Types of Fiber Optic Jobs
What is a fiber optic technician? What kinds of work do they do? Those topics were the center of FOA discussions with the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics that led to the new job category of "Telecommunications Technician" that will debut on the BLS website this month. The focus of this job category is primarily the installation and operation of the fiber optic cable plant, but one should not forget the cable plant must be designed also as part of a more extensive communications network.
In our discussion with the BLS analysts, we pointed out the various stages of a fiber optic communications network project and how techs with various knowledge and skill sets are needed and involved in every step. Here is how FOA defines these stages of a project and the skills of the techs. This is not unique to FOA; it's what has been traditional at telecom companies forever.
Planning and Design: Once needs for a communications network is established, project managers will be responsible for all the details of the project while experienced fiber techs trained and experienced in fiber optic network design (CFOS/D) will design the cable plant itself. (FOA Guide - Design)
Construction: Aerial cable plants may require installing new poles or doing make-ready on existing poles and messengers. Underground construction requires trenching and installation of ducts. In many cases the actual construction is done by general construction workers, as the construction work in many cases is not unique to fiber optics. Heavy machinery is required for much of the construction work and training is focused on safety as well as operating the machinery. (FOA Guide - Construction)
Fiber Optic Cable Installers: Once the route is prepared, the fiber optic cable can be installed. Aerial cable installation depends on the type of cable. Regular OSP cable, figure 8 cable and ADSS cable requires special hardware and installation techniques so the techs must understand the process appropriate for each cable. (FOA Guide - Installation)
Splicers: Since the beginning, fiber techs have been called "splicers" because that was the original job unique to fiber optics. Construction and cable installation was not very different from earlier copper cables, but splicing was very different. Even today, fiber techs are often called splicers and splicing is a core skill for any fiber tech whether they are joining cables or terminating them. (FOA Guide - Splicing)
Testers: After the fiber optic cable is installed and spliced, it must be tested. Testing goes together with splicing since every splice will be tested, often as soon as it is made so if it needs redoing, it should be done before the splice closure is sealed. (FOA Guide - Testing)
Network Operators: Once the cable plant is built and the communications equipment installed, it needs techs who know how to operate the comms but may only know how to connect new gear or change connections on current gear. These techs should also know how to troubleshoot systems in an outage and either do the restoration themselves or call a tech who can. (FOA Guide - Operation)
These categories merely define the stages of installation of a fiber optic project. Of course there are subsets of these categories and most fiber techs are expected to have skills and jobs that cross into multiple groups, as FOA has defined in the KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) for a CFOT.
What an individual worker does differs according to their job. An independent fiber contractor may cover every job except operation and a FTTH subscriber installation tech may only understand installing cables, testing and connecting equipment within the scope of FTTH systems. A construction company may handle the trenching and even pole setting as well as parts of the traditional fiber work.
The FOA defined its role early on to focus on educating and certifying techs in the fiber specific skills: cable installation, splicing, testing and restoration. FOA would like to see more schools get into the construction phase, especially for newer techniques like microtrenching and blowing cable, but these require large outdoor areas for training and large investments in equipment. Most techs who learn these processes now do it with OJT - on-the-job-training - and hopefully get OSHA training for safety.
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