The tower industry is facing a perfect storm – and it has nothing to do with the weather.

As wireless carriers race to deploy 5G networks, field service organizations are being pushed to do more than ever. There’s just one problem – an entire generation of technicians is nearing retirement age, and it’s creating a shortage of experienced workers.

For tower companies, that puts even more emphasis on workforce development. Organizations need to get a new generation of technicians up to speed, while still preserving a culture of safety.

Last week, members of our team traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to discuss 5G challenges, workforce development, and more at the 25th annual NATE Unite conference.

NATE Unite is widely recognized as the premier event for the tower erection, service, and maintenance industry. And while climber safety is always a priority, this year’s event also focused on technician enablement strategies and workforce development.

Here are three takeaways from the event — and how you might be able to apply some of these learnings to your own field operations:

1. The labor pool is shrinking … even with increased demand

According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, tower companies will need to add 20,000 jobs to fully deploy 5G networks in the United States.

Although we think that automating routine tasks can help drive that number down, organizations will still need to hire new technicians over the next decade to fill gaps in their workforce.

Unfortunately, the qualified labor pool today is smaller and more competitive than ever. Not only are millennials gravitating toward other fields, but adjacent industries (such as oil and gas) are also seeing explosive growth in hiring.

For field service leaders, it’s more important than ever to make a career climbing towers sound appealing.

Owen Grohman, our Regional Vice President of Revenue, North America, is also a member of the NATE Workforce Development Committee. He recently wrote an article for the organization’s monthly publication on how to attract, train, and support a millennial workforce.

2. Organizations are investing in new training models and tools

At Zinier, we talk a lot about the challenge of deploying 5G networks. Organizations are being asked to install hundreds of small cells for every traditional tower, a volume of work that cannot be handled by people alone.

In response, organizations are looking for ways to streamline their field operations and automate some of the manual tasks that slow down their field teams.

At the event, a number of attendees asked how we help organizations automate field service. One of the simplest – and most effective – is automatically attaching each photo taken during the mobile workflow into a close out package. It’s a small thing, but it saves technicians from having to manually upload and attach each photo after finishing the task.

Step-by-step mobile workflows are also helping close the gap between experienced technicians and new hires. Not only does this mobile-first approach appeal to millennial workers, but it reduces the need for specialized training and ensures consistent service quality across all field teams.

3. Safety remains a top priority

One of the biggest issues that tower companies need to address is the perception that the industry is overly dangerous.

According to Tom Warchol, General Manager of Sky Climber Telecom and a member of the NATE Safety & Education Committee, some people still believe that tower climbing is a “cowboy industry,” despite significant strides in developing technician standards, safety policies, and workforce guidelines to improve job safety.

Built-in safety checklists can help dispel this notion by mitigating risk and promoting a culture of safety and compliance. These checklists can be added to any mobile workflow and help ensure that climbers are always secured and job sites are properly locked down.

Want to learn more about how automation can help you prepare for the next decade of field service? Download this ebook on future-proofing your workforce or contact our team today to discuss your operational challenges in more detail.

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