The lack of technicians willing to climb cell towers is presently a significant problem in the wireless industry, with Todd Schlekeway of the National Association of Tower Erectors deeming it “one of our top issues” in a recent statement provided to FierceWireless. While such professionals were in short demand for years, recent developments aggravated the difficulty to the point that they may represent a significant obstacle to 5G deployment, at least for some entities, according to the industry veteran. All major wireless carriers are now tempting tower climbers with pay raises and other benefits in an effort to poach them from either their rivals or convince them to make a career change, having consequently made retaining workers difficult, as NATE members often complain, Mr. Schlekeway said.
The cell tower industry was estimated to have been employing some 29,000 technicians last year, with the NATE executive director saying that figure hasn’t dramatically changed this year despite a spike in demand led by the wireless and cable sector. The latter is now also a major factor due to its nationwide efforts to repack some unwanted 600MHz spectrum which T-Mobile acquired at a 2017 auction organized by the Federal Communications Commission. NATE is now responding to the problematic trend by promoting the cell tower technician profession among millennials, minorities, and military veterans, presumably because those demographics have trouble finding attractive jobs in other segments. “Start at the top and work your way down while being promoted” is one of NATE’s main pitches for convincing people to become tower climbers, with Mr. Schlekeway revealing the association is currently committing significant resources to a wide variety of promotional efforts meant to communicate the record-high level of demand for wireless technicians willing to climb cell towers which are usually hundreds of feet tall.
The NATE official believes the industry as a whole is now gradually joining those efforts and should eventually manage to attract and retain more tower climbers. That process may still be of the prolonged variety because “we don’t have a magic wand,” Mr. Schlekeway concluded. While the fifth generation of wireless networks will leverage existing radio towers, it will also place a much larger emphasis on small cell infrastructure due to its planned reliance on the millimeter-wave spectrum which isn’t suitable for long-distance travel despite its many other benefits such as improved capacities and significantly lowered latencies.