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Training Issues

As the complexity of this industry grows, the need for well-run courses has never been greater.

October 1, 2003  

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The British Columbia Buildings Corp. (BCBC) is vigilant when it comes to on-the-job quality from network cabling professionals. The crown corporation, which is mandated with making sure government offices across the province meet ministry program needs, won’t let just anyone install structured cabling in a building it oversees.

All installers working on a B.C. government site must have successfully passed the structured cabling installation exam from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Even before the tools come out, contractors are required to submit a copy of their certificate with their bid submission.

In addition, any contractor must meet all requirements of the Workers’ Compensation Board, the Electrical Safety Act and any other applicable legislation.

Such concern about quality is one reason why the need for well-run installer training courses has never been greater. In Ontario, for example, provincial ministry of training, colleges and universities recently announced the availability of the Network Cabling Specialist Certificate of Qualification.

The exam, which has been available since April, consists of 100 questions divided among sections that range from planning and preparing for installation and the termination and splicing of cables to performing labeling, testing and documentation.

Before the exam is written, candidates must have 4,500 hours of on-the-job training and letters of references from employers or unions.

“It’s a fantastic way of doing it and ensures everyone has the same knowledge base in terms of building systems and fire and electrical codes,” says Walter Borges, program coordinator of the network cabling apprenticeship program at Humber College in Toronto.

“You’re going to have fully-trained and licensed people working with a network, which is the heart of business right now. It’s such a big responsibility that you need the right trade people to do this work.”In the past, he says, there have been incidents of “fly-by-night guys” walking into a building and causing havoc by not observing codes that are in place.

Across Canada, there are a number of other community colleges and technical schools offering network cabling specialist courses and the opportunity for installers to learn as much as in the classroom as they do on the job.

Among them is the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), which opened two classrooms for network cabling programs four years ago.

One is used specifically for fiber optic cabling training, while the other is used for structured cabling and telecommunications courses.

Designed using BICSI’s guidelines for training facilities, according to the school, the objective is simulate a TIA/EIA standards compliant environment so that students gain the practical experience necessary in industry.

The 162-hour program combines 72 hours each of fiber optic and copper-based systems and an additional 18 hours to develop project management skills.

SAIT maintains that there is a “need to provide” consistent technical training at a national standard to accommodate the many electrical, data and telecommunication installation and service companies.

In an interview late last year, Andrew Dagenais, the president of AD NetSolutions Ltd., an Edmonton consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning and telecommunications infrastructure design for commercial buildings, said 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 pointed 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.”

Allan Deveraux, a telecom and networking instructor for the past 15 years including the last five at SAIT, says it comes down to the more information an individual receives, the better off they will be.

The industry demand for trained network cable installers continues to match the growth set by the construction industry, the school says of its eight week cable installer Fast Track program.

Deveraux, an accredited registered engineering technologist who spent the bulk of his working career with the Canadian Forces Communication Command, says there is no question there are installers in the field that are inadequately trained.

“I’ve had students join the telecom course who have been installers,” he says. “Just as I get rolling after the first couple of weeks, they say, ‘ what are you talking about we never did that.’ I reply that they were supposed to.

“That tells me that some people involved in on-the-job training aren’t doing enough,” he says. “At SAIT, we’re giving them the information they need to go out and do a proper job.”