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WIA Applauds Training, Apprenticeship Funding in Biden’s Build Back Better Framework Act

Jonathan Adelstein, president & CEO of the WIA.

The proposed funding for inclusion of sector-based training and registered apprenticeship, a workforce development program in the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Framework Act, received praise from the head of a membership organization of companies that make up the U.S. wireless infrastructure ecosystem.

“I applaud President Biden for prioritizing workforce development and apprenticeships,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) president and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “The proposed funding increase for workforce development over the next five years, including sector-based training which WIA supports in telecommunications, will help recruit and retain telecommunications workers for good-paying careers in our high-growth industry.

“As the national sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), WIA has led efforts to expand registered apprenticeships and workforce training in the wireless industry — and we know first-hand its value and the need for more investment. I commend the White House for its commitment to workforce development and encourage Congress to support this plan to build the workforce of the future and provide pathways to the middle class for millions of Americans, including those that join the telecommunications industry.”

According to WIA, since 2017 the association has administered national standards of apprenticeship for Department of Labor-approved occupations established under the program. Graduates receive national, industry-recognized credentials that certify occupation proficiency and expand opportunities for career advancement, the association said. WIA said it supports participating employers in promoting consistency and uniformity in training across occupations to improve the safety and quality of the wireless workforce.

According to the White House, the Build Back Better Act will create millions of good-paying jobs, enable more Americans to join and remain in the labor force, spur long-term growth, reduce price pressures and set the United States on course to meet its clean energy ambitions.

Apprenticeships Boost Employee Numbers, Diversity in Wireless Communications Industry

By Don Bishop

Stephanie Brewer, director of telecommunications safety and compliance for USA Telecom Insurance Services and TIRAP board chair, and Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

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.

Wake Tech Helps Lead the Race to 5G

By Laurie Clowers, Wake Tech News

Wake Tech will rise to new heights this summer, becoming the first community college in North Carolina, and only the third in the United States, to offer a Telecommunications Tower Technician program. The four-week pre-apprenticeship program, which launches June 21, is part of WakeWorks Apprenticeship and includes classroom instruction and on-the-job training at Tower Engineering Professionals (TEP), a prominent Raleigh-based telecommunications engineering firm. It’s designed to prepare students for high demand careers developing our nation’s 5G infrastructure and moving wireless telecommunications technology forward.

“TEP is excited to partner with Wake Tech on this initiative,” said Andy Haldane, CEO of Tower Engineering Professionals. “This is a great opportunity for future technicians to gain a leg up on competition as they enter the workforce and for us as a company to attract and retain new talent.”

Tower Engineering Professionals estimates that the company will need at least 150 new tower technicians each year for the foreseeable future.

(Right) R. Scott Ralls, Ph.D., president of Wake Tech.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Tower Engineering Professionals on this much-needed Telecommunications Tower Technician program,” said Wake Tech President R. Scott Ralls, Ph.D., who participated in a practice climb on June 3. “This is exactly what WakeWorks was designed for – to bring new opportunities that lead to greater economic mobility for Wake County residents and a stronger workforce for our community.”

WakeWorks Apprenticeship, funded by Wake County, will pay for tuition and other related expenses for students in the program.

Training will cover safety, rigging, fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics and wireless technology cell components. When students complete the program, they’ll be interviewed for Registered Apprenticeship opportunities at TEP, where they will be paid while receiving additional training on the installation, maintenance and repair of cellular, broadcast, utility and public safety towers.

“The rapid evolution of wireless technology, propelled by the conversion from 4G to 5G, has led to a major shortage in skilled tower technicians across the country,” said Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. “I get calls from companies in search of qualified technicians on a weekly basis. NATE views community college programs like this one at Wake Tech as being vital to developing a future pipeline of skilled technicians that are necessary to accomplish North Carolina’s and the country’s ubiquitous connectivity goals.”

Participants atop the tower used for training at Wake Tech.

Tower technicians in North Carolina earn an average salary of $51,000 a year. Ideal candidates are those who love the outdoors, enjoy traveling and don’t have a fear of heights.

The deployment of 5G infrastructure is estimated to require $275 billion in investment, adding $500 billion in economic growth and creating 3 million new jobs across the United States. In addition to NATE, the new program is supported by the National Wireless Safety Alliance, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprentice Program. Colleges offering similar programs include Aiken Technical College in Aiken, South Carolina, and Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Tower Technician program is among nine WakeWorks Apprenticeship opportunities at Wake Tech. Other programs include automotive systems, apartment maintenance and building & code inspector, EMT/paramedic, electrical, plumbing and HVAC. WakeWorks funds cover tuition and most other expenses for students accepted into apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs. For more information visit wakeworks.waketech.edu.

Laurie Clowers is vice president of communications and marketing at Wake Technical Community College. Republished with permission from Wake Tech News.

DoL Approves More Industry Career Path Opportunities

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.

Source: WIA

TIRAP Implementation: A Must for Forward-thinking Wireless Companies

By Nick Grull

The Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program is helping to alleviate a shortage of technicians trained to climb telecommunications towers while raising the level of safety training. The program combines classroom learning with hands-on training in the field.

If you live in Colorado as I do, you’d better love snow. It’s beautiful in the mountains, but not so much fun on the roads.

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].