Hiring Qualified, Diverse 5G Technicians is a (Virtual) Reality

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There is a shortage of an estimated 20,000 skilled workers in the wireless industry and Learning Alliance Corporation (LAC) is poised to help fill the void. It’s not enough for a tower technician to know how to climb a tower. To stay marketable, tower technicians need to know other core competencies such as broadband, fiber and wireless installation and project management, according to Cesar Ruiz, President and CEO.

LAC has 18 years of experience in workforce development. For the past two and a half years, it has been specifically focused on the wireless industry, arming candidates with the necessary characteristics, skillsets and certifications for long-term, meaningful employment.

“We provide 14 different certifications for graduates and when they find employment, their retention is good. We want to provide a well-rounded, feature-skilled workforce to the industry,” says Ruiz. LAC has been graduating about 15 students weekly.

Learning Alliance recently partnered with T-Mobile to oversee recruitment, training, certification and job placement of newly trained 5G technicians through the NextTech Diversity Program, a new initiative promoting shared values of diversity, equity and inclusion. The NextTech Diversity Program works to offer financial assistance to individuals in underserved communities, and commits to graduating and certifying all eligible program candidates, guaranteeing job placement services for all eligible candidates, and supporting graduates for 12 months after job placement with career counseling.

“Women and men of color make up a small percentage of current network technicians and field crews,” says Ruiz. “T-Mobile spoke to us about our training program and our graduate placements. They wanted to increase their investment to reach the network build companies, to encourage them to participate in diversity and inclusion. Forty-two percent of LAC’s current placements are minorities, so we were in the right place at the right time. It’s something that the industry needs, and we want to do something good for the next generation workforce,” adds Ruiz.

There are a couple of ways to get involved in the forward-thinking program, “Network build companies can participate by either donating to the NextTech Diversity Program, or by hiring qualified 5G graduate technicians to support their buildout,” explains LAC’s Neil Marr, Director of Marketing. Major companies like Ericsson are already participating. “Increasing diversity within the telecom infrastructure workforce requires an industrywide commitment to attracting and training new workers. This program creates opportunities for people of varying genders, nationalities, and backgrounds to begin new career paths. Program graduates will play a critical role in accelerating 5G deployments and maintaining critical communication infrastructure,” says Kevin Zvokel, Head of Networks, Ericsson North America.

With the NextTech Diversity Program, LAC has nearly $1 million in seed funding to reach minorities and underserved communities and bring them into the industry by educating, training and certifying them, and assisting with job placement, at no cost to the candidates.

Learning Alliance is also looking to reach at-risk youth. “We hope to educate them on these types of jobs through career exploration. If you’re afraid of heights, you don’t have to climb. You can get into outside plant work, you can get into fiber or small cell,” says Ruiz.  Working with two at-risk youth grants, and five different states, LAC plans to pilot a program geared towards high school seniors.

“We’re changing our entire delivery model, from a blended, six-week learning environment, with four weeks online and two weeks at LAC, to a month-long bootcamp where students will be at our facilities 12 hours per day, six days a week for an entire month,” explains Ruiz. The students won’t just graduate as tower technicians, they will be certified 5G technicians, supporting the entire industry. “It will give graduates the opportunity to choose the path that aligns best with their personal mission.”

LAC’s goal is to have the next generation of workforce be more versatile, so when tower work is slow, employees can pivot to meet employers’ needs. If the employer decides to supplement its income by getting into rural broadband, the technicians will know how to use a ditch witch trencher, or how to pull fiber optic cable.

Currently, training at Learning Alliance is hands-on with actual equipment and cell towers, but soon they will also begin leveraging virtual reality technologies. “We use the Microsoft HoloLens, which is an augmented reality (AR) concept. It’s basically a computer inside glasses. You can see the world through the glasses, but you can also overlay video over the top of it. When used in our training scenario, a student could walk to a tower and ‘see’ it in front of him or her and interact with it.” LAC is also building a video game to make a virtual simulation of the entire tower life. The student can digitally load up the truck, drive it to the site, climb the tower, diagnose the electrical issues and complete the physical fixes. “It’s really going to be as close as you can get to being on a tower without actually getting your feet dirty,” says Marr.

After graduation, technicians become alumni and can convert into the apprenticeship system. LAC wants to work with the employer and employee to have a well-defined path for ongoing professional development through the Learning Alliance School of Continuing Education (LACE).

One of LAC’s strengths is staying agile, according to Ruiz and Marr, and adjusting its training methods to meet the needs of students and the industry. It has over 300 employer partners who provide feedback and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Do you want to get involved? Donate to the NextTech Diversity Program or contact LAC to hire your next qualified candidates. LAC is interested in new students and referrals, offering scholarships and financial aid programs. Veterans are also encouraged to apply. For more information, visit mylearningalliance.com, nexttechdiversity.com or contact Cesar Ruiz at [email protected].

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