Learning to drive a leaner business

Nov. 1, 2001


The economic downturn has impacted our industry in many ways. One aspect familiar to many organizations is that access to capital for business expansion or for starting up a new operation is much more difficult to come by. However, venture capital is still available for the right sort of opportunity.

Cash certainly is an essential ingredient to fund the growth and development of a new business, but that cash will be wasted unless there is another essential ingredient present-the human resource to drive the business. You need people with the right knowledge and skills that are needed to do the job. Just as the pressure is on to make money work more effectively, efficiently, and swiftly for the business, so the pressure is on to ensure that the people driving the business do the same.

It's no longer the case that as many hands as possible will "make light work." In the same way next-generation optical networks enable fewer fibers to carry more traffic with greater flexibility, in a leaner business fewer people have to achieve more and be more flexible to cope with a dynamically changing business and technological environment.

From the top down, you and your employees need to learn to value professionalism and self-development. You need to be clear on exactly what skills are needed now, and at what levels, to achieve the company's goals. Then you need to put the building blocks and targets in place to help everyone get there. Training of existing staff has many added-value benefits. It provides a clear focus on the future and builds staff loyalty, confidence, and belief in the strength and longevity of the organization.

But how do we do that when we've just lost our training department? Many organizations have cut back on their internal training resources. That needn't be a barrier to producing a multiskilled successful workforce if spotting training needs is seen as part of every manager's role.

We are seeing more large organizations outsourcing training through partnerships with specialty training organizations. It means they can have exactly what they need, when they need it-and it gives them access to a wider range of courses. It provides the opportunity to demand a top quality service from the independent training providers who are eager for their business.

We are also finding now that organizations are keen to ensure staff members possess a solid, generic foundation of understanding of the industry, the technology, and the business. That builds realism, guards against gullibility, and gives people the ability to take on new information faster because they can relate to how it all fits together.

So as the luxury of having enough people to allow everyone to stay in their one niche specialty disappears, we see an increase in the take-up of courses offering a broad view. That enables personnel to be self-reliant and really know what they are talking about. It means that more staff members have the flexibility to move to support new areas as demands change.

There have been marked shifts of emphasis within the industry as operators have scaled down or cancelled new build projects. Organizations and individuals that have core installation skills are coming back to upgrade those skills to deal with the more demanding tasks of audit, testing, upgrade, and maintenance programs.

Basic testing is no longer enough. Staff members must be confident to test for very high data rates and DWDM systems. They need to understand when, why, and how to carry out the tests, interpret the results, and explain their significance.

There is also far greater need to ensure that things are right the first time, because resources are no longer available to repeat aspects of a project due to problems. Companies are more prepared to make that initial training investment in high-quality, practical, real-world courses that focus on the knowledge and skills to do the job correctly the first time. The right training at the right time for the right people can save valuable time and money. But sorting out problems stemming from avoidable technical or management errors is an expensive waste of everyone's time.

The economic downturn is having a real impact on the fiber-optic and the telecommunications industry, and many younger companies are maturing faster to deal with a very different market environment. That underscores the need for highly skilled and motivated staff. As we look toward a more optimistic future, it seems that training has never been more important. It is certain to play an important part in shaping the future success of the industry.

Richard Ednay is founder of Optical Technology Training (OTT-Skipton, North Yorkshire, UK). He can be reached via the company's Website, www.ott.co.uk.