Growing the telecom workforce is one of the most pressing issues facing the broadband industry today. Fiber broadband is experiencing unprecedented growth, with more fiber set to be deployed in the next five years than all fiber deployed to date. With over $42 billion of funding in play for broadband infrastructure in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, fiber technicians will be in even higher demand for years to come. But skilled labor remains in extremely short supply and the industry is faced with the burden of building and sustaining the next generation of the telecom workforce.

Research conducted in 2021 by the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) estimates that the telecom industry requires an addition of over 205,000 new jobs to construct, operate and maintain the new fiber broadband networks to be built across the United States over the next five years. Federal agencies understand the need to invest in telecommunications and have authorized funding from BEAD to be applied to the workforce and job training, as current fiber technician training programs are few and not enough to meet demand. Vendors, service providers and construction contractors in the fiber industry have stepped up to train future technicians. However, each organization has varying standards on the type and quality of instruction a new hire would receive before being placed in the field under supervision.

FBA has created an industry-standard method built on best practices, working with leaders in the sector to create and foster a formalized training course with classroom and hands-on experience. The FBA OpTIC Path: Optical Telecom Installer Certification is a 144-hour instructor-led registered apprenticeship with the Department of Labor that provides equal time in the classroom and hands-on lab work. To create the curriculum, experts throughout the fiber industry have designed the course to teach future technicians the skills and knowledge of installing, splicing, testing and maintaining fiber to the home (FTTH) and fiber to the building (FTTB) systems. Skills work in the lab includes working directly with fiber, tools and equipment and allows students to identify breaks and conduct troubleshooting. The goal of the curriculum is for graduates to hit the ground running with minimal supervision. The course also allows future technicians to get early exposure to the type of job they may want to specialize in, like outside plant work or home installation.

FBA currently partners with community colleges, vocational programs, veterans’ programs, training facilities and service providers to offer the course, and is looking to expand further into organizations that can benefit from workforce training. At present, OpTIC Path is being offered or considered by over 40 colleges, learning institutions and employers in 32 states and two countries outside of the U.S. FBA’s goal is to make OpTIC Path available in all 56 states and territories, partnering with stakeholders in each region to connect graduates with employers and quickly fill positions across the country.

Instructors within the program are trained through FBA’s ongoing series of train-the-trainer workshops. These twelve-hour workshops were conducted across the country in 2022 at FBA’s regional Fiber Connect events as well as the annual national Fiber Connect conference.

Connecting future technicians with employers who need to fill critical technician positions is the number one goal of FBA. By partnering with private and public entities, the OpTIC Path course makes those connections possible. And as the program expands, service providers are finding success in adopting the program in-house.

Additionally, FBA has partnered with The Learning Alliance in Tampa, Florida, who actively work with 500 employer partners to connect them with trained candidates. This partnership will help fill the telecom workforce gap across all 50 states. This partnership offers generous warehouse space that is used to simulate in-field work environments and best educate students on specific trade skills, duties and responsibilities. The program also thrives on partnerships with the fiber industry. Preformed Line Products works with The Learning Alliance to assist in the physical training and VIAVI Solutions contributes equipment and offers an additional certification to graduates.

Partnerships are key to managing the critical shortage of skilled workers in the telecommunications industry. FBA’s goal is to create more long-term commitments within the industry to fill this critical need and sustain telecommunications jobs for the future.