If you’re bored of your office job, love climbing, travelling, and working as part of a team – tower climbing could be for you.
POD speaks to Craig Bytheway – who has been climbing in the telecommunications industry for over 6 years – about how to become a tower climber and why this career choice might be for you.
Who are tower climbers?
Tower climbers are professionals who can inspect, install, maintain, and repair telecommunications infrastructure on steel towers. Installation includes mounting dishes, radios and other tower equipment while in a climbing harness.
Individuals in this role work in a variety of environments including rooftop sites, towers and masts on greenfield sites or inner-city buildings. They must be equally adept working indoors or outdoors, in a variety of temperatures and weather conditions and sometimes at unsociable hours. Telecoms engineers will generally form part of a 2 or 3-man team reporting to a team leader. They will be required to communicate effectively and sensitively with site providers, landlords and members of the public. They should be comfortable working at heights and outdoors, in this physically demanding role.
Some of the duties a telecoms engineer will engage in are as follows:
- Carrying out antenna installation, alignment, optimisation and testing to network requirements
- Carrying out installation, earthing and termination of coax and fibre following manufacturers and operators’ installation specifications
- Carrying out installation and demonstrating the technical understanding of the key components of a wireless telecom site
- Using an Open, Short and Precision Load in the testing of cables and antenna systems for impedance and loss
Why should I become a tower climber?
“Becoming a tower climber has many benefits, not only is everyday a new challenge and exciting but you get to see the country and sometimes get to travel further afield to carry out work, places such as Jersey or the Hebrides islands to name a few.
Each structure you work on can be different and challenging but each has a view from the top that not many people can say they have seen. The work is hard but again very rewarding once completed.
You get to work and meet many people from all backgrounds which you wouldn’t usually and make many new friends.”
How do I become a tower climber?
“Firstly, is working at height for you?
This is a very small part of the job as big as it may seem. You need to know whether you would feel comfortable climbing then working on structures at various heights. The climb to the working height should be considered as part of your journey to work, once at the working height now the work begins. The job as a tower climber is extremely hard, physically and mentally and you need to be able to adapt to changing situations during your working day.
If you believe this is still for you then give it a go. Commitment and hard work will pay off in this industry and can be very rewarding. Find a company that encourages new-starts and has good company policies, then show your commitment and hard work within your gang and you won’t go far wrong.”
Tower climber vacancies can come under the following names:
- Wireless Communications Rigger
- Field/Climbing Technician
- Telecommunications Rigger
- Tower Technician
These positions typically require knowledge of the following:
- Core transmission technologies e.g. DWDM and Ethernet
- Fibre and copper cabling and termination
- Multi-Vendor CPE and Unified Communications
- Mobile networking technologies 3G/4G/5G and associated equipment
- Microwave Radio
- PC skills (IT Literacy)
A valid UK / EU driving license (Category B) is usually required for these positions, as technicians work remotely and require access to areas without public transportation.
There are very few apprenticeship schemes in the telecoms industry. POD Training was lucky enough to host one of the first apprentice groups for their Wireless Communications Rigger apprenticeship.
This apprenticeship lasts for 18 months, and consists of two weeks initial training at POD Training before going out into the field, learning from experienced telecoms engineers, and returning for a further 5 weeks in week-long blocks at POD Training
What qualifications will I need?
I started my career 6 years ago at 27 years old. When I left school I become a carpenter, I wanted a new challenge and knew people in this industry and made the leap. I haven’t looked back since and wish I did it sooner. The type of person that will make a good tower climber will have a positive attitude towards work and the willingness to progress within the industry.
Hard work is key.”
Although formal education is not usually required, you will need to undertake specific industry training in order to become a tower climber. Your employer should arrange this training for you, and you will need to keep these qualifications current by completing refresher training.
One of the most recognised training qualifications for tower climbing is the Basic Tower Climber & Rescue course, which is developed in collaboration with the Mast And Tower Safety group and EUSR.
This scheme covers the minimum training and assessment required for those working safely on masts and towers and incorporates the relevant requirements of HSE legislation.
Other courses you may be required take part in are as follows:
What else is required to become a tower climber?
As well as formal climbing qualifications, you will need to have the ability to work both as a team and on your own efficiently. Whilst this is the same for a lot of positions, tower climbers need to work well in teams as they will frequently be going out into the field with 2-3 other engineers, and these trips can take days at a time. As you may expect, engineers will need adaptability and the ability to learn new skills quickly. There are regulations, ACOP’s, COP, and guidance for climbing and rescue that you need to be aware of, and climbing skills that will be indispensable to you in the field. Paying attention and learning quickly during your training -from first aid to asbestos awareness- can prevent accidents, improve efficiency, and help in every aspect of your career.
Tower climbers will also need the ability to work in a focused manner under pressure, meeting tight deadlines when necessary. Mobile networks are feeling the pressure to roll out the 5G infrastructure for the UK, and engineers will need to comply with this rush. When needed, engineers will also need to have the ability to manage their own workload to best meet the demands of the business. When communicating with customers, clients, and colleagues, engineers will need to have excellent customer-facing skills, as they will be representing the company that they are employed by.
When asked what skills a tower climber should possess, this is what Craig told us:
“You should be fit and healthy with a good attitude towards work. Be able to listen carefully and take on board any advice given.
Be able to push yourself, and help others, and be a team player.”
Engineers may also need the ability to achieve and maintain their SC clearance status. This is a national personnel vetting procedure that can be carried out by your employer if your role requires you to have access to sensitive information or assets, or if the role places you in a position of trust. You can read more about national security clearance on Gov UK.
All tower climbers will also be subject to a medical examination before employment. This is to ensure you are fit to climb the towers and have no medical reason why you cannot complete the tasks involved in this job. Carrying out a medical assessment ensures that the risk of sudden incapacity and need for rescue is minimal, and encourages employees to seek medical support to compensate for medical conditions if necessary.
“You need to be fit and healthy. A basic medical examination is required to assess your fitness, eyesight and hearing. It’s a very physical job and requires your body to withstand hard long days.”
A typical medical examination will consist of the following measures:
- Completion of health questionnaire
- Blood pressure & pulse
- Hearing Test
- Vision Test (near/far/colour/peripheral)
- Cholesterol tests (over 50s)
- Smoking & alcohol consumption
- Peak flow lung function test
- Musculoskeletal movement
- Chester step test or equivalent
Medical assessments should be carried out at regular intervals to ensure the employee is maintaining the same levels of physical competence.
According to the MATS Group, the usual approach to this is:
Under 40 – every 5 years plus a surveillance questionnaire in intervening years
Between 40-49 – every 2 years plus a surveillance questionnaire in intervening years
50 or over – annually
You can read more information on this information sheet by the Mast and Tower Safety Group.
Basic Tower Climbing & Rescue (MATS)
Basic Tower Climbing & Rescue is a working at height training scheme codesigned to support the safety of those individuals who work on towers and masts in the telecommunications and broadcast industry.