By WILLIAM GRAHAM
Certainly, no field has as many branches as the voice, data, and video telecommunications field. I'm also certain we have never had a field or group of associated occupations undergo the changes we've seen taking place in the IT industry.
Industry survival and growth is totally dependent on the skill competence of this professional group. But what does the future hold? Where are we heading? We do know that wherever we're going, we're traveling at high speed in an industry that is extremely exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
Who can predict the future with any degree of certainty? Surely no group faces the challenges, opportunities, and changes that this industry faces. Let's look at the information technologist and the installers within the field and examine their functions within the telecom industry.
The information technologist is a hard skill to define. Many IT professionals will describe their role as providing help to their company system users, often in the form of technical support for their PC's through a help desk.
Their system might consist of a simple LAN with several computers, modems, and servers connected together on one or several floors of a building. Or it may involve a more elaborate network system serving many buildings separated by several city blocks. It could even extend to different parts of the world.
In most cases, the day is consumed making hardware or software changes and educating company users to the network system. Also necessary are preparing PC's for new employees and making sure specific parts and programs are available . In the last few years, however, most IT professionals have been working to upgrade their skills and the networks they manage, preparing both for tomorrow's higher data transfer speeds that now stretch into terabits per second.
With constantly changing programs, problem-solving and employee training needs never cease. The company network might consist of a few people or several thousand people-and if the network shuts down, all activity stops. That activity is generally making money, so the cost of downtime can be expensive, exceeding thousands of dollars a minute.
IT professionals will often have the skill to repair patch cords and do emergency repairs, although it is not generally considered part of their job. In some rare instances, they will develop competence and receive certification in copper and fiber installation, because they realize there's an advantage in possessing the same skills as an installer.
Generally, the IT professionals will have the designations of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) to indicate their competence in computer hardware. Additionally, they will have specific training in different types of operating systems and hardware such as those manufactured by Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems, and others. In many cases, these certifications have to be renewed on a periodic basis to ensure the individual is staying current. Like it or not, IT professionals are on a path of lifelong learning because systems are constantly changing.
Installers deploy the racks, panels, hubs, routers, trays, conduit, and associated wiring for the network system. That may include fiber and copper cabling. Depending on their background, installers usually can be classified into one of three common groups:
- Some installers lack a lot of trade experience and can install cable and components to some degree. These folks often lack many required skills and the theory to know why they are doing what they're doing. Around the industry, they are referred to as "cable cowboys" or "two men and a ladder." Their intentions may be good, but the results can be disastrous when premature faults show up in the weeks or months following the network installation.
- Many electrical contractors moved sideways into data communications because their customers preferred to deal with one contractor for both electrical and datacom. Electricians usually bring into the optical data cabling field a knowledge of raceway installation, cable installation, mechanical protection, working with wood and metal, grounding and equipment installation, and a working knowledge of the National Electrical or Canadian Electrical codes, building codes, and fire codes. Electrician are usually licensed by the state or province and therefore realize liability concerns. In some states, upgrading is mandatory for electricians.
- A more recent entry into the industry is network cabling installers, who are a welcome addition to the trades and trained specifically to install datacom equipment and cabling.
The value of these installers to the company depends on many factors such as the amount of classroom training time, the type of field experience attained, and how modern the training programs. Some of these programs may include a broad knowledge of network installation skills, including copper data cabling, fiber installation, and standards and codes.
My experience is that individuals with formal training in this field are very much in demand by companies across North America. Adequate training in this industry and the need for employers and customers to demand skilled, certified, and experienced workers is probably the greatest area of cost savings for the industry.
William Graham is a metro-area licensed electrical contractor who operates Mississauga Training Consultants (Mississauga, Ontario). He can be reached at 905-785-8012 or email@example.com.