As many out-of-work Americans look for jobs under the shadow of an unemployment rate that was still a high 5.9 percent in August, far more are in the market for a change. As many as 95 percent of working Americans are considering moving on to a new job or new industry, according to a Monster.com report released this summer, in a trend that news organizations dubbed as the Great Resignation.
At the same time, the telecommunications industry is poised for a massive round of job creation to build fifth-generation (5G) broadband wireless infrastructure nationwide. The coincidence of these trends could set the stage for a match made in heaven, or at least high above ground level. However, for telecom employers, contractor firms and the thousands of skilled workers they will need to make the 5G rollout succeed, the devil will be in the details of recruiting, training, credentialling and managing new labor for the challenge ahead.
To better understand how the industry can tap this national resource of workers who are ready to chart a new course, it helps to understand how many employed adults grew dissatisfied with their employment during the pandemic and what they seek in the way of career development. We can then examine requirements for positions opening up for telecommunications professionals in 5G. Meanwhile, we can better understand how leading organizations are ensuring new recruits get the training and opportunities they need to perform their new jobs while maintaining jobsite safety, efficiency and productivity.
The pandemic experience has brought many people to reevaluate their priorities and life choices, including work. Labor experts have attributed growing job dissatisfaction to several factors related to the pandemic, including, for many workers, burnout from screen fatigue while working remotely. Having experienced the autonomy and flexibility that can come with remote work, many are loathe to give up those privileges by returning to the workplace. In addition, having also enjoyed more time and contact with family and other non-work aspects of their lives, Americans are more intent on pursuing happiness through meaningful activities, including how they choose to earn a living.
Feelings of frustration with current employment positions held are common. In its July survey, Monster.com found that 86 percent of respondents felt their careers had stalled during the pandemic, while 79 percent felt a need to push their careers as the pandemic ends. Whether they felt prepared to make that change was a different matter, however, with more than half of respondents expressing fear that they lacked the skills to succeed in the new normal.
Seekers of meaningful work, and young workers in particular, have an opportunity to change the world by contributing their talents to the 5G rollout. Building the next generation of connectivity is a momentous undertaking that promises to close the divide between rural and urban communities, reshaping many of the ways Americans live, work and play.
Building and servicing 5G towers and equipment offers a welcome contrast to the screen fatigue that has tired so many students and remote workers. The industry’s skilled technicians play a material role in establishing and maintaining the nation’s prowess as a technology leader, even as they develop their own careers in a vital industry.
Moreover, it is a field of opportunity. The telecom industry will need to hire as many as 20,000 skilled workers to complete the 5G rollout, according to the FCC. Growing this new labor force calls for individuals who can think on their feet or suspended from a harness hundreds of feet in the air. If handling heights is not in their innate skill set, there are still places and opportunities in 5G, which require the installation of radio equipment and antennas on streetlights and traffic signals to blanket areas with coverage. There is a need for equipment specifiers, infrastructure designers and technicians trained in distributed antenna systems and fiber.
Although the pool of available and employed-but-swayable labor may be sufficient to fill the telecom industry’s hiring needs, most new hires will need to be trained before they can safely and effectively go to work in their new career path. Before they can be equipped and deployed, they must demonstrate their knowledge and prove their skills in practical field testing and earning necessary accreditation – including National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) professional trade certification.
Several organizations are already developing and adapting training programs to prepare the next generation of technology workers, from the FCC, NWSA and private industry to NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. The latter is developing a 10-week, turnkey curriculum to train tower technicians.
The NATE tower technician program will give community colleges and technical schools the course content to offer their own training. The system, which is part of NATE’s workforce development strategic initiative, will include certifications embedded in the training. That means graduates will be ready to take the NWSA test and, having earned NWSA credentials, can enter employment as a professional tower technician.
NATE is working with community colleges and technology institutes around the country to deliver its in-person telecom training. This will enable many workers to upskill or prepare for a telecommunications career, even if they currently work outside the industry.
The ability to verify a worker’s credentials will be crucial in the 5G rollout. The telecom industry relies largely on contractor firms that in turn hire and employ skilled workers from their local area. Teams of technicians and individuals within a team may shift from worksite to worksite daily. Workers may leave one contractor to work for another. Add in a continual influx of new hires, and managers have almost no way of knowing the skillsets and experience of the workers on their jobsite, unless they use credential tracking technology.
Credential-tracking software enables a worker to prove their qualifications for a given job or procedure, such as operating specialized equipment. Sometimes called worker passports, some systems assign and track credentials for tens of thousands of workers worldwide. When an employee changes jobs or moves to a new area, they take their digital credentials with them.
America’s 5G network will revolutionize communications, bringing digital whiteboards, 3D projection and other data-intensive technologies into the realm of practical tools for day-to-day business. Building the infrastructure to deliver this next-generation broadband to users throughout the country is akin to the construction of the interstate highway system, or of bridges and other public works projects by the Greatest Generation following World War II.
If the telecom industry can convey this similarity to Americans seeking meaningful work, it will be well on the way to solving its labor challenges. Then it is up to those employers and their allies in education to prepare candidates and track their credentials for careers in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of 5G systems.
Jeff Muto is chief marketing and strategy officer at Veriforce. Visit www.veriforce.com.