On June 17, 2016, the Fiber Optic Association (FOA), in partnership with Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) hosted a meeting to discuss the critical need for workforce development to support the construction of the KentuckyWired broadband project. Our goal for the meeting was to exchange information and to ensure that there are shared goals with all the key players in workforce development for KentuckyWired.
KentuckyWired is the statewide fiber optic network that will carry high-speed broadband into specified locations in all 120 counties in order to serve government locations. The project will be unique in allowing “open access” to the network, so local private or public service providers can tap into this new broadband network at much lower costs than previously possible.
Attendees were administrators from KCTCS colleges who are teaching fiber optics, KentuckyWired authorized contractor and subcontractors, and key govt. officials who are involved in the construction of the state-wide network. Here are the speakers and an overview of the topics that were discussed:
Chris Moore, Executive Director of KentuckyWired gave an overview of the project which will require 100 crews, more than 600 workers, 60% local labor. He mentioned that Ledcor will be a co-developer of the project, a 50% participant in the Design-Build
Joint Venture responsible for design and construction of KentuckyWired, and the lead
Services Provider for the concession term. He also spoke about how training and certification are important.
Jim Hayes, President of the Fiber Optic Assn (FOA) spoke about how communications, commerce and society depend on fiber optics for economic development.
The FOA is an international non-profit educational organization that is dedicated to promoting professionalism in the field of fiber optics through education, certification and standards. Founded in 1995 by a dozen prominent fiber optics trainers and industry personnel, it has grown to now being involved in activities such as developing fiber optic training courses and publishing textbooks, administrating technical certification programs, participating in industry standards activities and through www.fiberu.com provide free online technical information and education
(Jim’s full presentation is available for download at http://www.foa.org/KY/)
Donna Davis, Chancellor’s Office of Workforce Solutions, KCTCS gave an overview of the KCTCS system and what they are trying to accomplish for workforce readiness statewide.
KCTCS is Kentucky’s primary provider of workforce education delivering programs and services that address the full spectrum of needs faced by business and industry, as well as, programs for individuals who want to upgrade their skills. The system has 16 colleges and 70 locations throughout Kentucky.
Fiber optics is an important program offering for KCTCS concentrating on 8 campuses for full fiber programs based on FOA curriculum and offering FOA certification. Programs are diverse including a lineman program and a Broadband major. Also FOA curriculum on fiber feeds into other majors – e.g. telecom, IT.
Tom Collins – FOA Master Instructor explained how industry recognition of formal certification programs such as the FOA’s CFOTÒ offer both the employer and the job seekers a measure of worker competence, whether the worker is new to the industry or an existing employee looking to move up. He also advocated for a goal of combining industry recognized certification plus college credit.
(Tom’s full presentation is available for download at http://www.foa.org/KY/)
Panel Discussion – Public/private partnerships moderated by Jim Hayes focusing on how to build the KentuckyWired workforce.
Loyal Lovelady – DBLLC – Design-Build, LLC – authorized contractor of KentuckyWired
Eddie Manning – Bowlin Group
David Harpham – Team Fishel
Sean Flora – Cincinnati Bell
Hard Skills vs Soft Skills
The discussion focused on what skills companies are looking for when hiring new employees. ”Hard Skills” include fiber splicing, testing, and cable handling techniques.
Colleges teach hard skills in their specialized technical classes. For instance, in the KCTCS fiber optic program, they are using the FOA curriculum and the students will receive FOA certifications. The expectation is that the student will be trained in the relevant KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities). They are expected to have the background to receive “on the job training” (OJT) when hired.
Equal emphasis is given to “Soft Skills” – competencies which include exhibiting good judgment – especially when safety is critical; communication skills, reliability, and being a good team player. The group is also in agreement that new employees must have the right attitude: Be willing to learn the company way first – Don’t assume you know everything on the day you start a new job.
There also is a requirement for familiarity with mobile tablets and key computer programs such as Microsoft works, PowerPoint, Excel which are used by employees at all levels
There was agreement that “soft skills” training needs to be pushed down into the high schools and even earlier in schools.
There was agreement that certification is an important measure of both hard and soft skills. Loyal from the DBLLC on behalf of Ledcor suggested that training and certification is so important that he would like to see certification credential information on the company ID card.
Current Employees are “aging out”
David from Team Fishel talked about “the 3rd industrial revolution” – current workers are “aging out” – replacement workers are not in the pipeline. There is a 15-20 year gap between experienced workers and new workers now being hired. Sean from Cincinnati Bell stated, “The average splicer has been with the company 23 years.”
How companies and schools can cooperate
Schools/companies must work together to fill the pipeline – have a “deeper engagement”. This meeting was just the beginning of an ongoing commitment by KCTCS to be responsive to the needs of local Kentucky companies.
Internships – all the panelists are supportive of this important bridge for a student to begin to experience the workplace. They also represent an opportunity for students to work directly with people who have experience in the fiber optic field. Their knowledge of the job and working environment will give students a greater understanding of what it’s all about and what is needed to progress.
Job shadowing – another program that provides an opportunity for students to interview a designated “mentor” from the company and observe what a job entails. This could be a one-day experience or an ongoing relationship between a student and the mentor.
Prepared by Karen Hayes, FOA – reach us at email@example.com or 760-451-3655