Next month, Kalamazoo Valley Community College will start a new Cell Tower Technician Academy at its Groves Campus. The six-week program in cooperation with Muskegon-based Newkirk Electric Company will train students to build and maintain cell phone towers.
With the rise in popularity of cell phones has come an increase in demand for the workers who build and maintain cell telephone towers. Tom Sutton is the Director of Wind, Energy and Technology at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
"What’s led to this great demand now is that many of your major carriers like T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon are in competition with each other, trying to get more and more bandwidth and more and more customers. Everyone likes data right? Everybody likes to watch a video. To do that requires a massive amount of bandwidth.”
Tuition for the new program is $3,200. That cost includes a special tool set valued at $1,400. That might seem expensive. But even entry-level technicians can make really good money, according to Elizabeth Lyons, the Director of Career Academies at KVCC: “Once they are hired we expect they're going to be making between $15 and $23 per hour. And that’s entry-level with opportunity for over time, so many of them will find that their tuition cost are covered shortly after employment.”
The KVCC program involves more than book work and tests. Sutton says there will be hands-on work on towers donated by Newkirk Electric that are similar to those a technician would see on the job.
“The work is done normally at great height, on top if the antenna arrays, and so a fair amount of time in the program is put towards work and height safety, combined with that a basic knowledge of electricity, some basic mechanical things around bolting and aiming antennas, and how to safely hoist and rig those things leads to a short term program.”
Newkirk Electric Vice-President Jim Anton says the company got involved in the academy because it is an opportunity to get young people better prepared to become cell tower technicians.
“When we saw this opportunity we saw it as a way to get remedial training for young men and women that wanted to get into this field so by the time they come out to the contractors, they have some of the basic training already in hand.”
The KVCC Cell Tower Technician Academy starts in March and applicants must pass a math assessment exam before they’re accepted into the program.