Skilled Trades Careers

Inside the World of a Tower Climber: SkillHero Spotlight with Will

DateApril 15, 2024
Will, Tower Climber

Towering cell towers dotting the landscape are a common sight, yet the individuals who scale these heights to maintain them remain largely unseen. We'll pull back the curtain on a job that keeps us all connected - dive into what it’s like to be up there and what's required so that everyone can make that call, send a text, or listen to a broadcast.

Enter Will Kindlesparger, a skilled trade professional who has been climbing cell and 911 towers for over a decade and has some stories to tell through his experiences.

This dialogue aims to enlighten aspiring trade professionals on the opportunities and personal growth the skilled trades offer. Check out our Instagram post spotlighting Will. You can also view this Q&A on our LinkedIn account. Let’s dive in!

Q&A with Will, Tower Climber

SkillHero: What has your career been like as a tower climber?

Will: Being a tower climber is a job isn't for those afraid of heights - you’re climbing on an antenna hundreds or even thousands of feet up in the air. Sometimes an elevator or helicopter to take you up, but I've I've yet to convince anyone to fly me up past the 450-foot mark; I've always had to make the climb myself.

Will working on a cell tower 550 feet up in Eugene, Oregon

That being said, I love every bit of it—the challenges, the heights, the unique experiences each climb brings. The idea of being 1,000 or even 2,000 feet in the air excites me. The highest I’ve been is 550 feet, and even that was pretty exhilarating. It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure every single day.

SkillHero: Let's talk about the difference between your job as a tower climber versus that of a lineworker, a trade that people may believe is similar.

Will: Lineworkers are running power, working on those electric lines and poles you often see. As a tower climber, my world revolves around communication. Whether it's maintaining cell towers, ensuring 911 systems are up and running, or working on broadcast, which means anything from your AM/FM radio stations to emergency broadcast systems.

It’s a bit staggering when you think about it; there are about 120,000 linemen out there in America, but only around 14,000 of us tower climbers—or tower techs, as some like to call us.

SkillHero: What got you into tower climbing?

Will: I started back in 2013. I was roofing and hated it. My particular work environment was just too negative. So, I applied for a tower climbing job and got it. Started at $10 an hour, and from there, it was all about learning and moving up. I’ve worked all over the country, from Arkansas to Oregon, and even had an offer to go to Puerto Rico after the hurricane.

But through it all, I've been learning—constantly. The job's required me to take a myriad of classes, keeping up with certifications every year or two. Now, I’ve racked up close to 12 certifications, ranging from CPR and first aid to more specialized training that allows me to teach others about climbing, rigging, and safety practices.

SkillHero: Can you talk more about the certifications needed for your job?

Will: Yeah, there are quite a few. You’ve got CPR, first aid, and then there's rigging, how to inspect your PPE (personal protective equipment), and understanding OSHA regulations. It's a mix of online courses and hands-on training. For instance, CPR certification requires proving your skills at a facility. And then there's specialized training like the NWSA, which involves both written and practical tests.

SkillHero: What’s the incentive for accumulating all of these certifications?

Will: Beyond the subcontract requirements, they ensure everyone on a tower knows exactly what they're doing. It’s about safety, efficiency, and, admittedly, the pay bump that comes with increased knowledge and responsibility.

SkillHero: How has the technology evolved in your field? Will: The telecommunications landscape has drastically changed since I started back in 2013, with advancements from LTE to 5G, and now there's talk about 6G on the horizon.

Will on Tower

In my line of work, these technological evolutions mean constant learning and adapting. For instance, we've transitioned from 2G antennas to installing sophisticated LTE systems. This shift isn't just about technology; it impacts the physical aspect of our jobs too. Older 3G antennas, combined with amplifiers, could weigh around 150 pounds, whereas modern dual antennas might weigh double that. The balancing act of installing these heavy components high up on a tower can be precarious, challenging, and sometimes dangerous if the right safety precautions aren't followed.

SkillHero: Any particular stories to share based on your experience?

Will: One vivid memory involves a decommissioning job where we had to carefully balance the old and new systems on a tower. The addition of new, heavier equipment nearly caused a tower boom to tilt dramatically. In another instance, during a 911 system upgrade, I realized I had free climbed part of the tower by mistake, a risky slip in attention that reinforced the importance of double-checking every safety measure.

Will's views from a cell tower in Lexington, Missouri

The most intense experiences often involve emergencies or unique setups, like using a helicopter for installations to save time and money over traditional crane setups. These moments highlight the unpredictable nature of tower climbing, from narrowly avoiding accidents to managing the logistics of heavy equipment installations.

And then there was the advent of 5G amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought an unexpected aspect to our jobs: dealing with conspiracy theories and public backlash, including threats and vandalism. It was a stark reminder of the misconceptions surrounding our work and the critical role communication technologies play in modern life, even as they're misunderstood by the very communities we serve.

SkillHero: How do you keep up with all the changes occurring in the trade? Will: It's about staying certified and keeping up with training. The certifications help us understand the new technologies, how to install them safely, and ensure they work as intended. It’s a lot, but it’s part of the job.

SkillHero: How did you get started?

Will: I hit the internet hard, applying for just about any job I could find because, well, I needed one, and you can't be too picky in those situations, right? At that time, and even now to some extent, the industry's been on the slower side since last summer, but there's talk it'll pick up in a couple of months. That led me to looking into NWSA certifications and searching for jobs on Google. The thing is, this job requires you to be open to travel. When you think about it, there are more communication sites out there than there are climbers to work on them.

Through social media, like Instagram, I've connected with a bunch of other climbers. I've even been able to help some folks land jobs. And yeah, there are female climbers in this space too, proving the job's about skill, not gender.

SkillHero: What you recommend tower climbing to someone looking for a new opportunity?

Will: Jumping into this field back in 2013 was a game-changer for me. It's an incredible opportunity to soak up knowledge on so many fronts. You get into the nitty-gritty of how things work, like getting a crash course in electrical engineering, diving deep into the mechanics of how our phones keep us connected. It’s more than just climbing; it’s understanding the backbone of communication, almost like being an iron worker. You’re laying the rebar, pouring the concrete, stacking the towers, and then bringing them to life with technology.

This job teaches you invaluable lessons, too, like discerning which mobile device to pick based on its band compatibility—knowledge that can make you the smartest shopper in the room. You start to see through the sales pitches, armed with firsthand experience of how these bands operate in the real world.

Will at the top of a tower

But sure, the heights can be daunting. It's easy to look up and only see the danger, not the beauty of the job. And yeah, it demands a lot of travel, which isn’t for everyone. But think about it—you get to see the world from perspectives most people can only dream of: 200 feet, 500 feet, even 2,000 feet up. It’s a different world up there. Amidst all the noise and chaos on the ground, the top of a tower is peaceful. It’s just you, the sky, and a sense of tranquility that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Honestly, if you ask me, this isn’t just a job; it’s the best trade out there. The view, the peace, the knowledge—it’s unmatched. And while the heights might scare some away, those who take the leap find a world up there that’s just serene.

Reflecting on a Career Above the Clouds

Will's experiences offer a rare glimpse into the life of tower climbers, from the thrill of heights to the constant push to learn and adapt, his journey is a testament to the spirit of adventure and dedication to the trades. Outside of climbing, Will is active in his community and is involved in helping UnitySafe build harnesses specifically for tower climbers.

Looking to Reach New Heights? SkillHero Awaits

Inspired by Will’s story and looking to carve your own path in the trades? SkillHero is here to bridge the gap.

Tower Climber

We connect aspiring tradespeople with education, opportunities, and a supportive community to kickstart your career. Join us, and let's build the future together, one tower at a time.