BT Ireland as an employer

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BT runs a great graduate program which brings a lot of new young faces to the company. With a pool of young talent why do you think BT is a good place to work, and have you made progress on age diversity?

“Some progress but not enough in my view, we’ve certainly got a focus of hiring young talent and that’s number one and it is the most effective way of tackling the age diversity in BT. We’ve a lot of people in the 35-55 range so we need younger talent to join us in the 18-34 range as that we have a broader base across all ages. There’s an upside in this as you have hugely experienced employees able to mentor and guide the younger joiners. It is my job to ensure the long term future of this business and a broader spread of age groups ensures continuity when some reach retirement age. Therefore my goal is to focus on bringing in more graduates and apprentices to BT.

Something very close to Alan Shanley’s heart, Head of Networks here at BT, is that you have to go searching for apprentices as well as not everyone will go to university. We need to reach into schools, particularly Deis schools who are thinking about what they want to do next. Academia is not for everybody, I think the pressure is on everybody to go into university but this is not the case. Some of the brightest minds never went to university and are shaping the world today.  The key focus for us is taking in transition year students or even sixth year students when they start thinking about their career. It’s important to get as many in as possible, I think it’s essential that we get a good mix of ages because if you’re a graduate coming in on your own it would be difficult. You want them to have a social life within the organisation and integrate. The people currently in BT have a wealth of knowledge and the young graduates/apprentices will learn so much from them. Socialising is such an important part of the company, if they’re isolated within the environment it can be a lonely and boring place for them. We need to address the full spectrum of people’s requirements for a job, it’s not just the job specification but making sure they have a peer group is essential. It’s a work in progress and one that we haven’t cracked just yet but we certainly have a focus on it and are working towards it.

Why do you think people want to work here?

We’re being seen as a thought leader in terms of our involvement in connectivity and technology. The work we do for the BT Young Scientist gives us a great platform to invest in something we’re extremely passionate about.  We’re surrounded by Google, Facebook, and Air BnB, and they’re all exciting, fun companies. So it’s important that we work towards having an environment like these companies.

To acquire the best talent you need to have a good workplace with top technology and benefits. If you’ve a choice as a graduate in a sought after degree to work in four or five multinationals all with cool names and you have an offer from two or three of them, the one that will offer you the newest technology or devices is a big draw factor. We’re up against some very strong competition and getting our name into that crowded and noisy marketplace is difficult. But what we can offer is a variety of roles within a company. In that crowded place you do have to stand out, and we do stand out in terms of our values and having a purposeful business. The work that we do actually, is very interesting and we fuel most of these organisation. These companies business cases rely solely on the internet and without it they wouldn’t be able to function and in that respect we create the platform for these organisations to do business. There’s a legacy to this business, its 160 years old and you can trace its roots back to the electric telegraph so there’s a huge amount of history to this company. The fight for talent is what is going to differentiate companies.

BT is the world’s oldest communications company tracing all the way back to the Electric Telegraph Company, incorporated in 1846.

With so many new graduates starting their careers in BT, can you tell us where you started your career and for people starting off theirs, what advice would you give them?

“I was born in Dublin, I went to an all Irish school Colaiste Mhuire which was great and learning the national language is something that is important to Ireland. I studied electronic engineering at DCU and started in 1988 and graduated from there in 1993 as I had a little detour for a year. I did a six month placement in the ESB during college which was really interesting and something I highly recommend. My first job was as a basic network engineer in a company called Timas. Then I went to a company called Data Port International. After Data Port International I joined ESAT Telecom thinking I’d stay there for a couple of years and move on. I worked for a year with Timas and a year and a half with Dataport and I was thinking one or two years and move on, but ESAT Telecom was just so dynamic. I moved rapidly and even changed roles three or four times within two years. I got into management fairly early on in my career and moved into operations. And then in 2000 just after BT bought us I was appointed as the Networks Director. That was my first large management role on the leadership team. I moved around a little bit from there, forming the Wholesale business unit in 2005/2006 which was half sales and half operations. Then in 2011 Colm O’Neill asked me to take over from him as Business and Sales Director. In 2015 I took over as MD of BT Ireland and haven’t looked back since. Engineering is a great basic degree for moving into any role as there is a lot of problem solving and a great deal of complexity coming with it.

My only advice is I never hesitated in taking an opportunity and facing a challenge and there were a few of them. The best thing to do is get involved and not to be afraid of failing or putting yourself forward. To err is to be human. The simple theory in life is try and leave something in a better state then you found it in and if you can do that then it’s more than half the job done.


Shay Walsh