By Craig Snyder…
Recently I was contemplating what the attributes are that make a good tower worker. Good tower workers have intelligence, social and mechanical skills, and a respect for and not a fear of heights.
They also can cope with long periods away from home. And when I use the word “good” in describing a tower worker, I also mean great or excellent. At our office, the subject of what attributes make a good tower worker came up in conversation when we discussed the demands that the telecommunications network build out places on tower companies.
In response to these demands, a few large companies have chosen to grow their in-house tower crews rapidly. The acronym TCAP (tower crew augmentation program) has been used to describe the effort to quickly ramp up a tower crew while maintaining or improving the quality of work and, I would assume, safety on the job. TCAPs make me wonder whether it is possible to have such rapid crew expansion without some sacrifice in quality or safety, and if so, how it could be done.
I reflected on how it is with our tower crews at Sioux Falls Tower. During our 25 years in business, we’ve evolved in the way we do things. It’s not easy building good tower crews. I’d like to think we found some secrets to success through experience. I’m proud of our crews. They are exceptionally productive. They meet high standards for quality of work. They have been loss-time injury-free for many years, and individual workers stay with us for what I consider to be a long time. And best of all, they are great people.
Quality of the Worker
The very best tower workers seem to possess the five attributes I mentioned at the outset. Take away any one of these attributes and the quality of the worker begins to taper quickly, and there is a strong likelihood they either will not be hired or will not last long as an employee. (Attention lady tower workers: I say ”he” in what follows for simplicity in reading. The same attributes apply to both women and men.)
Intellect: A good tower worker is smart. He’s a thinker, not just a doer. He doesn’t have to be schooled or have academic degrees, but he is intelligent. Intelligence lends itself well to common sense. He can figure things out without a lot of guidance. Out of the gate, he doesn’t make dumb mistakes.
Social IQ: Living with a crew for days or weeks at a time requires the ability to get along. A good tower worker knows when to talk and when to be quiet. He’s a good communicator. He can read people and respond appropriately in any given setting. He’s a friend even to those with whom it is hard to get along, including customers. He’s never belligerent, he uses appropriate language, and he does not abuse substances, including drugs and alcohol.
Heights: Typically one of the first things we ask applicants is whether they have a fear of heights. The desired response is something like, “I can’t wait to get up there!” A good tower worker respects heights and protects himself against the danger of falling, but he does not fear being up high. In fact, he is the one on the crew that would give up his spot on the ground any day for a spot on the tower.
Mechanical: Having innate mechanical skills is pretty important in tower work. This is not a job that comes with a lot of on-the-job learning time. Tower workers are busy enough with the physical exertion of climbing and keeping themselves protected from falls without having to learn how to use tools once they get up there. To make it in tower work, a new employee either needs to have mechanical experience or needs to be a quick study with a rope, wrench, tape measure and knife.
Travel: The second most common question asked of job applicants usually pertains to their ability to travel and be away from home for long periods. A good tower worker enjoys the traveling crew lifestyle. This attribute is possibly the most tricky to find, because even if he possesses all four of the other attributes, he can’t do this job if he can’t travel. I’ve watched some of the best applicants walk out the door because they knew that being away from home wouldn’t work for them.
So if you agree that finding people with these attributes is key, can the industry ramp up to meet the present and future demands and still maintain quality and safety? From personal experience, I believe it will be a challenge, especially for those who want to do it quickly. I believe that if it is possible, it will have to come from hiring individuals that possess the five attributes mentioned. Harvesting them from the workforce and then training them takes time. The industry would do well to exercise some patience in the process.
Craig Snyder is president of Sioux Falls Tower & Communications and a past chairman of both the National Association of Tower Erectors and the tower standard writing committee TIA 222.