Smart Cities Caucus logo

A skilled workforce will enable smart and connected communities

WIA CTO Dr. Rikin Thakker It was an honor to be invited to participate in a webinar by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D- NY) and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who are leading the 117th Congress Smart Cities Caucus. The webinar had an aspiring name and likewise some large ambitions. The Congressional Caucus on Smart Cities Launch, Building Back Smarter: Leveraging Technology and Data for a Better Future, was moderated by Steve Crout, Director of Policy and Resilience Programs, Smart Cities Council, and featured Alice Tornquist, Vice President for Spectrum and Technology Policy, Qualcomm Inc.; Nadia El Mallakh, Area VP, Strategic Partnerships and Ventures, Xcel Energy; and John DeBoer, Head of Siemens Future Grid and eMobility Solutions, North America; as well as me.  You can watch the webinar here.

The Smart Cities Caucus believes there are four pillars to a smart community: Connectivity, Mobility, Sustainability and Workforce. I was focused on explaining how 5G injects “smartness” to cities and how a skilled workforce will enable a smart city.

5G and Smart Cities

We know that the U.S. won the race to 4G, and our 4G leadership created millions of jobs. We have seen innovation through the app economy. 5G networks are going to take all of this to a much higher level. It is expected to transform how people and machines communicate and even how industries do business, and how smart cities will enable smart and connected communities.

What’s unique about 5G is that it is being deployed at low-band, mid-band and high-band frequencies and will provide more ubiquitous coverage and capacity that can also address digital divide issues.

5G is not Just about gigabit of speed. It will provide that speed. However, 5G is enabling massive connectivity to machines and devices, sensors and infrastructure. These are the building blocks of any smart-cities application.

Going forward, workforce initiatives will be crucial for effectively deploying 5G. We are seeing a lot of activities in network buildouts of 5G. Our industry is spending about $25 billion each year in building new towers and upgrading the infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of new small cells will be deployed to make sure 5G is provided to a vast majority of the population. This will require a skilled workforce.

Workforce for 5G and Smart Cities

One of the key enablers for all of this is the availability of skilled workforce and let’s face it – we don’t have that yet. 5G is expected to create 4.6 million jobs in the next 10 years. This is possible only when 5G networks are deployed on time. Without a skilled workforce, we will be delaying the deployment and associated innovation.

At WIA, we have been working very hard to address this skills gap. We have recognized the benefits of apprenticeship model and we believe it is the best framework to address this gap. We are the organization that brought apprenticeship to the broadband industry for the first time through our Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program – or TIRAP.

There is another important issue we need to keep at the center for all of this: Women, people of color, and veterans continue to face underrepresentation in this industry, and we are glad to report that the vehicle provided by the Department of Labor (DOL) will allow us to address this through Registered Apprenticeship Program. And we are seeing a lot of activities and bipartisan support to address the skills gap by Congress. I want commend Congresswoman Clarke’s efforts in addressing this issue. Congresswoman Clarke (D-N.Y.), and Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act to help close the workforce shortage in the telecommunications industry. We are supporting this bill. This will create the workforce to deploy 5G technology and broadband infrastructure to underserved communities.

Role of Registered Apprenticeship in preparing the workforce for 5G and Smart Cities

As wireless technology evolves, the workforce needs to evolve along with it. And we know that the skills of yesterday and today no longer suffice for the wireless jobs of the future. We need to be innovative and find models where workers get learn on the job, get paid, and keep building the networks – in other words, apprenticeship.

Registered Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience and classroom training. More importantly, participants receive a portable industry-recognized credential issued by the Department of Labor.

As I mentioned earlier, WIA brought the first Registered Apprenticeship program for the telecommunication industry through TIRAP. We have been the national sponsor of TIRAP since 2017. Last year, DOL recognized the work we have been doing through a couple of awards:

  • We received a grant from DOL to expand our efforts by creating more partnerships with employers and community colleges. We are working with Power and Communication Contractors Association (PCCA) and their employers and are helping community colleges develop new curriculum that meet the employers need for the class-room training.
  • WIA was also awarded the Industry Intermediary contract by the DOL to accelerate our ongoing work in expanding 5G workforce, filing new in-demand occupations, and providing technical assistance to employers.

TIRAP is already seeing tremendous success. We have more than 2,300 apprentices and 50 employers are participating in TIRAP and using the platform. We are getting more interest from employers and schools every day. I urge everyone interested in exploring this model to reach out to us.

Through DOL’s industry intermediary contract, we are helping different stakeholder and doing the legwork for the employers. We have created the program for you and we can address your needs of new occupations. We are committed to expand diversity in the registered apprenticeship program. Our goal is to have at least 50% of the apprentices coming from the underrepresented communities and we are working with various organization to expand the participation from women, people of color and veterans.

With all this, our work has just started. An apprenticeship model is relatively new for our industry and we urge the Department of Labor to continue supporting our industry and us so that our work to bridge the skills-gap for 5G and to meet the equity goals can continue.