In a recent episode of FDH Tech Talks (listen here), Gregg Fehrman, vice president of field operations, and Don Doty, director of broadcast services, discuss progress on the “broadcast repack,” the final stage of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Broadcast Incentive Auction, where tall tower work is underway to enable more than 1,000 broadcast stations to start transmitting on their newly assigned channels.
New channels were assigned to broadcasters after they auctioned off their “low-band” spectrum for cellular broadband applications including 5G. Now the affected towers require significant modifications and antenna installations to support the changes at a time when the industry is experiencing a severe shortage of qualified crews.
Having served the broadcast industry since 1947 and having installed more than half of the tall towers in the country, Stainless, FDH’s broadcast division, is one of the few tower engineering and construction companies equipped to help the industry solve this new unique challenge.
Tall tower workers have a special skill set that takes many years to acquire. They need to be physically able to perform heavy construction work at heights up to 2,000 feet for long periods of time. Unfortunately, as the preparation timeline for the FCC auction extended over a span of nearly six years, and the availability of tall tower work temporarily stalled, these unique workers scattered and companies went out of business. Stainless was fortunate to have maintained a talented and experienced workforce during this difficult time.
“Our foreman, our hoist operators, and our top push have 5, 10, 15 and 25 years of experience,” Fehrman explained. “You can’t grab somebody with six months, eight months, even a year, and put them in a position with that level of responsibility. You have to create a crew based upon experience.”
To help fill the qualified worker gap and bolster the repack efforts, Stainless is engaging in negotiations to bring in several experienced crews from Europe. Troy Peavey, director of safety, and Jeremy Hulse, tower crew lead, have conducted evaluations and training overseas to deploy three crews to the United States to work on Stainless projects.
“I am very much encouraged with the talent and experience of tower technicians abroad,” said Peavey, “and am excited about the opportunity to move forward with integrating them safely into our services platform through continued training, audits and qualified field management.”
Doty, an industry veteran of 44 years and current president of National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) Board of Directors, has been helping in other ways to develop additional resources and recognize the existing workforce talent. Being able to recognize the knowledge, skill and abilities required helps the workforce and tower owners. Recently, NWSA added a Portable Certification Program to help climbers advance in certification and career progression, and announced a Telecommunications Tower Technician Practical Examiner Accreditation Program (PEAP) workshop nationwide.
Doty noted in addition, “the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) has received government grants to increase their outreach for workforce development through the Susan Harwood Grants over the past few years.”
Combined these efforts are advancing safety and creating an impressive career path for the tower workforce, which has a mighty tall workload ahead.