Tim House and Matt Mandel of the Wireless Infrastructure Association joined the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum in March for a webinar to discuss the latest trends in the wireless industry and their thoughts on what 2022 might bring for the ecosystem. They touched on the industry’s workforce needs and various initiatives to address education and apprenticeship, as well as the impact the monumental infrastructure funding bill signed last year could have on the industry.
House is Executive Vice President of WIA and leads WIA’s workforce development, meetings and events, and membership initiatives. Mandel is Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs. He oversees WIA’s outreach to federal, state, and local government officials regarding the need to accelerate the deployment of wireless infrastructure facilities and other issues that drive the wireless infrastructure industry’s legislative agenda.
House noted WIA is heavily invested in workforce development programs, including helping to found the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) in 2014. The Department of Labor registered program now includes 67 employers, more than 2,500 apprentices and 12 approved occupations. As a designated industry intermediary with DoL, WIA is contracted to expand apprenticeships in the industry with a focus on attracting underrepresented populations.
WIA also is working with a consortium of workforce-related organizations to build a Center of Excellence for apprenticeship and to improve strategic partnerships and systems. Finally, WIA created the Telecommunications Education Center (TEC) in 2016, which offers more than 35 educational courses that have been delivered more than 4,000 times during the past few years. House also highlighted a recent partnership WIA announced with Ohio State University to create 5G and telecom-related curriculum, a concept the association hopes to expand in an effort to reach young people in college, high school and earlier to inspire them to careers in telecommunications.
“I'm really proud and incredibly driven to transform our workforce through training and education,” said House. “I believe doing so will have an impact on poverty and unemployment and ultimately improve people's lives.”
House said a challenge the association has been focused on is articulating the career progression the wireless industry provides. During previous generations of network buildouts, the industry found people came in for a job and left for the next job or project when they were done. He said the industry should be inspiring them to build careers in the industry – starting as a drive tester and climbing a ladder to RF engineer or starting as a technician with a pathway to project management. These are well-paying jobs that a lot of people don’t know about, he said.
“Our industry invests somewhere between $60 billion and $80 billion a year in our networks -- in building them, maintaining them, upgrading them,” said House. “And yet we don't have, by and large, an educational and workforce system that supports and inspires people to pursue careers in our industry.”
House also noted a ‘striking’ shift in society’s perception of work in the wake of the pandemic. Work is no longer a time or place, he said, and an exodus from the workforce called ‘The Great Resignation’ has people leaving their jobs in droves for higher pay and better opportunities for advancement. The government is working to combat this trend with investments and initiatives such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will pump billions of dollars into the telecom industry aimed at closing the Digital Divide.
Mandel broke down the mechanics of the broadband funding included in the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law in December. The bill focused not only on traditional infrastructure but also digital infrastructure, including high-speed internet. The major issue WIA faced was whether the funding would be able to be used for wireless broadband as well as used for fiber builds.
“We have nothing against fiber,” said Mandel. “But we had to go in and convince lots of members of Congress and people at the White House and at the FCC that if you want to truly bridge the Digital Divide … and bring broadband to places that have nothing in a faster timeframe … you need to have an all-of-the-above approach.”
Funding will be distributed to states by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is working on a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) that is due by the end of May. Each state will get a certain amount of money based on a formula that takes into account unserved and underserved communities. Once distributed, states will then award grants to companies and organizations to build out the networks.
“We're hearing at state capitals and we're hearing from NTIA and from Commerce, including the Secretary of Commerce, that they want flexibility because the only way to bridge the Digital Divide is to have all technologies available,” said Mandel.
A big part of advocating for the industry is educating policy-makers about the vital role wireless broadband plays in communities for education, telehealth and other vital services and to make sure legislation and regulations encourage deployment, innovation and competition.
“We are enabling all of these great things that everyone always talks about -- Internet of Things, smart cities, artificial intelligence,” said Mandel. “It's all made possible through wireless 5G. Every job we create is a force multiplier for every other industry.”
WIA is a national trade association that represents about 200 members that build, own or manage the nation’s communications infrastructure. Members include carriers, infrastructure owners, equipment manufacturers, and small- and medium-sized companies that service the ecosystem. In addition to its primary function of advocating for policies that support the rapid and responsible deployment of communications infrastructure, WIA also produces Connectivity Expo, which will be held May 23-26 in Denver.
The webinar was hosted by Courtney Davis and Lynn Whitcher, co-executive directors of education for WWLF.
Are you a member of WWLF and attending the Connectivity Expo in Denver? Use promo code CX22WWLF to receive 20% off all pass types at the Connectivity Expo.