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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.