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In Praise of Higher Training

Instead of moaning about how hard it is to find good people, we should be focusing our efforts on how to develop good people.


December 1, 2000  


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I recently attended a meeting of an Advisory Committee for the creation of a new technical program at a local college. As it often does at these kinds of meetings, the discussion turned into a lively one on the difficulty of finding good people. This particular group focused in on network professionals, and agreed that while people with technical training were not hard to come by, the accompanying “soft skills”, such as planning, communication and project management ability, were lacking.

Those of us in the structured cabling arena also lament the difficulty in finding good people. Is it the same situation? I don’t think so. I think, on average, we have done a much poorer job of demanding the technical training necessary to increase the pool of qualified installation labour. We have not adequately addressed the technical knowledge pool, let alone the “soft skills”.

FORMAL TRAINING REQUIRED

I am surprised at the number of resumes that cross my desk that list years of structured cabling installation experience, with no evidence of any formal training. These are people who list fiber optic experience, but who have really only been “shown” how to handle a connector; people who have been given a sample jack and been sent to do the rest the same way; people who plug in the tester and “just push the button”. Why have their previous employers failed to develop their skills? Most often, I expect, it is a matter of cost — or perceived cost.

“You get what you pay for.” It is a well-worn adage we are all familiar with, and yet it is conveniently forgotten when we feel it is at odds with our purposes. As often as we bemoan the lack of people, are our expectations reasonable? I think most of us would be much better off focusing our efforts on developing good people than on finding good people.

There is no shortage of quality training available — it is offered by manufacturers, by industry associations such as BICSI, and by numerous private training organizations. It is not inexpensive, but in many cases the cost can be subsidized or fully covered by funds assigned by manufacturers, based on sales of product.

The other real costs to the employer are in wages paid during training and in “opportunity cost”. Opportunity cost is the profit that is lost when those personnel are not performing their revenue generating functions in the field. However, these costs do not support a case for not training.

PINCHING PENNIES

What are the costs of scrimping on training? Consider the overhead of Project Management and the inefficiencies when Project Managers spend the bulk of their time handholding inexperienced and untrained installation personnel. What costs are incurred for warranty calls on improperly installed product? How many customers can you afford to lose to your competitors as a result of dissatisfaction with improper workmanship? What value do you place on the peace of mind that the next phone call you answer will not be an irate customer?

I applaud those manufacturers that make training a mandatory part of their partner programs, police those programs, and resist the temptation to dilute them to accommodate others.

I also have praise for consultants and end users who make demonstrated installer training a prerequisite for working on their jobs. Raising the bar benefits everyone except those who won’t clear it.

INITIATIVES TAKING SHAPE

There are numerous initiatives in the industry (in various stages of development) that offer college and trade school level courses in network cabling. There are also partnerships that exist, or are forming, that offer apprentice programs and other work experience programs to increase the base of qualified installers.

I hope these programs are successful in attracting the numbers of quality people we require, and in giving them the necessary skills to contribute. As industry participants, we should also be offering support in other ways, including sharing our experience in the classroom with these students, and making positions available for co-op work experience. What we should not do is pat ourselves on the back for initiating such courses and then stand at the door waiting to harvest the graduates.

Of course, there will be many people who will read this and whose immediate reaction will be that they do spend a great deal of time and money on training their staff. Good. They deserve to reap the benefits.

When all is said and done, our work is not rocket science (but there is a preponderance of smoke and mirrors). However, that does not mean we can trivialize the value of training. It is said that education is a journey, not a destination, and certainly the pace of change in our industry makes this all the more true. CS


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