What’s Behind the 5G Tower Workforce Push

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UPDATE FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has spent a lot of time with tower crews that are building next-gen wireless infrastructure. “To a person, they tell me we need a lot more tower climbers to get this massive build done for 5G.” In an interview and podcast with Inside Towers, Carr described his site visit with Aiken Technical College in Graniteville, SC, last Thursday.

Aiken offers either a seven or 12-week course covering safety, basic rigging and fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics, wireless technology, cell components, antenna basics, and spectrum management. “The model Aiken has figured out [is one] we should replicate across the country,” said Carr. The FCC’s role, he said, is recognizing a problem “and working to identify the right stakeholders like the National Wireless Safety Alliance and National Association of Tower Erectors and see where we can help stand-up additional programs like this in other community colleges.” Students who complete the program can either leave and quickly obtain a job in the wireless industry, or apply the courses to an Associate Degree.

NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway tells Inside Towers in an interview and podcast that, “not a day goes by where I don’t get a call or an email from someone in the industry seeking more qualified workers. There are great training pathways, including private training firms. Thirty-four NATE members are training companies. Other companies have internal training programs,” he added.

Schlekeway also highlighted an apprenticeship program, “that’s starting to get some traction.” He points to Aiken as “the crown jewel” of community college programs for tower climbing; he believes community colleges, plus vocational schools and military transition programs are the key to the wireless industry creating a professional workforce pipeline for the 5G buildout.

NATE is focused on passage of the Communications Jobs Training Act, re-introduced by Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). It would allocate $20 million a year for three years, to develop curriculum models for community colleges, vocational institutes and military transition programs to adopt. NATE is also working to get companion Senate legislation introduced as well.

“We need to get more programs in those pathways. If you’re an 18 to 20-year-old going to one of these [programs] you don’t even know that a career in our industry might be a potential opportunity because we don’t have programs at that level,” said Schlekeway.  

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PODCAST INTERVIEW Check out Tower Talks on iTunes here and on Spotify here.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

April 22, 2019

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