UPDATE Wednesday’s news that the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the Power and Communication Contractors Association will work together to expand training initiatives for a 5G workforce, was an announcement two years in the making. “In that time, PCCA has made real progress with community colleges, putting incredible effort into setting up these programs and getting them up and running,” WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein told Inside Towers in an interview. At the same time, WIA was developing the Telecommunication Education Center (TEC).
It’s also the national sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP).
“It’s been a long process of discussions about the need to work together,” he said. And now the time is ripe to do that with the programs “running strong,” he added.
Why team up with PCCA? PCCA members conduct utility work, focused on fiber and electric. They’re “qualified to do work above the electric line” on a utility pole, according to the WIA executive. “They’re a great force multiplier for the wireless jobs of the future. A lot of their linemen have experience in electric utility work but not wireless, and they have an interest. They want to learn,” said Adelstein.
He explained that’s one of the reasons PCCA is setting up programs at community colleges and technical schools. “They want to add wireless to their curriculum,” he said. WIA has developed one that’s both broad and specific. “We teach the broader aspects of 5G and RF 101, so they get a grounding in how wireless works.” The instruction also gets into very specific applied techniques to deploy networks on the ground.
Overall, “We’re seeing labor shortages across the board in our industry. If we can expand the labor pool it will help control costs and improve quality and safety,” Adelstein said.
There’s a need for more of these programs, “because we have a lot more tower work being done in preparation for 5G. We’re going to have more antennas closer to the end-user, which is going to lead to a more congested RF environment. Field technicians need to understand that increasingly complex RF environment,” he said, and this curriculum includes that.
Finally, wireless is competing with other industries for workers. There’s labor shortages in all types of construction work, including wireless and utilities, according to the WIA executive. “There’s a huge re-work being done of our energy grid and our gas pipelines,” at the same time as 4G network densification, the 5G build-up, and FirstNet work. “So we’re competing for these same workers. We need to make it as attractive as possible to bring new blood into the wireless industry. Having well-established, industry-supported academic programs at community colleges and technical schools will help fatten our pipe of qualified talent and bring more veterans and diversity into our industry,” Adelstein said.
Adelstein describes this project as a long-term effort. By working with PCCA, “we’re going to do it more quickly and we’ll be able to be included in these new utility technical programs that they are pioneering.” Comments? Email Us.
by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
May 3, 2019