The FCC has assisted 5G through spectrum allocations and streamlined zoning regulations to meet the need for more small cells. But the success of these efforts has led to a new dilemma: the lack of a workforce to build out that infrastructure.
To that end, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr a workforce development event that highlighted the Tower Installation Program at Aiken Technical College in Graniteville, South Carolina, this week to promote the need for practical and classroom training that enables workers to find jobs as tower climbers.
“We have been modernizing our permitting rules to enable the deployment [of small cells]. Now we are at a point where are seeing a big increase in small cells that are going up and that creates a new challenge to have a skilled workforce in place to actually do this build,” Carr said. “The industry estimates that we need 20,000 workers to build out this infrastructure. The only way we can to that is to get more certified telecommunication tower technicians, [known as TTT1].”
The Tower Installation Program at Aiken Tech, which is one of 16 colleges in the South Carolina Technical College System, trains students in accordance with the standards and internationally-recognized certifications, including TTT-1, established by the National Wireless Safety Alliance. Nearly 100 percent of the program’s graduates are placed with a tower company in the Carolinas or in Georgia.
“A key pathway to getting more certified tower technicians is in community college programs, such as Aiken Technical School,” Carr said. “You can come in with zero skills and within 12 weeks, through a combination of classroom training and practical exercises, you come out able to find a job as a tower climber.”
Carr has been working with other stakeholders such as the National Wireless Safety Alliance to replicate what Aiken is doing when it comes to training tower climbers in other community colleges and technical schools.
“The community college model makes sense because it gives you access to Pell grants and other military funding. They are embedded in the community and are able to pull in people that are interested in this line of work,” Carr said.
Workforce development is not a traditional FCC regulatory function, but Carr and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai have taken a holistic view of the 5G regulatory process and its impact on the build out the infrastructure. They have both visited cell tower sites and made multiple climbs up to the top.
Also on this road trip Carr took a tour of the Raycap | STEALTH small cell manufacturing facility in Charleston, South Carolina, which has been growing its workforce at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent monthly.
“You sit in DC and try to get these small cells regulatory reforms done, and it is really heartening to come out here and see that things really are speeding up. This buildout is really happening,” Carr said.
NATE, NWSA Representatives Also Attend Event
Also at the workforce development event was National Wireless Safety Association (NWSA) Executive Director Duane MacEntee, NWSA Board of Directors member Pat Cipov, NWSA Board of Governors member Dr. Gemma Frock and NATE Board of Directors member Shama Ray. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) were also on hand as special guests at the event.
With workforce development a top priority for companies at every layer of the wireless infrastructure ecosystem, the event helped shine a spotlight on the successful Tower Installation Program at Aiken Technical College. During the event, participants conducted a tour and talked to students of the college’s Basic Tower and Wireless Installation certificate program.
The program involves a 7-week curriculum model consisting of both classroom and field-based instruction intended to provide students with the necessary theory and hands-on education to receive a job in the applicable field. Topics covered include safety, basic rigging, fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics, wireless technology, cell components, antenna basics, and spectrum management. Students who graduate from the program can immediately seek employment in the industry or can elect to progress to the Advanced Tower and Wireless Installation Certificate and work towards the Associate in Applied Science at Aiken Technical College.