Cesar Ruiz wants to take telecom training to the next level. The President and CEO of Learning Alliance Corporation wants graduates of his organization to be more than safe climbers. He wants them to be better trained, so they can become profit centers for their employers in a short period of time and with a pathway forward for success in their careers.
To do that, Learning Alliance partners with businesses in the wireless industry, which place its student graduates into the workforce upon graduation in high-skill, high-wage telecommunications positions, such as Tower and Fiber Technician. These partners, which serve as its ad hoc curriculum development team, provide feedback on the content of their curriculum, making sure it aligns to certifications and technical instruction.
“We have worked with the industry so that the employers have a voice in the education of their workforce,” said Ruiz. “By partnering with local employers, we have created workshops, labs and simulation programs that align the theoretical concepts into real world application learning.”
A good example of this partnership in action is Federated Wireless, which is a Spectrum Access System provider for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The company has created a curriculum for CBRS technicians, which is used by Learning Alliance.
“Because they are the experts, they built a great curriculum,” Ruiz said. “They built the proper competency stack that equals a great certification that is required to do CBRS work. It is not a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity, because it’s required by the FCC.”
In September, Learning Alliance and Federated Wireless announced a partnership through which the two companies will work to issue more than 2,000 Certified Professional Installer (CPI) certificates for CBRS over the next two years. The program is designed to accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband in rural and underserved communities.
“Federated Wireless’ content will be an elective component within our degree program,” Ruiz said. “So that any technician and any employer can work systematically towards meeting their MSA agreements.”
Federated Wireless and the Learning Alliance will collaborate to build a hands-on simulation of a CBRS installation – from spectrum access systems to radios, using augmented and virtual reality solutions based around CBRS frameworks.
“AR/VR options provide a great hands-on approach to learning the complex skills that go into radio installation,” Ruiz said. “While demand for this type of infrastructure increases, so does the workforce demand. Learning Alliance is helping to grow the market for shared spectrum connectivity, by providing access to CPI training to large network service providers, Wireless Internet Service Providers and individuals seeking a career in telecoms.”
AR/VR Learning Tools
To provide those AR/VR learning tools for its students, Learning Alliance has partnered with Taqtile, which builds augmented reality-based training simulation. Taqtile’s Manifest platform uses AR to provide step-by-step maintenance procedures and repair instructions, empowering technicians to complete their jobs more efficiently and accurately.
“We are building training and development in the virtual space because it offers a safe environment for students to practice continuous repetition of hard skills,” Ruiz said. “By combining our virtual reality gaming components and Taqtile’s Manifest software, we have produced a unique way to train and develop our students.”
NextTech Diversity Program
Learning Alliance also recruits the people that it trains to join the telecom industry. The organization targets certain geographic areas to educate communities on career opportunities in telecom, based on the needs of the employers.
Learning Alliance is working with the NextTech Diversity Program, initiated through T-Mobile’s Supplier Diversity program last February, to recruit and provide career training and placement for diverse candidates as 5G network technicians.
“We are informing potential candidates about this incredible opportunity for them to be in the middle class,” Ruiz said. “It’s creating synergies between us and different cities within different states that we have never worked with before.”
With $750,000 in initial seed funding from T-Mobile and another $150,000 committed from other telecom partners, Learning Alliance’s goal is to create long-term telecom careers where training provides job opportunities for new field service technicians who can install 5G networks on macro towers and small cell deployments. Because of the industry’s monetary commitment, Learning Alliance will be able to offer 50 scholarships to diverse students.
“In 2022, we’re shooting for roughly 700 diverse men and women to take part in our program and enter the industry,” Ruiz said. “Diversity and inclusion will then bring a different mindset, a different lens, to their employers, bringing new solutions to problems.”
In August, Learning Alliance launched its School of Continuing Education, which is a Registered Apprenticeship Program sponsor, serving underrepresented communities through career development pathways in information technology, advanced communications and renewable energy.
Introducing a Degree Program in Telecommunications
Once recruited, men and women are flown by Learning Alliance to Tampa, FL, for 30 days of training, 13 hours a day and six days a week. The fully immersive training conditions students to the long work days involved in tower work, as well as enduring the heat and working at height.
“They’re getting hands-on training,” Ruiz said. “We’re reducing the learning curve associated with becoming a profit center for our employers, so that when our graduates hit the field, they’re going to be able to turn a wrench, historically, within 21 days. Getting greater experience earlier, reduces the learning curve, which makes our students a lot more successful.”
The Learning Alliance now offers a 60-hour degree program that focuses on the understanding and applying of new techniques in electronic technology for testing, maintaining, repairing and upgrading digital as well as analog communication systems.
“You should be able to have a vehicle towards obtaining a degree that is solely associated with what you do, day in and day out, but also gives you a roadmap, so that you have the opportunity to advance to be a top hand, a foreman and a construction manager,” Ruiz said.
The Associate of Science in Telecommunications program is designed to be an integrated educational curriculum taught using an applied, and theoretical approach. With the expansion of 5G wireless and 10G broadband, it teaches the fundamentals of digital communications, its applications and how information technology converges to create robust synchronous telecommunications systems.
“This program is specifically designed to guide the student in learning modern day communication system design and its correlating infrastructure,” Ruiz said. “The topics also include wired, wireless, and point to point technologies that create mesh networks, which enable instantaneous communication between two or more individuals.”
Between the relationship with Federated Wireless to provide CBRS training, with Taqtile, to create virtual reality gaming methodology, the NextTech Diversity Program, and the degree program, Learning Alliance is creating a 360-degree framework for educating the telecom technician of tomorrow, according to Ruiz.
But he is quick to point out that the changes at Learning Alliance are the result of input from the industry, which has identified the curriculum and hands-on activity that needs to be provided to serve their needs in future employees.
“They have their finger on the pulse,” Ruiz said. “The reality is that they live in the field. They work on the towers. They’re the ones that are turning the wrench and ensuring that our networks are working.”
For more information about Learning Alliance Corporation, visit https://www.mylearningalliance.com/.
By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor