The workforce skills gap is a major challenge in the deployment of 5G and already affecting deployment in the field, according to Tilson CEO Joshua Broder. He testified Tuesday before the House Workforce Subcommittee on the importance of training and apprenticeship programs to meet current and future hiring needs.
Tilson is hiring an average of 35 new employees a month across 23 offices to support network infrastructure design-build services.
But the company has 100 openings right now, according to Broder, and it’s hard to find workers “with critical-thinking skills,” he said, pointing to the gap between the skills workers have versus the ones employers need.
Asked point-blank if the skills gap can affect 5G, Broder called it a, “major challenge. In the field, there are dozens of markets in which the lack of available workers is impacting production schedules.” The situation “could potentially lengthen that deployment by years,” he said.
Tilson is a member of the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the National Association of Tower Erectors. The company participates in the Wireless Infrastructure Association-sponsored Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP). The company has about 80 employees taking part in tower climbing apprenticeships, said Broder. The categories include Tower Climbing Technicians I/II, Antenna and Line Lead and Foreman registered in the program. Typical pay ranges from $18/hour for someone with no experience up to $70,000/year, according to the executive.
Barriers to getting more workers into apprenticeships include a maze of regulations and paperwork. Only able to get reimbursement for eight out of 80 participating Tilson employees in such apprenticeships so far, Broder said the company’s been, “unsuccessful at navigating the administrative requirements.” Congress could help by aligning those requirements, he suggested to subcommittee members, which is a subgroup of the House Small Business Committee.
An Army veteran, Broder said Tilson recently partnered with the Maine Quality Centers led by the Maine Community College System to support its apprenticeship certifications. Companies in Maine recently hired 100 Veterans in 100 days. As vets transition out of military service, a longer time spent on career coaching would be helpful, he suggested. Most of the two-week career coaching is spent on military service retention, he said.
Training needs to be accessible for a mobile workforce, he said, as tower workers ply their skills nationwide. Broder also cited wireless industry training initiatives Warriors for Wireless and Airstream Renewables.
by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
June 5, 2019