Planning for the 2022 NAB Show is ramping up, and Radio World is asking exhibitors about their plans and expectations. Todd Schlekeway is president/CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.
Radio World: What will be NATE’s most important news or theme?
Todd Schlekeway: NATE has maintained a positive, collaborative relationship with NAB for many years. The NAB Show is a great forum for NATE to get in front of our broadcast-centric contractor and vendor members. Many of NATE’s founding member companies had their roots in the broadcast industry, so this show is somewhat of a reunion annually for that segment of our membership.
Some of the themes and resources you will see on display at the NATE booth include information on our latest best safety practice resources, workforce development resources, legislative and regulatory priorities and of course, membership information.
Now is a great time to join NATE as a member company, given our growing momentum as an organization in a vibrant and evolving industry ecosystem. NATE recently eclipsed the 1,110 member mark and we have added many value-added benefits for members to access over the last three years.
RW: NATE has said that tower service companies in the United States face a workforce shortage of almost 15,000 people and that it could get worse. What does NATE want government or the private sector to do about that problem?
Schlekeway: NATE’s own workforce survey from our member companies encompassing all 50 states revealed a workforce shortage of 14,693 tower workers and other essential deployment personnel. This is just the shortage under NATE’s membership umbrella!
Workforce development is a top priority for NATE and we are currently in Year 2 implementing our workforce strategic plan.
Of note, NATE just finalized a Telecommunications Tower Technician I (TTTI) Turnkey Curriculum package that will be utilized in community colleges and technical institutes around the country. Later this spring, three community colleges in the state of Ohio will be the first to utilize this curriculum. NATE will be working diligently to establish these TTTI programs in other schools around the country over the next few years.
Congress, in addition to the federal government, can play a role in moving the needle on our industry’s workforce needs by ensuring that a portion of the generational type broadband deployment money, that is coming as part of the Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act law that passed last year, be allocated to communications technician worker training programs.
This is a conversation NATE has frequently with the members of Congress and the key federal government agencies we collaborate with. If there is not a workforce to come alongside the financial investment, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to close the digital divide and accomplish our nation’s ambitious connectivity and deployment goals.
RW: In December, NATE said most of its members opposed a federal government vaccination mandate and that many tower workers would rather quit. Can you update us on that issue, whether this is still a concern? What percentage of tower workers are vaccinated?
Schlekeway: In my role as president and CEO of NATE, I hear frequently from our member company employers and in some cases, their technician employees regarding the consternation over vaccine mandates. There is no doubt that imposing vaccine mandates on communications contractor small businesses and their technician workforce would further serve to hamstring an already constrained workforce.
NATE conducted a member survey on the topic so we have both tangible data and also the anecdotal feedback that vaccine mandates would have, on some level, adversely impacted workers and driven some of them to other industries. As the COVID-19 omicron variant has settled down and we look to be headed to a more endemic phase, the issue is currently not as “front and center” as it was three to four months ago.
RW: Anything else we should know about NATE products or current policy priorities?
Schlekeway: I would be remiss if I did not mention the feature-length documentary movie “Vertical Freedom” that NATE financed and produced in collaboration with StoryBuilt Media.
Vertical Freedom chronicles the lives and times of six diverse tower climbers who overcome personal struggle and everyday danger to perform extraordinary work at very high levels to connect us all. The movie includes amazing footage of broadcast towers, and one of the featured technicians is a broadcast tower worker.
The association is currently working with an entertainment sales agency to market the movie to the prominent streaming platforms and Tier-One film festivals and it is our hope that NAB attendees will be able to watch this film later this year. [View the trailer below.]
For more information on Vertical Freedom, visit the website.