania – was completed by 1859. One hundred years later, the telephone and radio had created a new, more easily used network, and by the 2000s the telecommunications industry was again reshaped by the emergence of widespread internet usage.
Now, with many internet users regularly sharing content that they’ve created themselves, the modern telecommunications system – which includes home phone, mobile phone, internet, and satellite services – is indispensable, with telco companies keeping more than 18 million Australians connected to each other, and to the world.
The telco industry is broadly concerned with connecting new customers to existing networks while upgrading communications capabilities via large-scale projects, such as the replacement of ageing copper wires with superior fibre optic lines.
Careers in the telco industry are split into four broad categories, the largest of which includes occupations related to the installation, repair, and maintenance of telecommunications equipment. Workers in this category are responsible for phone exchanges, cables and access lines, consumer communication devices, and telecommunications systems.
The second category includes office and administrative support occupations. Companies like Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone employ thousands of staff members whose job it is to assist customers by resolving problems and providing product information. They also fill important financial, managerial, and administrative positions.
The third category includes the telco industry’s professional occupations. Here you’ll find the engineers who design cable routes, plan the expansion of existing infrastructure, and assist customers with custom installations. Most telecommunications engineers inevitably specialise in areas such as the design of communications systems, the integration of communications equipment with computer networks, or the use of lasers to send fast signals across fibre optic cables. Computer engineers play an important role in maintaining the hardware and software systems that underlie modern telecommunications.
Finally, the telecommunications industry employs many people in sales-focused roles. They aim to promote different services – such as residential phone lines and ADSL packages – while also selling physical products such as new phones, modems, and other equipment.
People in the telecommunications industry work everywhere, from regional towns to capital cities. Most administrative, support and sales staff are based in cities and larger towns, where there is a large enough market to support an office or retail store. Similarly, senior managerial staff will usually work out of a company headquarters in a capital city. By contrast, engineers are more likely to travel while responding to maintenance needs, unless they’re focused on research and development in a fixed location.
To enter the telecommunications sector, you must first meet the degree requirements of the position you’d like to pursue. For technical positions, a general engineering background is usually expected, though a focus on certain specialities, such as electrical engineering or computer engineering, may be advantageous. Administrative and managerial jobs are often easier to apply for if you have a background in finance, business, or commerce. Each of Australia’s three major consumer telecommunications organisations – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone – have dedicated graduate programs. Other leaders in the industry, such as Cisco and Skype, also run graduate programs. Alternatively, you might consider working for a smaller telco company, a startup, or a related government agency, such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Graduate entry programs for most positions open at the beginning of the year and close in May.
The size of the major telecommunications organisations means that most entry-level positions come with various opportunities for career advancement. For example, as an engineering graduate, you might aim to run a regional team, lead a research and development unit, or focus on the technology of special interest. Alternatively, as a business-focused graduate, you could aim for upper managerial jobs or career advancement opportunities abroad. Whatever your stream, you stand to benefit from the industry’s overall growth – with internet usage at the heart of the modern business and more people connected than ever before, the telecommunications sector is expected to grow by leaps and bounds over coming years.
Many technical positions in the telecommunications industry require you to possess a specific STEM degree. For example, a background in engineering is mandatory if you wish to play a significant or supervisory role in the implementation, development, or maintenance of new equipment. However, other STEM degrees still work well if you wish to pursue roles with less specific requirements. For instance, a background in chemistry, with its emphasis on patiently solving problems, prepares graduates well for the solution-focused nature of, say, telecommunications consulting. Similarly, the generic skills gained from a biology degree – highly developed written and verbal communication skills, for instance – could be emphasised in a way that strengthens a graduate’s application to managerial or administrative jobs.
Graduate salaries at major telecommunications organisations like Telstra and Optus range from $55,000 to $70,000 (depending on the position filled). Later salary increases are based on one’s career path, with the range of jobs in this sector making it possible to pursue much higher remuneration.
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