Experiential training makes military veterans an ideal fit for wireless workforce

In its ongoing quest to build its workforce to meet the growing demand for broadband connectivity, the wireless infrastructure industry has discovered a great talent pool: military veterans.

Veterans are rightly viewed as an ideal fit for the types of jobs that take them to the tops of towers and into varied terrain in all kinds of conditions. After all, these are the people whose military experience required them to rappel 50-foot walls, jump out of airplanes, fly the world’s fastest jets and face a variety of dangers.

But it’s not an innate courage that makes some people great soldiers or great tower climbers. The ability to face dangerous situations and still get the job done is a function of training, said Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO of Warriors 4 Wireless, which connects military veterans to telecom industry jobs. The military teaches confidence to push soldiers out of their comfort zone, learn to mitigate risk and ultimately believe that they can do what they are asked to do – safely, he said.

“How do you turn a high school graduate into a combat-ready military member?” asked Kennedy. “The whole idea of maturing a person ahead of their years gets into core values and concepts of duty. There’s a purpose that’s more important than me to think about in the world and being convinced that that purpose is worthy of my time, effort and attention.”

The military teaches its soldiers to face dangerous situations with confidence through training, Kennedy said. Soldiers are trained to mitigate risk by following procedures, using the right equipment and attacking the task at hand the right way.

“You’re going to feel fear if you’re in a dangerous situation, but what you’re training them to do is to manage that fear, manage that inside voice that is contemplating fight or flight and confront the urge to run,” said Kennedy. “Confronting that urge to run comes from learning proper procedures, following your training, trusting your equipment and doing the right thing.

“That sort of experiential understanding — not just academic knowledge, but experiential understanding — is a very valuable thing to have whether they’re on a tower or working on fiber, because they’re doing the right thing whether somebody’s looking or not,” he said. “They’re following the procedures with a task or chore list.”

Warriors4Wireless was co-founded 10 years ago by veterans Kelley Dunne and Earl Scott to help address the shortage of skilled jobs for returning veterans while satisfying the broadband industry’s need for trained technicians to deploy wireless telecommunications equipment and facilities. Originally a nonprofit with a charitable arm, Warriors4Wireless shifted its focus in 2017 to focus solely on its charitable work with Kennedy, a 32-year Air Force veteran, at the helm. The organization now works across the country to raise awareness among veterans about employment opportunities in the wireless industry and connect them with W4W’s hiring partners.

To reach veterans, W4W originally attended job fairs and local events, but Kennedy said they knew they needed a more 21st century approach to reach as many veterans as possible. Veterans are counseled to build an electronic resume when they exit the military into civilian life, and W4W leveraged that by using technology to now reach about 80,000 veterans per year.

“We’re just trying to let them know what the industry is all about,” said Kennedy. “That initial outreach is a very simple thing. It’s ‘Have you ever thought about telecom?’ and ‘Did you know there’s a whole industry behind that smart phone you are carrying?’ A lot of them don’t know that. They know they have three or four or five bars of connectivity, but they don’t know what makes that happen.”

About 25 percent of veterans contacted by W4W respond, Kennedy said, and then more in-depth conversations about specific opportunities in their areas begin. Those opportunities include tower climbers, tower technicians, fiber technicians, inside plant fiber techs and battery technicians as well as real estate specialists and site managers. Kennedy said he can connect a potential tower technician to between 5 and 15 interested companies.

There are no placement fees, no hidden costs and no obligation to hire. In the past year, W4W contacted 84,290 vets about telecom careers, coached 14,075 vets about options near them and connected 590 vets to telecom companies, a record number for the organization. Eventually it would like to help 1,000 vets or more per year find telecom industry jobs.

In total, W4W has connected 3,366 vets to the telecom industry and contributed nearly $3.4 million to directly assist veterans. In total, the organization has trained and placed over 3,300 veterans to date with the bulk of these moving into Tower Technician Level 1 roles. Originally, W4W had 50 hiring partners. That number has grown to more than 500 with jobs in 1,200 locations across the United States, said Kennedy.

“The more hiring partners I have, the more vets I can help,” he said. “And as we help more vets, we really are actually helping to build the wireless workforce.”

Although it doesn’t provide training, W4W does work with partners to offer specific training opportunities to interested veterans. For instance, it worked with Corning to develop a two-week fiber optic technician class approved by the Fiber Optic Association that allowed trainees to earn certifications upon completion. It also teamed with a group of veterans skilled in drone operations to teach people how to fly quadcopters that are being used in the telecom industry to build digital twins of towers.

“We aren’t running a training program to generate revenue,” said Kennedy. “Our main goal is to get the veteran deployed, and we recognize that in some cases, if they have certifications, that helps accelerate the hiring process.”

In a tight job market, Kennedy said employers are often willing to hire a veteran and provide training themselves.

“Most people get hired to be technicians not because of their resume but because of their willingness to do it,” said Kennedy, noting W4W doesn’t typically help with resume writing, although it does have coaches to help mentor veterans about interview skills and prep them for the realities of the jobs they are pursuing.

Support from within the telecommunications industry has grown over the past five years. T-Mobile is a hiring partner and has gone further in its support of the organization by creating a promotional video about mobile 5G technology training for veterans. It also has donated a substantial amount of money to help fund the nonprofit’s operations — $1 million last year. Vertical Bridge also recently partnered with W4W and chipped in more than half a million dollars in donations.

The Wireless Infrastructure Association recently partnered with Warriors4Wireless to leverage synergies between W4W’s pipeline of veterans and WIA’s training and education opportunities. The Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), led by WIA, is a competency-based apprenticeship that defines career paths in a growing number of critical occupations, including tower technicians, wireless technicians, and utilities workers, along with leads and foremen. By establishing on-the-job training as well as classroom learning, these apprenticeships help employers onboard and upskill workers. WIA’s Telecommunications Education Center is a dynamic learning program devoted to improving education, quality of work and safety within the telecommunications industry. WIA Executive Vice President Tim House sits on W4W’s board of directors.

“WIA is pleased to partner with Warriors4Wireless to help create pathways to employment in the telecommunications infrastructure for soldiers moving into civilian jobs,” said House. “Together we will work to accomplish a common mission of expanding the workforce that is building one of our nation’s most important assets – broadband connectivity.”