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Are Wireless Jobs Declining Or Not?

Despite tough economic times, consumers are still snapping up the latest smartphones and tablets, suggesting that those working in the wireless industry might have a little job security. Not so, according to analysis from the Wall Street Journal, which found that the industry has dropped 20,000 jobs in the last two years.

The wireless industry recorded 166,600 jobs in June, the lowest in 12 years and 2,000 fewer than last year, the Journal said, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Wireless industry trade group CTIA, however, said the data is interesting but incomplete.

Despite the reported declines, “the reality is that those jobs may not have entirely gone away,” CTIA research director Robert Roche wrote in a blog post. “Wireline employees, like wireline customers, may have simply changed their technologies. They may have changed their employers too.”

The wireless industry is not just wireline and wireless, Roche continued, pointing to network management companies, handset makers, app developers, and more. “The BLS data doesn’t describe the entire ecosystem, nor the entire wireless carrier workforce,” he said.

Roche cited CTIA data, which reported 250,000 U.S. wireless jobs at the end of 2010, compared to 172,000 reported by the BLS. The CTIA survey, meanwhile, “doesn’t capture jobs at tower construction and maintenance companies,” he continued.

The Journal acknowledged that companies like Foursquare and Twitter have created phone-related jobs, but said that financial gains in the wireless industry have not necessarily translated into more U.S. jobs. “The disconnect between employment and industry growth reflects the broader head winds lashing the U.S. job market, as consolidation, outsourcing and productivity gains from new technology and business methods combine to undermine job growth,” the paper said.

More efficient devices, meanwhile, have reduced the need for customer support personnel, the Journal said.

Expect this debate to continue as the pending merger of ATT and T-Mobile is reviewed by regulatory authorities. In May, PCMag mobile analyst Sascha Segan argued that the deal will likely “result in massive layoffs of former T-Mobile personnel.” Not surprisingly, ATT said in a June FCC filing that “quite the opposite is true.”

ATT said the deal will allow it to invest an additional $8 billion to deploy its 4G LTE network and integrate the ATT and T-Mobile networks. “That investment will directly produce work within the combined company and externally for engineers, equipment manufacturers, construction firms, and a host of others,” ATT said.

The expansion of the LTE platform will also help create jobs, especially in rural areas, the carrier continued.

The FCC and Department of Justice are expected to weigh in on the merger, so stay tuned.

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