NATE decided to give their annual conference a brand new look this year, calling it NATE UNITE 2014 rather than the NATE Conference and Exhibition. According to Todd Schlekeway, Executive Director at NATE, “The rebranding took on a lot of areas. We have three tracks of educational sessions throughout the conference. We have a technical track, a leadership track, and we added an administrative track. So there’s more educational sessions and panel sessions for attendees to choose from. We’ve added more courses for tower technicians to take while they’re at the show and gain certification.” Their rebranding effort has paid off because NATE’s pre-registration numbers are up from last year, the number of show sponsors is up, and their exhibit hall is completely sold out. NATE is working closely with the California Wireless Association, who will be co-hosting the opening reception and conducting several panel sessions. “This fits in with the work we’re doing with more state wireless associations and the work we’re doing with the wireless industry safety task force. It’s a really exciting time for NATE. We feel like as busy as the industry is this is a golden opportunity for us to attract more companies,” Schlekeway shared.
Todd believes NATE’s mission is extremely noble and the purpose of their association and the conference is to educate industry professionals on the importance of safety and how best to achieve that. “We really want to encourage member companies to bring as many of their employees as possible because then their chances are enhanced when they can bring their tower crews, receive additional training, and learn in the educational sessions as well,” he said. However, NATE still faces challenges. “The most challenging part is that it is an entire ecosystem that is responsible for safety and there are a lot of different players involved in that—whether it’s the wireless carriers, the tower owners, general contractors, small contractors, and just making sure communication remains open and honest. It’s very rewarding but it can also be challenging because the industry is so busy. One of the challenges right now facing the industry is that there is a huge demand and there’s not enough workforce to meet this demand.”
With so much demand for tower workers, new companies are popping up. However, sometimes these companies don’t take the time to educate their staff on how to operate a safe work site. “We’re working really hard so that anyone who is going to be placed on a tower site and going to be working at elevated heights has adequate training. This is not an industry where you should be rushing someone out onto a worksite regardless of the demand. So we always urge caution; and, many of our member companies invest a lot into their new employee training and orientation programs and then pair them with an experienced climber when they first get out on the field. We really emphasize that each member company create that atmosphere of safety in their own organization and that starts at the very top with the owner of the company all the way down to the safety manager. It’s refreshing to know that we have a very dedicated group of member companies that are extremely passionate about safety. It’s not just lip service; they walk the walk and talk the talk because it’s a significant investment when you bring on new employees. But that is something we’ll always talk about is creating a culture of safety within your own organization,” Schlekeway explained.
Todd began working with NATE in June 2012, after he had worked as a state senator for South Dakota, assisted senator John Thune with his political campaigns, and owned his own PR firm. “I’ve always been interested in policy and telecommunications always kind of interested me. When I was in the legislature, we dealt with policy issues in telecom so it was just a unique opportunity when the job opened up—to be involved with an association like NATE that has a national scope, but it’s in my home state of South Dakota. I was very much drawn to the mission of NATE and that’s industry safety and producing best practices and safety resources for the industry,” Schlekeway said. Next year, NATE will celebrate its 20th anniversary with another conference in Orlando, Florida that the association has already started planning.
See you in San Diego!