Statewide association celebrates graduation of first Fiber Technician Apprenticeship Program

On April 21, five young men proudly accepted certificates of completion on their final day of the inaugural class of the Fiber Technician Apprenticeship Program, a joint effort among the Fiber Broadband Association, S&N Communications and the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.

“We appreciate the great partnership among the cooperatives, Fiber Broadband Association, VMDAEC and S&N Communications that has made this successful, and we look forward to watching these young technicians continue to excel,” says Andy Gibson, program instructor and vice president of design and fiber services for S&N Communications. “They all had great attitudes and applied themselves strongly.”

The FBA OpTIC Path certification was developed by the major stakeholders who created and grew the fiber industry. They saw a need for a qualified workforce to enable the unprecedented broadband funding and implementation to be successful. To help create a well-trained workforce to properly install and maintain the networks, a highly trusted and respected certification program was developed. The FBA OpTIC Path program has garnered nationwide and industry-wide acceptance. Several factors make this certification able to be trusted by network operators and employers, including specific relevance to needed skills, cross relevance between classroom knowledge and hands-on application, repetition and stacking of skills, and career-long learning and growth.

“We’re beginning to see state-by-state adoption by electric co-ops around the country, and VMDAEC members are leading the way,” says Mark Boxer, education committee and board member for the Fiber Broadband Association. “We appreciate your adoption of the course and certification and hope that as we look back in a few years, OpTIC Path will be a generally recognized and trusted credential around the industry.”

Students achieve OpTIC Path certification by completing 120 contact hours. In order to gear the course to working technicians, the course was paced across multiple sessions between February and April, rather than a single start-to-finish offering.

S&N Communications staff — known as industry experts — played a vital role in implementing the curriculum. Central Virginia Electric Cooperative President and CEO Gary Wood is more than familiar with their expertise and work ethic. The central Virginia-based construction contractor basically built the Firefly Fiber Broadband system over the past several years. “Your willingness to join in and lend your experience and knowledge to this industry is part of what separates you as a company,” says Wood of the S&N Communications team. “Most companies would not accept the chance to train new employees who might work for competitors or who might work for ISPs in-house that would then not need as much contracted assistance. Your willingness to help with this training shows your commitment to the long-term success of rural broadband, well beyond what is in it for S&N.

“Your selflessness has set a bar that we all should strive to meet as we work together to get each rural home and business the essential utility of broadband through the only technology that is proven to match the demand, fiber optics,” Wood continues. 

VMDAEC Vice President of Safety and Training Alan Scruggs is grateful for the partnerships formed to bring this program to fruition and is excited to build upon and move it forward. A second FTAP class is in planning stages for later this year.

–Report by Jim Robertson, Director of Marketing, VMDAEC