In a bold move to streamline operations, telecommunications behemoth BT has announced plans to eliminate up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade, primarily in the United Kingdom.
Cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, are expected to replace up to a fifth of these positions, particularly in the realm of customer service.
With a current workforce of 130,000, including staff and contractors, BT’s CEO, Philip Jansen, acknowledges the transformative power of innovative technologies like generative AI tools such as ChatGPT. These advancements, he believes, will enable the company to take its services to unprecedented heights, delivering faster, better, and more seamless experiences to customers without making them feel like they are interacting with robots.
Jansen emphasizes that BT remains committed to its multi-channel approach, with 450 physical stores and online platforms continuing to offer customers ample opportunities to engage with real people. While acknowledging that new technologies often give rise to new jobs, BT anticipates a significantly smaller workforce by the 2020s.
As the UK’s leading broadband and mobile provider, BT is currently focused on expanding its fibre network while phasing out copper. Once this transition is complete, the company expects to require fewer staff to build and maintain its networks. Furthermore, the adoption of more efficient technologies, including AI, will likely reduce the need for customer service personnel in the coming years.
This announcement comes on the heels of a similar decision by Vodafone, which plans to cut a tenth of its workforce, or 11,000 jobs, over the next three years.
Jansen envisions BT as “a leaner business with a brighter future” and plans to eliminate between 40,000 and 55,000 jobs by 2030. Most of these cuts will affect the company’s 80,000 UK employees, with a smaller impact on its 20,000 international staff members and 30,000 contractors.
This announcement coincided with BT’s report of a 12% drop in annual profits to £1.7 billion, causing its shares to plummet more than 7%.
James Barford, head of telecoms research at Enders Analysis, notes that BT’s job cuts stem primarily from reduced needs in network building, while Vodafone’s cuts are driven by more general efficiency savings. He speculates that both companies may be highlighting job cuts to convince sceptical investors that they will deliver the promised savings.
The Workers Union Says…
“As The Workers Union we expressed little surprise at the news, noting that the adoption of new technologies and the completion of the fibre infrastructure build were bound to result in reduced labor costs”. However, the union hopes BT will prioritize retaining core employees, cutting jobs primarily among subcontractors and through attrition.