Referring to what he called an incredible uplift in adoption of National Wireless Safety Alliance certification, Duane MacEntee, NWSA’s executive director, said that the organization has administered almost 30,000 examinations since its inception in 2015, and the vast majority of those have been given in the last 18 months. MacEntee 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.
MacEntee also is a founding partner of the law firm of Barker MacEntee, whose practice includes serving engineering firms and contractors doing business in wireless communications.
Among NWSA’s members are carriers, tower owners, contractors and supporting organizations that wanted an independent mechanism for verifying and validating worker proficiency, MacEntee said. He said the organization is becoming quite successful at having a trade certification. A trade certification differs from a training certificate, and he said both are extremely important.
According to MacEntee, a training certificate is evidence that someone has gone through a class, and has been trained on a particular skill. What a trade certification does is more comprehensive, he said.
“A trade certification is a test that validates the knowledge and experience of an individual at a certain proficiency level,” MacEntee said. “It has to be unbiased. We did this to make sure that we had an independent, verifiable and portable credential that goes to the worker, no matter where the worker is employed. It’s not unlike a welder: no matter where they got to work, they’re certified. That’s the analogy I draw for a crane operator.”
What NWSA tried to do, MacEntee explained, was to ensure that it came in at the right level within the framework of the apprenticeship model or the O*NET model of occupations, and to have the right people coming to the table. An example of a relevant apprenticeship model is the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) that includes 11 occupations. The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) was developed under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration through a grant to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The O*NET database contains hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors for 1,000 occupations covering the U.S. economy.
As MacEntee explained, NWSA follows a deliberate, disciplined process, and the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) national accreditation board accredits NWSA. “That’s what gives us the credibility that we are managing the program to a standard that’s unquestionable, and that our testing instruments themselves are validated statistically,” MacEntee said.
The use of a statistical validation called psychometrics make sure that NWSA is testing at the right level and that its tests achieve what the wireless communications industry says it needs, MacEntee said. “We go through a lot of science to get to a test that’s valid,” he said. “It’s the first time in our industry where there’s a credential that follows the worker, no matter where they’re employed. It’s meaningful for the professionalism industry.”
As a wireless communications industry worker pursues a career, there are points along the way where certification becomes important, MacEntee said. Typically, with an apprenticeship model, certification becomes critical, leading to NWSA’s collaboration with TIRAP.
“Many TIRAP members also are NWSA members,” MacEntee said. “We work together to identify trade certifications. It allows someone new coming into the industry to identify a path that they can point to, not unlike other professions in the trades in which they have an occupation that can provide for their families for years to come, and in which they can make progress. It’s a stair-step process.
“For workers who want to come in, who are dedicated to progression and who want to learn more, we have something for them to achieve that then represents the worker to employers that they can rely on, that doesn’t waste a lot of time in retraining all the time,” MacEntee said.
“If someone comes in to a trade at a certain level of proficiency —no one questions an electrician, a master electrician, as to whether or not they know Ohms law, right. Therefore, it’s that kind of thing. We’re looking at that as being a very big plus for our industry.
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.