Due to the pandemic, wireless “has been shown as the backbone of connectivity. Because we benefit other industries, we are getting the help we need to fill the skills gap,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein Thursday. He spoke during a webinar titled, “WIA: the Hub of Workforce Development.”
Adelstein cited issues related to the wireless work skills gap such as: a lack of standardized training programs, turnover, retirements, career changes and aging out. The result of all this change is that hands-on expertise is valuable, but at risk of being lost, according to the executive.
“Apprenticeships are a way to get people into your company,” said Adelstein. “The wireless workforce is one we want to help you retain,” he explained, adding that WIA wants to be a “hub of resources” to members.
Telecommunications Education Center Director Kelsey Trundle said WIA is improving the TEC’s educational opportunities. “We partner with the enterprise, the individual, and community colleges. Our core training is centered around 5G and small cells.” She listed the most popular courses, including: 5G Outlook, Wireless 101 eLearning, DAS & Small Cell Basics, Macro Site Fundamentals and Site Development. A course on CBRS is coming soon, she said.
TEC offers 30 courses, four are self-paced eLearning courses. Some 2,000 students have been trained so far.
With the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), explained Director of Apprenticeship Deb Bennett, the program “is competency-based, which means abilities are emphasized over memorization.” Under TIRAP, “you get to take advantage of technical assistance provided by WIA.” WIA is the National Sponsor of TIRAP. Since 2017, WIA has administered National Standards of Apprenticeship along with the United States Department of Labor approved, apprenticeable occupations associated with the program. The Department of Labor has defined several wireless infrastructure jobs, such as telecom tower technician, wireless technician and telecom tower antenna and line lead.
Once a company expresses interest in an apprenticeship, WIA works with the companies to identify potential mentors and apprentices, and gets a program started. The apprenticeships are flexible, notes Bennett. “We compare program expectations to results. If something’s not working out, we can change it.”
WIA Public Affairs Manager Amy-Gabrielle Bartolac highlighted National Apprenticeship Week, November 8 – 14, which overlaps with Veterans Day. She calls it “an opportunity to demonstrate why apprenticeships are a viable career path. We’d like to partner with you [meaning members] to communicate this.” Bartolac asked for member help on social media to bring more attention to apprenticeships, saying: “We’d like to feature your apprentices.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief