The wireless communications industry offers so many job opportunities in a variety of occupations that the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) now includes 11 occupations, according to Stephanie Brewer, director of telecommunications safety and compliance for USA Telecom Insurance Services, who also chairs the TIRAP board of directors. Brewer said that TIRAP recently added an underground and an overhead utility installer occupation that it previously did not have. Tower technician, wireless technician, antenna line, tower construction and inspection are among other occupations in the TIRAP program, she said.
Brewer spoke during an AGL Virtual Summit in June at the session, “Initiatives Grow the Communications Infrastructure Workforce and Increase Diversity,” moderated by Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. She said TIRAP is opening up, expanding upon the base position of tower technician, and that the program is working on including the small cell.
“Employers can register with TIRAP and have a roadmap that’s already created for training employees to these high-demand occupations,” Brewer said.
The TIRAP board of directors is made up of a diverse group of industry experts, including tower owners, carriers, safety suppliers, industry associations and construction companies that are involved in the apprenticeship program, Brewer said.
Elaborating on the history of the program, Brewer said TIRAP was created in 2013. It was a joint venture with the U.S. Department of Labor and the telecom industry looking to improve workplace quality and safety by addressing industry workforce needs and by providing employment and advancement opportunities, she said. Brewer explained that TIRAP is a competency-based program. Each occupation has a list of training competencies for on-the-job learning, she said, and it includes related technical instruction, which is the classroom component of any apprenticeship program.
“The uniqueness of TIRAP is that the employers can take these occupations and do the training in the manner that works for them and potentially their size of company,” Brewer said. “That training could be through an internal trainer, a community college, online, a third party or a combination of any of those. It also allows the employer to add training to the occupation, if they would like to, as we know each employer has different services that they provide.”
Schlekeway asked how apprenticeships inspire employees to achieve personal goals and recognition, to achieve greater success for the employer company and to motivate the company to invest in them.
“Giving them a career path — that’s a huge opportunity,” Brewer said. “If they feel like they’re being built into, and you’re building into those employees, they may not jump across the street for 10 or 15 cents. They may see that there’s a value in staying with your company and that you’re continuing to help them with their career path.”
Fifty-six employers have registered with the program, Brewer said, including recent signups by two large employers in wireless communications. She said 2,500 employees have signed apprenticeship agreements in the Registered Apprenticeship Sponsor Information Database (RAPID), the Department of Labor’s portal for the apprenticeship programs.
“That’s why we’re able to track how many we have in the telecommunications apprenticeship program,” Brewer said. She said 1,200 apprentices have completed an occupation, and TIRAP has five pre-apprenticeship program providers: Warriors4Wireless, Air Stream Renewables, Learning Alliance Corporation, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and EDS Technical Training.
Funding opportunities that the Wireless Infrastructure Association secured to the grant and the contract allows TIRAP to provide financial support to some employers that register with TIRAP and, in many cases, help with the cost of their training, Brewer said.
“We know how much training costs to continue the education for employees you have, or to bring on new employees, with the new higher cost of the training and the certifications,” she said. “We’re hoping to offset some of that cost by getting these grants and contracts.”
Schlekeway asked what TIRAP hears from employers about their diversity needs and what TIRAP does to create a diverse workforce.
“Some of the pre-apprenticeship companies that we partner with, like Warriors4Wireless and Learning Alliance, have a strong commitment to veterans,” Brewer said. “Many employers have partnered with those organizations to reach many diverse employees for their companies. For TIRAP specifically, we’re making sure we’re working with many companies that already have programs established.”
Brewer said that Deb Bennet, the director of apprenticeship at the Wireless Infrastructure Association, TIRAP’s national sponsor, has hired two experts specifically dedicated to the diversity outreach. With the DoL contract, Brewer said, TIRAP has a 50 percent diversity placement goal, and she said that veterans are inherently diverse.
“A huge part of our goals for the next couple of years is working with employers and pre-apprenticeship companies to make sure that we’re creating a diverse workforce,” Brewer said.
For the June 8 AGL Virtual Summit, Total Tech sponsors included Raycap, Valmont Site Pro 1, Vertical Bridge and B+T Group. Tech sponsors included Alden Systems and Aurora Insight. Viavi Solutions sponsored the keynote address. Additional sponsors included Gap Wireless, NATE, VoltServer and WIA.
Sharpe Smith programmed the Summit, and Kari Willis hosted. AGL Media Group has scheduled the next AGL Virtual Summit for Sept. 8. To register, click here.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.