Fiber-optic training for leading-edge communication networks

Fiber-optic training for leading-edge communication networks

By DAVID E. RITTENHOUSE

Selecting the right type of training is essential for keeping employees up to speed.

Just as education is critical for the United States to compete as a leader in a global market, it is also critical that telecommunications contractors, and even end users, focus on education to gain a competitive advantage.

It is essential to know optical fiber, cable handling, termination advancements, and new equipment that can save time, money, and frustration to keep optical cable plants operating at design specifications. In current and future optical-fiber cable systems, training is no longer an "add-on" or a discretionary investment in technology support. It is a strategic imperative and competitive necessity.

Training program evaluation

Recognizing the benefits of fiber-optic training, how do you select the best program for yourself and your employees? There are a number of options available from manufacturers, industry associations, private companies, and consultants. Each of these training organizations competes with the other and will quickly attempt to improve its own position at the expense of the competition.

In one instance, a private training organization attempted to downplay a manufacturer`s training program by indicating that the manufacturer only trained on its own products. In reality, even the private organizations work exclusively with specific equipment vendors and, therefore, are not quite as open as they would lead you to believe.

It is important to realize that no training program can cover every piece of equipment in the industry. So the best solution is to work with splicers, connector kits, optical time-domain reflectometers, and test equipment that are representative of the equipment your personnel will see in the field. When you decide on a specific piece of equipment, the manufacturer can work with you on the specifics of that piece of gear. Here are some guidelines to help you identify a top-quality training program:

Hands-on training: Video-based training programs have their place in some basic overviews and introductions to technology. But for operating equipment and handling products, don`t rule out the importance of hands-on training. Working with the tools of the trade is the most valuable part of any training program. Demonstrations by instructors provide initial insight, and each student should have ample opportunity to work with the products and tools required for proper handling and installation of optical-fiber cable systems. When evaluating training courses, find out just how much time is spent with hands-on training. A top-notch course will ensure that 75% to 80% of the training--usually three to five days--involves actual product use by students.

Instructor presence: Another advantage of in-class training is instructor presence and the ability to get questions answered immediately. Step-by-step video programs do not afford students the same feedback as an instructor who is available when the student is actually working with a product. Also, be sure the class size and student-to-instructor ratio is conducive to personalized attention and hands-on training experience. Smaller classes--usually with six to eight students--allow for more hands-on practice and one-on-one time for student-instructor interaction.

Adequate and current: All students must have adequate access to the products and equipment used in training. Make sure there are enough equipment and consumable items (connectors, mechanical splice parts, etc.). There should be no more than three students for each piece of equipment provided and enough time for all students to have adequate practice. It is also important to verify that the latest product advancements are used in the training program. The most current optical-fiber products are the best training tools, because they ensure contractors and end users are learning the latest technology and techniques.

Instructor credentials: It is important to verify the credentials of the training facility and its instructors. In fiber-optic training, make sure the instructor understands today`s technology, uses the latest product developments, and has actual on-the-job experience. The best instructors are active, experienced engineers and technicians with plenty of experience, often rotating between the work environment and classroom.

Course structure and materials: Training is most beneficial when the student understands the entire cable system for local area network (LAN) environments--from campus to building distribution applications--not simple individual components. Courses should incorporate an introduction to the principles of fiber-optic technology as well as hands-on experience with up-to-date products used in relevant applications. Skills should be provided to assist contractors in system installation and documentation and in developing and implementing maintenance and restoration plans. The instructional materials that accompany the coursework are also very important, because they serve as a reference source once the student leaves the classroom. Often, detailed procedures for operating the equipment should be included in this material.

Flexibility in location: Investigate where the courses are taught and how often. The convenience of training at or near your location may be more beneficial and cost-effective. Most training groups will travel off-site upon request. Keep in mind, however, that leaving the workplace--whether it is across town or across the country--may remove distractions and enable students to focus on the training.

Follow-up support: In addition to providing course material, the training organization should be available to answer questions after the training has been completed. Issues may arise that require assistance from technological and field experts.

Cost: While the fee for training is always an important consideration, it should not be the sole factor in selecting a training program. Hands-on training will often cost more than seminars and videos, but if the course meets the previously mentioned criteria and the goal is to help contractors master fiber skills, the up-front investment quickly pays for itself through the quality of workmanship provided by trained contractors. Many contracting companies have seen employee retention and job efficiency improve when personnel were trained properly initially and provided refresher training regularly. Training breeds confidence, which empowers employees to do a better job.

Training pays

Keeping up with the latest developments in technology, training methods, and installation procedures will provide you with an advantage, either in a better network or improved capability from your work force. Clearly, technical training is essential to ensure that contractors and end users working with communications networks keep pace with industry advancements.q

David E. Rittenhouse is the manager for systems engineering and training at Siecor Corp. (Hickory, NC).

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