Back in the early days of cable, installers often came from construction backgrounds, with experience in electrical or mechanical verticals. And they were able to easily learn how to connect cable in people’s homes. But things have changed.
These days, many cable installers are entry-level employees with little training or experience. And they’re expected to command a whole lot more technical knowledge, even though the pay hasn’t kept up with the skill-level demands.
The good news is that there is online training available for those operators that want to invest in their people or for individual installers who want to invest in their own education.
James MacGeorge has many years of experience running companies that provide contract installers for cable companies. His previous enterprises were sold to these bigger companies: Viasource Communications and Dycom Industries. Recently, MacGeorge launched a new endeavor, RTK Broadband.
"Training today is a lot different than it used to be," said MacGeorge. "It’s much more complicated. The retention the individual must have is a lot more."
Where installers used to just master the analog video hookup, today they are dealing with digital video, high-speed broadband and telephony. In addition, in-home telephone systems have become more complex; they must deal myriad Internet-capable devices; and sometimes they have to integrate with alarm systems.
But while the complexity level has gone up, the pay has not.
From comments on a CTChatter discussion about high installer turnover, it seems entry-level installers earn between $10 and $12 per hour, and the average pay goes up to about $15 per hour after a few years’ experience.
"The techs today are having a hard time making the same dollar amount as my techs back in the mid-Seventies," said MacGeorge. "Techs are making a living today, but that’s all it is. Back in the Seventies, these guys were capable of having their own businesses."
As far as training goes, RTK uses its own proprietary system. "Jones/NCTI and the SCTE manuals are excellent programs," said MacGeorge. "Our system doesn’t copy those, but it emulates."
Denver-based Jones/NCTI has trained cable installers for years, and this year the company announced a couple of new programs. In January, Jones announced its “BOLD” initiative to train high-school students to become cable installers. And in March, Jones introduced an Associate of Applied Science in Broadband Technology and Communication Degree through a partnership with Arapahoe Community College in Denver. (For more, click here and here).
After technicians get some training, they may want to seek certification in their various skills.
"Jones/NCTI has been a longtime training partner of SCTE," said Jennifer Logan, Jones’ marketing manager, adding it is a "collaborative effort between SCTE and Jones/NCTI for training and qualifying technicians and service representatives within the cable and broadband industry."
Pam Nobles, director of education and certification with the SCTE, added, "Courses taken through Jones/NCTI help prepare individuals to take certification exams. Jones/NCTI courses have an end-of-course exam. Although not ‘certification,’ some operators feel this is sufficient and do not promote SCTE certification."??
The SCTE’s eight certification programs are: Broadband Premises Installer (BPI); Broadband Premises Technician (BPT); Broadband Premises Expert (BPE); Broadband Distribution Specialist (BDS); Broadband Transport Specialist (BTS); Broadband TelecomCenter Specialist (BTCS); Digital Video Engineering Professional (DVEP); and Internet Protocol Engineering Professional (IPEP).
In August, Suddenlink Communications announced that all of its broadband technicians and installers who have been with the company for at least 90 days had attained one or more professional certifications from the SCTE.
"When we first launched ‘Careerlink’ in the summer of 2008, we relied on Jones/NCTI training programs to help our techs prepare for SCTE certification tests," said Pete Abel, a spokesman for Suddenlink. "Over time, we enhanced our internal training resources, allowing us to bring more SCTE preparatory training in-house. Today, we continue to rely on Jones/NCTI to assist technicians who cannot easily or regularly access our in-house training resources."
Joseph Murphy, senior technical learning consultant for Cox Orange County, said Jones is used for training tech employees at his system: "SCTE is right there with Jones. Go to Jones to get research material, then measure it with SCTE’s certification modules."
There are other organizations that provide training for cable technicians and installers. BICSI is a professional association supporting the information technology systems industry, covering voice, data, electronic safety, and audio and video technologies. The Consumer Electronics Association also offers training.
Allen Hassler, a headend technician at Armstrong Cable in Pennsylvania, said, "In the cable industry, you don’t get out of high school and go to cable college, (but) Armstrong has a tuition-reimbursement program."
Hassler has taken advantage of tuition reimbursement to take courses through Jones via its distance online program, earning his associate’s degree in broadband technology and communications.
"My ultimate goal is a four-year degree and possibly a move into management," he said.