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#STAC2021: Working for tower owners

As the annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC2021 continued yesterday, one of the more interesting sessions was the afternoon panel presented by the “Women of STAC” sub-council, bringing together women from across the country to discuss some of the career development tools that have helped them thrive in a predominantly male-dominated tower industry.

The “Women of STAC” sub-council works to identify areas where there are training, mentoring, and networking gaps and identifies opportunities for career advancement for women in Canada’s telecommunications industry. The committee explores initiatives such as scholarships, training grants, corporate and industry recruitment plans, and educational opportunities for STAC members.

I found it to be a fascinating session, with a wide range of perspectives brought by Katie Malone from TELUS, Tracey Walsh of CBC/Radio-Canada, Jennifer Mills with the Canadian Coast Guard, Lorna Levac, from Land Squared / Shared Network Canada, and moderated by Lisa Traverse of Alliance Corp.

The speakers discussed how leadership skills, mentorships, networking and safety leadership helped elevate their careers working for a variety of employers: a wireless service provider, a broadcaster, the Coast Guard, and a vertical real estate company, shining light on challenges and opportunities they faced along their career paths. Communicating, exhibiting enthusiasm, and pride in your work, while treating people the way you want to be treated were discussed as important leadership traits.

In terms of mentorship, Lisa Traverse quoted Tim McGraw’s lyrics (from what happens to be among my wife’s favourite songs):

When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
(Always stay humble and kind)

How do younger employees learn how to network effectively? How do companies provide opportunities for networking and mentorship to accelerate professional development for employees? What more can executives do to facilitate and encourage high potential candidates progressing toward their career objective?

#STAC2021: Future of the Industry Workforce

Prior to the pandemic, we already viewed our home internet connection as important. Fast forward to the past year and as an industry, we worked to try to plug holes in coverage as quickly as possible, and in many cases, wireless was the best solution. Government programs are stimulating even more projects across the country. Where will all the tower technicians come from to do all this work?

The industry estimates 1500 new tower technicians will be required over the next 5 years. How do tower companies recruit and train workers to fill positions across the country?

That was the theme of a panel yesterday at the annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC 2021, hosted by Isabela Jimenez from the CWTA, and including Jeanne Piercey from TEP Canada, Rob Harper of Morrison Hershfield, Derek Gordon of VIAVI Solutions, and Maguessa Morel-Laforce from CWTA.

Labour force job openings pose a challenge in the Canadian tower industry, and STAC has created a new Industry Workforce Development Committee, dedicated to finding ways to attract and maintain the skilled workers the industry needs. Yesterday’s session looked at efforts to combat worker shortages by attracting talent, working with the provinces, and developing a tower tech training curriculum.

In the US, there are a few colleges that help train workers to attain a National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) credential. Such a certification does not yet exist in Canada, but it is being explored to help fill the gap in the labour force.

The modular curriculum for an entry level position would include an intro to telecom tower work; climbing; measurements; construction; electrical and RF. A great deal of focus is on worker safety, training students to understand electrical safety, indoor versus outdoor cabling, rigging, types of knots, signaling to co-workers, and risks from wild-life, mixing classroom and lab work. The courses are designed to enable graduates of the program to be ready to start work on their first day.

With the roll-out of 5G, the industry will need even more engineers and technicians. STAC is working to gain support from provinces to achieve certification for Telecom Tower Technician as a recognized trade.

Hopefully, governments will take the appropriate steps to help identify the field for young people looking for a trade in a growing industry.

It is a great opportunity. New recruits are desperately needed for companies to implement all of the major capital projects that are on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

#STAC2021: Competition Law in Canada

The intersection of Competition Law and Canadian Telecommunications has been top of mind for the past month since the news of Rogers and Shaw coming together in a $26B transaction.

Many are getting a crash course in various provisions of Canada’s Competition Act pertaining to mergers, debating the difference between a lessening of the numbers of competitors, and a lessening of competitive intensity. How do non-price factors, like quality, service and innovation figure in the Competition Bureau’s assessment of a merger?

But competition law impacts business behaviours outside of mergers as well. Yesterday, at the annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC 2021, delegates heard from Elad Gafni, an associate at Gowlings Ottawa office with an introduction to Canadian competition law including a discussion on how it interacts with trade associations, in particular, including “do’s and don’ts”.

Within the dual track (Criminal and Civil) system for dealing with anti-competitive conduct in the Competition Act, Section 45 deals with criminal conspiracies, prohibiting agreements or arrangements with competitors to engage in price-fixing, market allocation, and controls/limits on supply. Misleading advertising is also under the criminal track.

The civil track is most often handled through reviews by the Competition Tribunal. These would include performance claims in advertising, competitor agreements that don’t qualify as a criminal conspiracy, tied selling, or abuse of dominance, among others.

As many people in industry attend events, or participate in inter-company consultations, the provisions in the Act designed to prevent anti-competitive behaviour are important to be understood. Trade associations, by their nature, bring together competitors for cooperation and dialogue on certain issues. However, there are risks of breaching competition law in such meetings. Examples of activities that are recognized as acceptable for associations would include codes of conduct; self-regulation; government relations; standards (as long as they don’t unfairly discriminate); market analysis; and, education. Tips included having agendas for meetings; how to deal with something going wrong; or, mention of a sensitive topic. The Competition Bureau has a guide available for trade associations [pdf, 884 KB].

For some industry veterans, this may be second nature; for many, it was an important education on how to properly interact with people who are competitors in the marketplace, but colleagues in industry-wide issues, like safety and technical standards.

The Competition Bureau will feature prominently in the telecom news for the next little while. The session at STAC 2021 was a helpful introduction to Canada’s competition law.

#STAC2021: Partici-STAC-tion

The annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC 2021 continued yesterday, with an opening keynote for Day 2 by Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod on “Keep Fit and Have Fun”. This was obviously quite a change-of-pace type of session for a telecom event, and I thought it was inspirational enough to make this a change-of-pace posting on my blog.

Their message, that we can all live, work and play together, had been ultimately ignited by their commitment to diversity and inclusion. The session heard Hal and Joanne talk about why this commitment is important to them, and what they do about it. Their first interactions with the Canadian media establishment were not shining examples of the Canadian multicultural ideal.

A bit of history: it started with a chance meeting at a gym over 33 years ago. Bodybreak has grown to be one of the most recognized, iconic brands in Canada known for promoting healthy, active lifestyles to Canadians of all ages. The session gave STAC participants a look behind the scenes at what motivated them to start BodyBreak and how it all came together. It comes down to how they dealt with roadblocks that were put in front of them, with a positive perspective. Instead, the pair figured out a way around the challenges to succeed in bringing their message of inclusiveness to the airwaves.

What we do today impacts what we will be able to do as we get older, as we heard from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “What will your last 10 years look like? Will you grow old with vitality or get old with disease? It’s time to decide.”

Hal and Joanne identified triggers that set poor habits in motion for many. And for those of us who have spent the past year isolating at home, and especially after what seemed like an especially dreary, lonely, and nearly endless winter, the session provided motivation on how to establish new triggers, new routines and the rewards that can be expected for your efforts, with lots of simple tips to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

A nice change from the standard approach for an opening keynote at a telecom event!

#STAC2021: Coping with COVID

The annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC2021, opened Monday in a virtual format, another event that has transformed digitally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

STAC members represent those essential workers who deploy the physical infrastructure necessary to expand the reach and capacity of Canada’s facilities-based networks.

From the outset of the pandemic, over the past year, these workers have developed protocols to enable their work to continue safely to deliver the digital connectivity upon which all of us have depended as most of us are stuck at home. So, it was fitting that one of the sessions on the opening day of the STAC2021 event was entitled “Coping with COVID”. The session was moderated by Anne-Sophie Tétreault from Cognibox and featured Laura Marciniwe of Teletek Structures, Adam Gale of Vertical Specialties, Jeff Selby from Trylon and Steven Bain from Rogers.

How did businesses establish pandemic protocols? How did the industry look after field technicians in dealing with basic needs: finding safe restrooms and safe places to sleep at night when away from home?

As borders closed and shipping faced delays, how were supply chains maintained?

Misinformation and conspiracy theories stoked fears of 5G towers as a cause of COVID-19. Imagine being an installer of equipment on towers or restoring service after an arsonist burned down a tower.

Protecting technicians who needed to go into private residences and uncontrolled workplaces to restore services? Ensuring sufficient personal protective equipment was available to protect technicians and their families.

How did companies deal with team building, burn-out and mental health issues as the pandemic dragged on?

Over the past year, the telecommunications industry has been recognized for maintaining network quality, enabling so many of us to work from home. The presentations represented people on the front line, some of the heroes who made the past year bearable by keeping our bits flowing and building new sites to extend broadband to previously unserved areas.

STAC2021 promises to be an interesting event. There are more than 400 people participating on-line this week. Most of the sessions focus on safety, for workers and the public, such as:

  • Building a Safety Culture;
  • Rope Safety: Everything You Should Know About Working with Rope (But Probably Don’t);
  • Rope Safety: Rope Access & Controlled Descent;
  • Driving Safety and Awareness;
  • AM Safety;
  • Tower Damping and Vibration Mitigation;
  • RF Monitors and RF Safety;
  • Tower Inspection Trends: Immediate Deficiency Mitigation;
  • Structural Fasteners: Everything You Should Know (But Probably Don’t).

Other panels and keynotes look at business issues, legal matters, industry trends, career development and more.

I’ll be posting highlights from a variety of the sessions all week. And you can follow #STAC2021 on Twitter.

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