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Creating an OJT Program for Your Employees

By Jim Hayes | Mar 1, 2023
Fiber U skills lab | Jim Hayes
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In “How Do You Train?”, my column in the September 2021 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, I discussed how most fiber techs learn through on-the-job-training (OJT), but that learning can be hit-or-miss. This article is designed to help guide the manager or supervisor to create a program that will be more hit than miss and provide feedback on how the employee is progressing in their training.

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In “How Do You Train?”, my column in the September 2021 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, I discussed how most fiber techs learn through on-the-job-training (OJT), but that learning can be hit-or-miss. This article is designed to help guide the manager or supervisor to create a program that will be more hit than miss and provide feedback on how the employee is progressing in their training.

During the early days of the pandemic, when most training organizations had cancelled all in-person classes, the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) developed a structured OJT program with some contractors to provide the training their employees needed but could not get in a formal class. Like all OJT programs, it combined learning on the job overseen by supervisors with online self-study programs.

The FOA program added another incentive for completing the course: allowing workers to become FOA-certified when they had completed all the required tasks.

OJT at work: Learning to pull cables, becoming a splicer and OJT can be a family affair—the father training his sons to join him in the business. | Jim Hayes

OJT at work: Learning to pull cables, becoming a splicer and OJT can be a family affair—the father training his sons to join him in the business. | Jim Hayes

Starting OJT

So, let’s get started. You don’t have to take notes. Just bookmark this page for reference—it can be your structured OJT program. I’ll assume you have new or relatively new employees you want to become skilled techs as soon as possible. 

To begin, every tech needs some basic knowledge of fiber optics. Novices are generally not familiar with the basics. Even if your employees are more experienced installers, if they have not taken a certification class, they should start here, too.

Every Fiber U course has quizzes at the end of each lesson, just to let the person taking the course check their understanding. Each quiz gives feedback so the learner knows what questions they missed and what the correct answer is. That quiz is just for them, although some instructors and supervisors have them print their quizzes to show they have finished the lesson.

We start with the Fiber U Basic Fiber Optics Course. It is 10 lessons about fiber optic communications, the unique components and how they are installed and tested. This online course will take 10–20 hours, depending on the individual.

After completing this basic course, even novices will know the fiber optic jargon, recognize types of cables and connectors and understand installation practices and testing. But all that is on a theoretical basis.

Developing hands-on skills 

Hands-on work with fiber optic installation on the job is the best way to learn the skills a fiber optic tech needs, but it’s important to learn the correct way. Supervisors provide much of that training, and sometimes manufacturers send field techs out to help train techs when a company buys a new piece of equipment. 

But you can also prepare for learning skills online at Fiber U with the Fiber Optic Skills Lab. This online course assumes that the company has equipment the tech can use for practice. The course’s lessons cover tools and equipment, cables, splicing, termination and testing using a variety of step-by-step lessons and videos. Each lesson takes a couple of hours online and practice time with the equipment. And, of course, a supervisor should monitor the work with the equipment to ensure it is being used properly.

The Fiber Optic Skills Lab should also be supplemented by the online resources available from manufacturers. Practically every manufacturer today has online videos and other learning aids to help users get the most from their equipment.

These lessons do not need to be taken in any order. For OJT, the tech should take the lessons covering their current work, not necessarily in the sequence used in the online course. But after some time on the job, they should complete all the lessons to become fully aware of the scope of fiber optic installation work.

How about pulling cables?

The skills labs above mainly cover the splicing, termination and testing of the fiber optic cable plant, but of course the cable must first be installed. In many companies, the crew that installs the cables is different than the crew that does the splicing, etc., but in some small companies the techs do everything.

Learning to pull cable | Jim Hayes

Learning to pull cable | Jim Hayes

If the techs are going to be installing outside plant cables, they need to understand the different processes used for underground and aerial construction. Fiber U has a course for that: outside plant (OSP) construction. Besides covering underground and aerial cable installation, it also has a lesson on project preparation and guidelines, which is perhaps a good lesson for the managers and supervisors also.

Remember, OSP installation techs need thorough safety training, usually starting with OSHA 10 and 30 courses, also available online.

For premises fiber optic cable installation, it is similar to all cabling installed inside buildings, so the installation lesson in the Fiber U Premises Cabling course covers both.

Certificates and certifications

At the end of a Fiber U course there is an option to take a test for a “Fiber U Certificate of Completion” at a small cost. This shows the person has successfully completed the entire course, which we recommend for the Basic Fiber Optics Course, not just to show they have completed the course and learned from the lessons, but it can prepare them to apply to the FOA to take the FOA CFOT certification exam, an industry-recognized certification.

OJT for experienced techs

Every fiber tech needs to keep learning to not fall behind. Fiber optic technology is always changing, and new applications, products and techniques are being introduced continuously. I was recently talking with a contractor who just recently discovered microtrenching and blowing in microcables, which he said saved more than 50% in cost in a recent application.

Fiber U offers more than two dozen free courses, including lots of microcourses that take less than an hour, aimed at keeping techs’ knowledge up-to-date on new and important topics.

About The Author

HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of the Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.

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