An organisation representing the UK's independent network providers has called on the government to do more to help support the next generation of telecoms engineers.
The Independent Networks Cooperative Association (Inca) stated the future of the country's broadband networks depends on getting the right training in place to develop skilled engineers.
While the body welcomed plans from the government to boost investment in apprenticeships and other workplace training schemes, it said more must be done if the UK is to meet its highly ambitious target to connect every property in the country to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.
Inca stated that "urgent investment" is required in training and apprenticeships for the telecoms sector in order to increase the number of skilled engineers capable of carrying out the work that will be needed to meet these targets.
Currently, a shortage of skilled labour is one of the biggest barriers to achieving these goals. The organisation noted that despite initial successes of the apprenticeship levy, the number of new starters on apprenticeships is falling
Inca added that in 2018/19, 72,400 fewer people were participating in an apprenticeship than in 2017/18.
Chief executive of the body Malcolm Corbett said it is good news that chancellor Rishi Sunak has recognised the need to provide young people with essential skills to secure full-time work
"Now we need the same commitment made to developing a new generation of engineering talent or we risk falling short of the 2025 gigabit broadband target by some way," he added.
Inca stated that skills training should be regarded as being as important as higher education and urged the government to direct resources to industry sectors in most need. It has therefore begun a consultation to identify its members' training needs and plans to deliver the results to the government in the near future.
"The independent sector is fully committed and ready to help the government achieve its targets for broadband coverage in the UK, but it must also listen to the genuine concerns of those on the frontline," Mr Corbett said. "We look forward to continuing a positive dialogue with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the coming weeks and months."