The Need for Training Telecom Technicians

Eleven different industry trade associations have written a joint letter to Congress and the new administration asking that any new infrastructure funding include training for telecom technicians. I can’t recall a time when so many associations aligned like this on any issue.

The letter included support from the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), INCOMPAS, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), the Telecommunications Industry Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), and the CTIA.

The letter says that the industry expects to create 850,000 new technician jobs by 2025 to support wireline and wireless deployments. To put that number into perspective, the industry currently employees 672,000 technicians with an average salary of $77,500. The industries also collectively expect to add another 2.1 million jobs to support the new industries like 5G and new fiber ISPs.

The associations are asking for the federal government to expand existing apprenticeship programs and create new ones that combine class learning along with field experience. There are some such programs in the country, but nearly enough to handle the upcoming needs of the telecom industry. To letter asks that in order to promote diversity that training programs be established at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities along with community colleges, public universities, and other institutions.

The industries suggest that training institutions form public/private partnerships with the industry to help develop the programs in a timely manner and to make sure that training is covering state-of-the-art technologies and techniques.

We are not currently prepared to double the number of fiber technicians – but we’re going to have to find a way to do it. There are some formal training programs for fiber technicians, mostly being done by trade schools or technical colleges that sponsor apprenticeship like the CFOT or CPCT certification process sponsored by the Fiber Optic Association. But the majority of fiber technicians today are trained on the job with new employees starting as hands-on journeymen.

I’ve written about this issue before. We’re facing a shortage of technicians for several reasons. First, the large telcos have been downsizing technician workforces for the last two decades, meaning they did not train a lot of new technicians. These big ISPs have historically been the primary drivers for training new technicians. Unfortunately, this also means that a lot of the technician workforce are baby boomers who are now retiring, causing additional shortages.

We must find a way to make this happen or the wireless and broadband industries will be forced to cut back on expansion plans. We’ve been building fiber and new small cell sites at a furious pace for the last few years and are likely to continue to do so as long as we have the technicians needed to construct the new networks and to maintain them after they are built. Fiber and wireless technicians are the kinds of solid middle-class jobs our economy needs and hopefully, we can kick training programs into high gear in a hurry.

2 thoughts on “The Need for Training Telecom Technicians

  1. I heard from the ETA today about other technical certifications programs.

    ETA affiliated trainers and ETA certifications have greatly enhanced the professional wherewithal of technicians in almost every aspect you write about daily. Today’s post could have relied on this information from these ETA pages:

    https://www.eta-i.org/fiber_cabling.html
    https://www.eta-i.org/course_approvals.html
    https://www.eta-i.org/overview.html
    https://www.eta-i.org/why_choose_eta_certifications.html

    Doug

  2. “Back in the olden days…” — wow, I feel so old…
    Back in the day, these companies would hire technician trainees and train them themselves — develop these employees into management, or other trainging functions.
    In the past 15- to 20 years, many of those training programs have disappeared, as the big companies have allied with local colleges to have them do the training.

    Maybe if these companies are finding a “shortage” of qualified technicians, then they should invest and relaunch the training programs that used to work so well… and not “depend” on government to do a job-function that they should be doing?
    Just sayin’…

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