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In search of that proper designation

Thanks to the work of a dedicated group of contractors and consultants, installer training could soon take on a whole new meaning right across the country.

December 1, 2002  

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Jacques Marchildon, Roy Sherman, Sherman Su and Andrew Dagenais have much in common when it comes to understanding the challenges related to promoting new and improved training methods for structured cabling installers. Each realizes that just like the industry is changing, so too must the way an installer approaches his or her profession.

There are two issues at stake here. The first involves the training of young installers of which there are very few formal programs across the country. The second involves those who are experienced.

Dagenais, the president of AD NetSolutions Ltd., an Edmonton consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning and telecommunications infrastructure design for commercial buildings, says the need for improved training is obvious. Increased personal computer power, corporate mergers, application sophistication and interconnection of computer systems within and between buildings, he says, requires more sophisticated approaches to telecommunication infrastructure planning.

He points out that gone are the days “when you could tie a piece of coaxial cable to the back of your truck, ram it through a conduit and it would still work. Cat 5 and Cat 6 cable and fiber are very sensitive from an installation point of view. There are issues that you need to be aware of.

“Responsibilities are changing. The challenge telecommunications professionals face today is that they need to go into these buildings and take a look at current infrastructures. They also need to come to terms with what’s valuable and what isn’t and come up with a strategic plan on how they can upgrade an existing site to meet future business needs.”

That’s one reason why Sherman, general manager of network solutions at State Electric in Toronto, has been pushing for major change for more than six years now. He and other contractors pushed so hard that Ontario has joined Nova Scotia in becoming the second province to issue a formal trade designation for network cabling specialists.

“It’s extremely important,” says Sherman. “There have been a lot of people in this trade for many years that have had no designation. I’m an electrician by trade and it’s nice to have that license in your pocket. It also gives the customer a sense that they are getting the work done by a trained professional rather than someone’s who’s taken a two-day vendor’s course and read a few books.”

Another key player has been GBS Communications Inc., an Ottawa company that specializes in integrated network cabling design and installation services. Today, three Ontario community colleges — Algonquin, Humber and Durham — offer Network Cabling Specialist courses. According to GBS co-owner, Sherman Su, industry standards in product specifications not withstanding, there was a lack of consistency in cabling services rendered by individual installers.

The course at Algonquin, which is located in Ottawa, last 19 weeks, while the course at Humber consists of 4,500 hours of trade school and on-the-job training. “The demand for skilled workers is growing at a rapid pace,” states a course outline from Toronto-based Humber. “This program prepares apprentices with a solid foundation in blueprint reading, designing and installing pathways, electronics, LAN systems and job safety.” Durham holds similar courses at its campus in Whitby, Ont.

All three are held in association with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ apprenticeship training program.

The key to it all in Ontario will be the soon-to-be released certification for qualification (CFQ) exam, which any installer would have to write in order to become certified. While Su sees that as a natural next step, what’s even more important, he says, is turning it into a national initiative. To that end, industry personnel in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. have expressed an interest in obtaining formal trade designation.

A natural ally in taking the initiative national could be BICSI, but to date there has been very little communication between the two sides apart from one meeting held several years ago. “I don’t know if we’ll ever work very closely with BICSI on this,” says Su. “There’s no animosity. A little bit of disappointment, but we’re in the mindset now where its (lack of involvement) is not going to hinder how we’re going to grow this program in Canada.”

Part of the problem could be the lack of BICSI licensed training centres across the country. There is only one and its run by Marchildon, a network engineer with Captel Inc. in Trois-Rivieres, Que., a telecommunications systems integrator.

In Quebec, he says, the structured cabling industry is going through an important phase where the government is being encouraged to make structured cabling a legal part of the construction industry. What that means is that independent installers would be required to join construction unions and pay their employees the going rate. “These installers are in a position where they have to prove their competencies and commitment to the industry or see the government waiver in favour of the construction,” says Marchildon.

He adds they face another dilemma in having to compete with larger installation firms who have aligned themselves with a specific cabling manufacturer. Their certification programs, he maintains, are really a means of building up a business. “In the structured cabling world, training has become part of the distribution process,” says Marchildon.

“We could say that an RCDD is a well recognized certification that has yet to become a ‘need to have’ in Canada. This could be said about any BICSI certification at this time.”

Still, as the work at the three Ontario colleges the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary proves, progress is being made. Three years ago, (SAIT) developed two classrooms for network cabling programs. One is designed specifically for fiber optic courses, while the second is used structured cabling and telecommunications courses.

Both were designed using BICSI’s guidelines for training and the objective is to simulate a TIA/EIA standards compliant environment so that students can gain the practical experience necessary in the industry.

There must be an economic advantage, real or perceived, to spending time and money on training and until that level is attained, the current system will prevail, says Marchildon. As part of its Telecommunications Distribution Fundamentals Program, Captel offers three introductory courses on voice/data cabling systems, LANs and Internetworks, and Customer-Owned Outside Plant (CO-OSP). Each course gives the attendee the right to apply for BICSI certification and write the exam.

“Training should not be exclusive to a manufacturer’s certification program,” says Marchildon. “Installers should be certified to install the systems of more than one, and ideally all manufacturers. This perfect world scenario is the ‘raison-d’etre’ of BICSI. Yet, it hasn’t been able to sell its training programs at a respectable level. There are close to 1,000 RCDDs in Canada and only one training centre.”

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