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Tag Archives: Todd Schlekeway

How Transit Wireless Recruits, Retains Diverse Workforce

By Don Bishop

Louise Golding , senior vice president of people and business operations at Transit Wireless, and Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

Carefully planned onboarding and training for employees helps Transit Wireless retain its workforce, according to Louise Golding, the company’s senior vice president of people and business operations. She said Transit Wireless focuses on building sourcing pipelines across all aspects of the of the market in wireless communications, making sure it taps into as many diverse groups’ populations as possible. Golding 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.

As a 5G wireless communications company, Transit Wireless finances, designs, builds, operates and maintains networks in transit and other localities, supporting the 5G rollout across smart cities and technology, Golding said. Key partners she named are the New York City Subway and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In speaking of people Transit Wireless needs to hire, Golding said the company seeks people with learning agility, who are who have a deep technical expertise in engineering and telecommunications and who have a propensity to expand and broaden their knowledge and skill sets into other verticals.

“We’re looking at lot more roles with a broader application for that need while equally retaining that deep expertise that stands out for our engineering excellence,” Golding said.

Part of the challenge for a relatively small company in a competitive, demanding and hot market involves the challenge of creating a compelling vision and an environment where people want to work at Transit Wireless, she said. Equally important is retaining, developing and supporting those individuals to be able to grow and succeed within the organization, which, Golding said, ultimately makes the company succeed.

“Where do we get talented individuals with learning agility?” she asked. “Military veterans,” she said, “and other sectors with a great base skill that we can then build on. Once they’re in with us, we have clear development plans to ensure the right workforce balance to keep us agile and able to adapt to market demands.”

Golding said that her role at Transit Wireless is unique; a role that she said she expects will grow in some popularity in coming years.

“As well as being responsible for the organization and all that comes with that, ensuring that we’re set up and we operate to drive the best value and drive successful growth for us, I also lead our analytics and advertising business,” she said. “I’m also on the other side in a P&L role on the receiving end of those business initiatives and the value that that we drive from the organization perspective. My role is at the center of enabling successful growth.”

Elaborating on Transit Wireless’ methods for recruiting and retention, Golding said the company builds frameworks to guide individuals to determine their personal development plans. The frameworks empower managers collaborate with employees to identify technically and behaviorally where they can focus and work on how they can grow and learn, she said.

“We build our training on a tailor-made basis from a suite of available training, and then the individual with their manager can help build that personal development plan to really ensure that they’re successful,” Golding said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do that with learning pathways in a more remote way. We have leveraged an e-learning platform far more than we would have done previously, but equally balancing that with key training in person, then leveraging external certifications and requirements. It is focused on understanding the individual, their aspirations and their needs, and then building a plan to support that growth.”

Golding said that Transit Wireless has embraced diversity in its workforce. She said the company has made use of unconscious bias training for stripping unconscious bias from recruitment processes to ensure hiring someone with the right set of skills.

“We have not driven quotas — not to say that they don’t have a place — but we focus on identifying the right person for the role and making sure we explore as deep and hard as we can to find that right person,” Golding said. “Once people are in the organization, we create an environment where our customers’ needs and delivering for our customer absolutely comes first. That requires us to think about creative solutioning, problem solving and embracing diverse contributions each member of a particular project team or group of employees can bring to anything that they’re trying to solve for, and by embracing that inclusion and making sure people are heard and their expertise comes to bear.”

Golding went on to say, “We believe that the day we retain that diversity and it’s growing, equally we create an environment where everyone can thrive and, most importantly, our partners and customers benefit. Our expertise is bringing the best that people can contribute to the fore.”

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.

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Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.

How Trade Certification Helps Wireless Industry Workers

By Don Bishop

Duane MacEntee (left), a partner at the law firm of Barker MacEntee and executive director of the National Wireless Safety Alliance, and Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

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.

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Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.

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.

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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.

Rural Broadband Receives Boost From Senate Bill

By Don Bishop

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation known as the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act of 2021. The bill sets aside 10 percent of the net proceeds from spectrum auctions to be deposited into an FCC-administered Rural Broadband Assessment and Deployment Fund, to be used for building broadband networks.

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Thune in introducing the legislation.

Under terms of the Act, the FCC must use the fund to establish one or more programs to address gaps in broadband internet access service coverage in high-cost rural areas. The federal agency also would be required to address insufficient funding of other programs that could adversely affect the sustainability of broadband services or comparability of rates supported by such programs. Further, the FCC must establish transparency and accountability requirements for addressing such coverage gaps and funding shortfalls, and it must report annually on the distribution of amounts from the fund.

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, has its headquarters which is based in Thune’s home state. NATE’s president and CEO, Todd Schlekeway, said that NATE thanks the senators for their leadership in introducing the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act in the 117th Congress.

“NATE member companies are on the front lines of deployment, working on a daily basis to close the digital divide,” Schlekeway said. “The Association is proud to endorse this legislation that will ultimately provide an infusion of funds from proceeds generated from congressionally mandated spectrum auctions to promote broadband deployment services and communications infrastructure expansion.”

Christina Mason, vice president of government affairs for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said that the legislation puts forward a solid, common-sense and flexible solution toward eradicating the rural divide.

“We are encouraged by the bill’s focus on connecting rural communities to infrastructure capable of delivering reliable high-speed broadband, which COVID has shown to be more important than ever before,” Mason said. “Internet access helped America weather the storm, and WISPA’s 700-plus internet service provider members have proudly worked overtime to keep millions of Americans in the most remote areas of this nation connected during very difficult times. We believe no one should be left to compete in a 21st-century economy without access to broadband.”

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, said that existing programs like the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) play a critical role in helping providers deploy and sustain high-speed broadband in rural areas. It follows, she said, that NTCA endorses the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act because it is intended to to enable new initiatives and make use of existing programs to support the buildout and operation of broadband networks.

“If the last 15 months have shown us anything, it is that broadband connectivity is essential for daily life,” Bloomfield said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced so much of our lives to move online, NTCA’s community-based providers went above and beyond to keep rural Americans connected. But we have more work to do, and the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act would provide significant resources and powerful tools to help with the dual objectives of deploying advanced networks and sustaining high-quality affordable services across rural America.”

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.