First BEAD money out! $30 million for workforce development
Robert Davis uses a fiber splicer in a classroom at South Louisiana Community College.
By Luc Picard
For the first time, community and technical colleges in Louisiana will offer broadband technician programs to help prepare workers and businesses for upcoming broadband construction projects.
More than 200,000 locations throughout the state will be connected to high-speed internet in the next few years; that puts a lot of pressure on our workforce. To ensure that broadband construction projects can be completed on-time and in a safe manner, the state allocated $30 million from broadband funding to the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to offer telecom certifications.
Robert Davis from DeRidder recently completed the Fiber Optic Technician program at South Louisiana Community College. He earned several credentials to help him find work in the industry.
“It comes with a handful of certifications,” Davis said. “Whatever a student’s alignment is with the course.”
Completion of the program takes just 20 weeks. Students earn every certification they would need, from a commercial driver’s license to the Certified Fiber Optic Technician certificate from The Fiber Optic Association. The majority of the certifications earned do not need to be renewed, with a few exceptions for some construction and first-aid certificates.
Davis found out about the program from a previous employer, and he jumped at the opportunity because of the way the certifications stand out when entering the workforce.
“There’s always a new guy on the job looking to get some hands-on experience,” he said. “A green hand is easy to come by, but someone who has a working knowledge of the tools, materials and stuff that would be required of the job is definitely an advantage.”
Click here to to see Robert Davis share his story during a press conference at Baton Rouge Community College.
SLCC fiber optic tech instructor David Lalonde said that telecom companies now have a more qualified pool of applicants who are ready to start work on day one.
“At one point the telecom industry was hiring anyone,” he said. “Now with training available, companies will have an option to interview potential workers with specialized credentials.”
Lalonde said that with the amount of projects to be completed throughout the state, getting work done right the first time is critical, and programs like the one at SLCC can help avoid issues and setbacks.
“Telecom companies can lose tens of thousands of dollars if the work is not performed properly,” he said. “With the training here at SLCC, telecom companies can see that the future employees have undergone training to assist with specific company training to maximize their skills and help with damage prevention.
With the state set to sign new grant agreements with internet service providers in early 2024, broadband projects will not slow down anytime soon, and Davis emphasized that there’s a lot of potential work in the industry right now.
“Fiber is growing tremendously; it’s blowing up,” he said. “And having these government grants, you know, like the GUMBO grant and the RDOF grant, I feel like it would be awesome to get into right now.”
Davis got a job with Altice USA and started work just a few days after his graduation last month. As a broadband technician he troubleshoots, installs and maintains cable systems for residential customers. He has a goal of becoming a networking technician in the future and says this position is a great stepping stone toward achieving that..
Lalonde said the Fiber Optic Technician program is growing rapidly, and SLCC is working to meet student requests for more hands-on time in the classroom.
“With broadband expansion comes a demand for specific tools and materials which were in backorder for most of the first class,” he said. “We have received a bunch of materials and tools since the end of the first class and are ready for the next to begin.”
Fiber optics training programs are offered at every community or technical college in Louisiana. Roughly 3,000 graduates are expected by 2025, with 5,000 estimated by 2027.
Click here to learn more about the Fiber Optic Technician program at SLCC.