5G Worker Shortage: How to Become a 5G Installer

The 5G revolution is upon us.  Service providers are rolling out the fifth generation of wireless across the country.  If predictions are correct, the speed, capacity and low latency provided by 5G will revolutionize everything around us.  But why does the change seem so underwhelming right now?

The answer is that not all 5G is the same.  Think of it this way; a Corvette and a Model T are both cars designed to transport people from place to place.  Both are capable of getting you to your destination, but one will do it much, much quicker.  Today’s 5G is still in its infancy- its “Model T” phase.  It’s going to take some time and a giant workforce of 5G installers to build the infrastructure necessary for the “Corvette” era of 5G to begin.

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Why does 5G need more installers?

5G is the first generation of wireless that has grown beyond the limitations of existing infrastructure.  Previous wireless signals were delivered to antennas by copper wire.  Unfortunately, this old wiring isn’t capable of the speed and capacity requirements of 5G.  The copper backhaul will need to be replaced with fiber optic cable.  Millions of miles of fiber are needed to update the infrastructure.  Some will be run on utility poles, some direct buried and some installed by microtrenching.

In addition to fiber workers, installers will be needed to set up new antennas to transmit signal.  The fastest 5G frequencies are only capable of traveling a short distance.  While 4G towers can service an area of several hundred miles, high speed 5G can only reach around a mile in ideal conditions.  To remedy this, antennas called small cells will need to be installed in many locations.  It is estimated that 2 million small cells will be needed.  Each of these will not only need to be physically mounted and set up, but fiber needs to be run to each one to supply signal.

Once the new network is up and running, maintenance becomes an issue.  Today’s 4G coverage comes from large cell towers, called macro cells, spread throughout the country.  With all the small cells up and running, there will be many times more antennas to maintain, requiring more maintenance techs.

How many 5G installers are needed?

Estimates vary, but the numbers are very high.  A study from Boston Consulting Group estimates that 5G will add 3.8 – 4.6 million new jobs by 2030, adding $1.4 – $1.7 trillion to the US GDP.  Of those new jobs, 451,000 will be in the construction industry.  An added benefit is that these jobs aren’t located to any geographic location, work will be happening all across the country.

The FCC estimates that 5,000 new construction jobs will be created for every billion dollars’ worth of fiber installed.  By 2030, they estimate that over $20 billion worth of fiber will be deployed, creating over 100,000 jobs.  An additional 20,000 tower climbers will be needed as well to perform antenna maintenance.  Add in the workers needed to install and maintain the small cells and you’ve got a sizeable boom in construction.

Knowledgeable workers have some leverage

The lack of skilled workers has caused an increase in wages.  According to the CTIA, the trade association for the wireless industry, the average yearly pay for the 672,000 current telecom workers is $77,500.  They estimate that the industry needs 850,000 more workers by 2025 to implement 5G.

The need is real. Every 1% shortage of workers would cost 1.5% of the financial benefit. In real numbers, a shortage of 30,000 workers could cost $20 billion over 10 years.  The numbers could be even worse if the lack of workers causes the US to lose its competitive advantage.  It’s the perfect time to learn how to become a 5G installer.

What kind of training opportunities are available?

Fortunately, this worker shortage has been noticed and plans are in place to try and fill crucial roles.  Companies have been recruiting at all levels to build their workforce.  Representatives have been reaching out to students in high school, college and trade schools to connect with younger workers.

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) has developed a course to train potential workers to install, splice, test and maintain fiber systems.  The Optical Telecom Installation Certification, or OpTIC, consists of 144 hours of coursework.  Once complete, those certified will have the opportunity to apprentice with a local service provider.

One such apprenticeship is sponsored by the US Department of Labor.  The Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) helps recruit and train workers for the telecom industry.  Classroom and on-the-job training are combined to train tower technicians and utility workers.  There are over 2000 apprentices currently in the program.

New programs are expected to emerge as well.  A bipartisan group of representatives have introduced House Resolution 1032, the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act.  The act, introduced in February of 2021, would mandate the FCC to assist states in recruiting telecom workers.  Money would also be included to promote the TIRAP.

How can factoring help your telecom business hire workers?

Like many industries, the telecom installer shortage has driven up wages.  With more expenses to cover, getting paid quickly on outstanding invoices is more important than ever.  Waiting 30, 60 or even 90 days for payment can leave a business strapped for cash and unable to fund new projects.  That’s where Factor Finders can help. A wide range of telecommunications businesses rely on accounts receivable factoring to combat cash flow challenges.  We can get you paid in as little as 24 hours for the work you’ve completed.  Give us a call or fill out this form to get started today!

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