How Do We Fill the 5G Workforce Gap?

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Thousands of good jobs are going unfilled in this booming economy, as high school students are not aware of the many career choices open to them — including the wireless infrastructure industry — experts said during a workforce development panel at the Heritage Foundation on Monday.

The Wireless Infrastructure Association is the national sponsor of TIRAP. TIRAP is a joint venture of telecommunications companies, industry associations and the U.S. Department of Labor that develops DoL-credentialed apprenticeship programs available to qualified employers for career development of the telecommunications workforce. TIRAP can train employees for nine different occupations.

Twenty-four employers have signed up employees to participate in the program, said WIA VP Workforce Development Grant Seiffert. Employees take the 18-month course, which can involve, for example, telecom tower technician skills. The course teaches RF spectrum, safety, 5G technology and associated wireless infrastructure. The addition of other topics, like site acquisition, is being discussed. 

TIRAP is aimed at small and mid-sized companies, said Seiffert, who’s also Executive Director of TIRAP. He cited one company that has enrolled all 400 employees into the program over the past two years. “They feel like they’re gaining contracts from customers,” as a result.

Economic growth puts pressure on schools to get students out into the workforce faster, said James Redstone, Special Assistant to the President, Domestic Policy Council.

Outdated curriculums can hold them back. That’s why the administration champions apprenticeship programs. “Nobody knows their needs better than employers,” explained Redstone.

Many apprenticeship programs are now aimed at four-year institutions, whereas TIRAP targets those considering community college and personnel transitioning out of the military. A small family-owned company owner recently told WIA, he could have business lined up for the next three to four years as the industry gears up to layer on 5G over 4G network installs. What’s holding him back, Seiffert said, is “getting the right people, [and] training and retaining them. In general, employers are, “finding the apprenticeship model reduced turnover.”

“In this business, part of the job is physical labor. You may be climbing towers to retrofit 4G to a 5G network. After four or five years,” you might be tired of climbing. “We want to keep those folks in the industry,” and an apprenticeship program can help that, Seiffert explained. The administration is putting into place, changes to its federal work-study program, which subsidizes students while they attend college, he said.   

Toyota and Microsoft executives talked up their apprenticeship programs, geared toward helping them fill jobs that require more than a high school education, but not a four-year degree. The needed skillsets are becoming more sophisticated over time and the school systems aren’t keeping up, said Robert Chiappetta, Director of Government Affairs, Toyota Motor North America.

The automaker has apprenticeship programs aimed at repair technicians and sales that mimic workplace conditions. Toyota went to community colleges and helped them develop courses so that when students graduate, they have the skills the automaker needs. Other companies, Like Bosch, take part in the program as well. They sponsor students so when it’s time to graduate, “there’s a job at the end of it,” said Chiappetta.

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By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

June 25, 2019

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