5G is rolling out, as I recount in a December report on the topic and in a recent webcast. However, deployment could be slowed by a lack of workers, according to a report by John Hendel in POLTICO. He quotes Republican FCC member Brendan Carr as saying the country needs another 20,000 tower climbers in addition to the 27,000 tower hands working in the U.S. now. All aspects of 5G—from laying fiber to deploying small cells—could require 100,000 new workers, Carr says. Hendel cites wireless industry estimates of the need to deploy 800,000 small cells by 2026.
Hendel quotes Jonathan Adelstein, president of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, as saying, “The lack of a properly skilled workforce is a top obstacle we’re facing right now to winning the race to 5G.”
Hendel says current efforts to train a 5G workforce in the U.S. appear to be modest. Meanwhile, “The Chinese government has been actively mobilizing to contest global leadership in 5G, while rapidly progressing in the nationwide deployment of this foundational technology,” according to a November report titled “Securing Our 5G Future” by Elsa B. Kania of the Center for a New American Security. She calls 5G “…a key front in U.S.-China rivalry,” warning that 5G is “…critical because it will prove a vital platform to realize the full potential of a range of frontier technologies, particularly artificial intelligence and all its multifaceted applications….”
Hendel quotes Adelstein as saying that China can redeploy labor faster than the U.S. can. And Hendel quotes Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying that “…Beijing has made 5G a national priority, and the pace of infrastructure build out on 5G has been impressive.”
According to Hendel, Josh Broder, CEO of the 600-person Maine-based network construction firm Tilson, is looking to add 100 workers. Hendel quotes him calling for “…some sort of broader, more uniform federal support for workforce reskilling.”
In one such effort, The Department of Labor has partnered with industry on a telecom apprenticeship program called the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program, Hendel reports, adding that 2,000 apprentices across 28 employers are currently enrolled.
Hendel concludes with this quote from Carr: “When you have central planners in Beijing directing construction projects, they can’t match supply and demand. I believe in the American free-market, free-enterprise system.”