The U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) has approved two new occupations for apprenticeship training through the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP). The new occupations are overhead utility installer technician and underground utility installer technician.
“Not only does this approval from DoL demonstrate that there is a national focus on the need to train for the jobs of tomorrow, but it also offers additional career pathways for those who want to enter the growth industry of communications,” said WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “WIA, along with the Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), is committed to launching, promoting and expanding apprenticeships to support workforce development in our high-growth industries. With DoL’s support, we’re able to expand opportunities for underrepresented populations and support long-term careers to cultivate diversity in the workforce.”
PCCA President and CEO Tim Wagner said that overhead and underground utilities are essential to both the national deployment of 5G wireless networks and modern electric power infrastructure. “Our members excel at these endeavors and now seek to build upon our success by partnering with WIA to develop and further expand our workforce to meet growing demands,” he said.
WIA is leading a national effort to expand the size, quality and diversity of the telecommunications industry workforce with partner organization PCCA. DoL has recognized WIA as the national sponsor of TIRAP and as the industry intermediary for telecommunications apprentice programs. DoL is supporting these efforts with significant resources to expand WIA’s TIRAP program. TIRAP offers 11 occupations within its training program. More than 33 employers and 2,000 apprentices are registered in TIRAP.
Graduates of TIRAP apprenticeships receive national, portable, industry-recognized credentials that certify proficiency in specific occupations. The Department of Labor data shows that 94 percent of apprentices retain employment after an apprenticeship program ends and lists additional benefits such as reducing turnover, improving productivity, and recruiting a skilled and diverse workforce.
Actually, the snow on the roads isn’t the problem. It’s the other drivers, because even in a state as snowy as Colorado, remarkably few people know how to drive properly and safely when the road conditions are less than ideal. Some people were clearly taught well, and they stand out from the crowd of drivers causing chaos on the roads. But not everyone had good training, and their habits affect everyone on the roads. The world would be a better place if everyone learned how to properly drive in the snow — fewer accidents, better traffic flow and much less frustration. But unfortunately in every state that sees snow, Colorado included, the difference in winter driving training varies dramatically. Imagine for a second what it would be like if every person in your state could drive the right way.
This brings me to the topic at hand. Training programs for new professionals in the wireless industry vary as much from one organization to the next as winter driving abilities vary among drivers. Inconsistency in professional training undermines safety for workers in the wireless infrastructure business. For every employer, it also places an obstacle in the way of productivity and impedes industry growth. Many statistics reveal a current shortage of technicians in the workforce that serves the wireless communications business; thus, effectively and efficiently training new entrants to the industry serves an important objective and will only become more important in the months and years ahead.
The discrepancies in training from one organization to another make an inherently dangerous job even more dangerous. Anyone who manages tower crews or who is responsible for safety protocols in the industry knows first-hand how two workers with the same amount of time on the job can have radically different levels of safety training and skills development. For example, if one technician started his career at a small wireless shop with just a few employees, that employee may have received little or no formal training. More often than not, he learned on the job in an ad hoc way, and the quality of training depended on whether the supervisor was a good teacher who went above and beyond with mentoring. In contrast, a technician at a larger company with more resources might go through a highly formal training process that would put the new technician miles ahead of his counterparts. As safety manager, I have put a lot of time and energy into creating a training program that sets the bar high, but it’s important to point out that even among larger companies, training programs can differ dramatically.
This situation does not serve employees or wireless companies well. It is a lose-lose proposition for a number of reasons. For entry-level technicians, the safety training they receive and the head start they get on key skills development is completely hit or miss, leaving too many workers far behind their peers at other companies. That not only puts them in unnecessary danger on the job, but also holds them back in their careers. Having moved up the professional ladder myself and having trained as many people as I have, I have learned how important the right skills are for both safety and career growth. For employers, the lack of consistency has a significant effect on productivity, becoming a pain point on a daily basis. The skillsets of two employees that, on paper, look identical can be dramatically different. And teams composed of workers with significant training differences can slow projects to a crawl while also creating safety vulnerabilities.
The safety of workers and the rapid growth of the wireless industry require a new approach to training that creates consistency across every company in the industry. The Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) does exactly that. The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), the U.S. Department of Labor and multiple telecommunications companies jointly developed TIRAP. Participating in the development of the TIRAP program has been one of the most important efforts in my career, and I believe that it will enable companies of every size in the wireless industry to provide employees with uniform training that makes them safer and more productive, and that supports companies’ bottom lines.
One thing that makes this program so strong is the way it combines classroom learning with hands-on training in the field — a combination that Centerline Solutions has used with great success in our own training. TIRAP is designed to create uniform training for each of the roles through which workers may progress during the first few years of their careers:
· Tower Technician
· Wireless Technician
· Tower & Antenna Lead
· Tower & Antenna Line Foreman
· Tower Construction Lead
· Tower Construction Foreman
· Maintenance and Condition Assessment Lead
· Maintenance and Condition Assessment Foreman
Companies that enroll in TIRAP receive extensive resources and support from the U.S. Department of Labor to help facilitate the training program and support employees. The support that participating companies receive includes a clear set of standards for the apprenticeship program, which give both employees and employers measurable goals, an easily implementable framework for operation of the program, and designated training materials and resources for each role for which a growing professional is training. In addition, a dedicated Department of Labor representative is assigned as a liaison for each participating company, providing ongoing support in implementing the program, which can be delivered in-house or via a community college.
I can speak to the ease of implementing TIRAP because I am taking the lead on rolling out TIRAP-based training that will span the organization here at Centerline Solutions. We have immediately rolled it out to all of our operations centers, with more than 100 employees already enrolled. We will also have all new technicians at the company participate in TIRAP as a standard part of their new-hire training. TIRAP is designed to be easy to implement as an extension of existing company training programs.
Centerline Solutions is not alone in embracing this program. TIRAP already has reached a 1,000-person milestone for professionals enrolled in TIRAP training. This is a great start, but it is just the beginning.
Employees and employers both benefit from having this program placed into their companies. New technicians are trained through a consistent program, ensuring they will learn the vital skills necessary to help them follow safety protocols on the job and advance their careers. With these skills, qualifications will be completely clear and technicians will be safer. The prescribed training program certifies employers will know exactly what they are getting when they hire someone who has worked elsewhere. Employers have a clear road map with TIRAP for how to train new and existing employees so that they are productive and safe. This program ensures that everyone is on the same page and workers have skillsets and head starts to their career that are uniform, fair and safe.
If your company has not yet looked at the TIRAP program and has not yet begun a discussion about how it can complement your professional training, I encourage you to visit the TIRAP website and learn more about the program. Interested companies can obtain more information by contacting TIRAP’s Deb Bennett at [email protected] And for a more in-depth example of how TIRAP is being implemented, check out the profile of Centerline Solutions’ TIRAP deployment at www.tirap.org/centerline-solutions-proud-participant-of-tirap.
Nick Grull has been a part of the Centerline Solutions team for nearly a decade. As safety manager, he has helped develop one of the wireless industry’s leading tower safety programs. His email address is [email protected].