A New Fiber Technician Training Program

Back in February I wrote a blog that talked about the need for fiber technicians in the country. Eleven different industry trade associations wrote a letter to the White House and Congress outlining an upcoming crisis due to a shortage of technicians. The group estimated that the industry would need to find 850,000 new technician man-years by 2025. That’s a huge number. Anybody who has been trying to hire technicians lately knows that there is a shortage. I also have heard from many clients who have seen technicians lured away for higher wages.

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) has developed a new technician training program being labeled as the Optical Telecom Installation Certification (OpTIC) program. It’s hoping to get vocational schools, community colleges, and veteran training programs to adopt the program. The first launch of the program will be at the Wilson Community College in Wilson, NC.

The training course consists of 144 hours of class and lab courses that will be followed by a 2,000-hour apprenticeship. The key to making this work will be fiber companies of all types to step up to accept and work with the apprentices. That could be fiber construction companies, ISPs, and anybody else that operates fiber networks. Apprentice programs are great for participants because they get paid during the apprenticeship work, with the pay increasing as they progress through the training program.

The OpTIC program has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, which means that the program is eligible for state and federal grants. That’s really important right now because communities could use ARPA funding to help establish local training programs. I think every community understands that technical training programs are one of the best paybacks that any community can invest in since this creates higher-paying jobs. The eleven trade groups said in February that the average technician salary is $77,500.

Details of the new training program are on this website. Anybody who completes the program will be certified as an FBA accredited OpTIC technician.

For now, this program is being launched at just the one community college. Hopefully, other institutions around the country will jump on the bandwagon. That’s likely going to take ISPs to step up and partner with local schools to get this started. FBA announced the initiative at its recent Fiber Connect annual meeting in Nashville. Hopefully, a lot of attendees at that meeting carried the idea home for further discussion.

There is no doubt that this is needed. We are already in a superheated industry in terms of the amount of fiber construction that is underway this year. ISPs of all sizes are expanding fiber coverage this year. There is even more fiber construction on the way as the current round of grants kick in, including RDOF, NTIA grants, ReConnect grants, EDA grants, and ARPA grants. The top will really be blown off the industry if Congress adds an infrastructure program to build massive amounts of fiber.

One thought on “A New Fiber Technician Training Program

  1. The number of techs needed is unrealistic. Creating a program that can overnight create the number of fiber techs to equal the number of electricians in the US created with an apprenticeship program over almost a century is unrealistic. That’s 8 times the number of techs that the FOA has certified in 26 years. Colleges lack qualified instructors, labs and budgets. Connecting a mass of people by 2025 is unrealistic.Getting enough fiber to and other components to make those connections is unrealistic.

    What is realistic?

    The majority of underserved/unserved areas are either rural or low income urban, both areas now ignored by the major service providers. Stankey told Wall St. analysts that just before he left AT&T.

    Rural networks are currently served by electrical utilities and independent telcos, many of which are coops, both groups which have depended on RUS (REA in the past) support. They are the ones with the knowledge of the areas and already have the rights of way and mostly are already using fiber. They are the ones that make sense to build rural broadband networks over fiber.

    Urban areas are ignored by the incumbent service providers because they don’t see a financial payback. If they refuse to extend networks to those areas, they should be shoved aside and cities built their own fiber networks which can be shared with municipal communications, traffic control, public safety and educational uses.

    How long will it take? FOA has worked with many groups building fiber networks for all uses and under normal circumstances, it takes 3-5 years from concept to connection. But when everybody is fighting for the same scarce resources, it can take twice that time.

    In the meantime, we need to learn how to work online with less bandwidth so current solutions like DSL or T-carrier on copper or satellite services like VIASAT or Hughes can be used. remember HDTV, 4KTV and gaming are not vital services! I remember the first videoconference I sat in on in the mid 90s would work (barely) over dial-up!

    So let’s cut out the hype – we’ve had enough of that over 5G. Current service providers can add lots of usable fiber techs by careful design using lots of prefab components and train current techs for fiber using structured OJT like the FOA programs. (https://www.foa.org/OJT-to-Cert.html)

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