My First Tower Climb – And So Much More

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, a nationwide celebration of the success and value of Registered Apprenticeship, a proven industry-driven training model that provides a critical talent pipeline to address workforce challenges. WIA is the National Sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), the leading apprenticeship program in the telecommunications industry. TIRAP enables employers to develop and train their future workforce while offering career seekers pathways to good, quality jobs and well-paying careers. It is a great program and something WIA is proud to support.

With the spirit of National Apprenticeship Week in mind, this week I travelled to Pelham, Alabama to Tower U, where I had the privilege of spending two days at a safety and quality training facility with SBA leadership and a group of nine tower climbers in training. The crew included three tower climbers brand new to the industry, tower technicians, a crew leader, a construction supervisor and a safety technician. Their paths and stories were unique, and it was a pleasure getting to know some of them, even just a little bit. Unsurprisingly, two of the trainees were veterans, individuals whose training and experience we know translates to a dependable employee ready and willing to get the job done.

We talk a lot about the importance of the work that tower climbers, tower technicians and the rest of these crews do every day. And we acknowledge the challenges and difficulty of the work they do. Rightly so, because the work is critical. Without them there is no wireless infrastructure, and mobile and fixed wireless communications are nothing but a concept. We know that, but after listening in to two days’ worth of classroom and hands-on training in the field, and particularly after climbing a tower for the first time, I have a an even greater appreciation for the men and women of this industry.

Here are just a few things I took away:

  • Safety truly is paramount, and they spent a LOT of time on how to safely climb and also how to safely rescue a fellow climber in distress.
  • Quality is also paramount. Once you are up there, there is a job to do, and it needs to be done right. This job requires a lot more than knowing how to fasten a bolt; it requires the skill to properly receive and install some very complex (and heavy) equipment. 
  • There is a lot of equipment, and each piece serves a very specific purpose and needs to be operated properly. It was eye opening to see all of the different clasps, slings, ropes, and other contraptions involved and to learn when and how each of them must be operated.
  • There is math (physics) involved! One of the things I had never thought much about is the rigging process. Heavy equipment is hoisted from the ground and choosing the right equipment, based on mathematical calculations on the ground, can make or break the project.  
  • They may make it look easy, but climbing a tower is hard. It is physically demanding and it requires a lot of knowledge and skill to do the job safely and ensure a high level of quality.
  • The focus on team and mission is palpable—from the trainers to trainees to the executives supporting the operation. The appreciation for the safety and well-being of one-another, and the importance of the work being done, was evident at all times.   

This was my first direct exposure to the safety and quality training that goes on in the field. Hearing about this work via the TIRAP process and WIA’s workforce development initiatives is one thing. Seeing it in the field, putting on the equipment and climbing the tower myself, was another thing. It will not be the last time I do this.  

To all the tower climbers and tower technicians, trainers and trainees, and all the other workers in the field doing the hard work that powers the wireless industry, you have my respect and my attention. Thank you for doing what you do every day. I, and everyone at WIA, appreciate the critical work you do. It is an honor to advocate on your behalf.