What Is a Fiber Tech Anyway? How many workers we need for current and future work

By Jim Hayes | Dec 11, 2023
The U.S. telecom business has been buzzing for almost two years over the billions of dollars being promised for expanding broadband to new areas of the country.

The U.S. telecom business has been buzzing for almost two years over the billions of dollars being promised for expanding broadband to new areas of the country. Included is funding for workforce development, because everyone assumes that all the projects will require more fiber techs.

That’s true, because contractors today complain that they can’t find the fiber techs they need. Last year, I was contacted by the state of California and asked to help find contractors to bid on a $3 billion middle-mile project. When I called some contractors that I thought might be interested, they all had the same answer: they were booked up and could not get the techs they needed for the current projects.

But some of the estimates of how many techs we needed were outrageous. One service provider was telling everyone they needed to hire 850,000 telecom techs. Another told a broadband meeting at the White House that the country needed 200,000 new fiber techs. Where did they get those numbers?

Job definition

How many fiber techs are there today? How big is the fiber optic workforce? How many techs work in telecommunications? To date, the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) has certified about 93,000 fiber techs, with slightly more than half of those in the United States—but we really don’t have a good way to estimate the total size of the workforce.

For most job categories, you can turn to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for data. The problem is that the job had been put into the same category as electrical lineworkers because it was decided that category was closest to a fiber installer.

The BLS contacted the FOA about 20 years ago for assistance defining the job descriptions. Over the years, we’ve helped them update the information and kept trying to get them to split the fiber category from the electrical one.

This year, I got a call from a BLS analyst tasked to update the category, which I assume is because of all the money allocated to broadband in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Again, our conversation included a discussion of the need for a separate job category, but this time we argued for a different focus.

Rather than just fiber, the category could include all telecommunications, fiber and wireless, and even legacy copper. I rewrote the current job descriptions as proposals for the new category. I even brought in other communications organizations to strengthen the proposal.

This time, the proposal met real interest. The BLS created a new category called “telecommunications technician” and the website was online on Sept. 6.

For the new website, the BLS was able to gather enough data to provide some guidance about the telecom workforce. They estimated there were about 300,000 telecom techs and 112,000 fiber techs, which seems reasonable.

How many do we need?

So how may more fiber techs do we really need? This year, these 112,000 current fiber techs have built hundreds of new data centers, thousands of miles of fiber optic cable plant and even connected 8 million homes on fiber optics, according to an industry group promoting fiber to the home.

I’ve done an exhaustive study of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, which is designed to connect underserved and unserved communities. While $40 billion sounds like a lot of money, that funding covers connecting about 10 million more homes and businesses on fiber over the next 5 years. That’s only 2 million additional homes per year.

If the current workforce can connect 8 million homes per year with fiber, how many more techs do we need to connect 10 million? Certainly not 850,000 or even 200,000, but maybe 10,000–20,000, which will cover the current shortage in workforce and provide for future growth.

My view of the workforce shortage is that it is more than numbers—it’s location. As fiber and telecom expands to unserved urban and rural areas, we need local techs to build new networks and then hang around to operate, expand and restore them when disaster strikes.

FOA has been helping state governments with this exact problem, adding local training at community and technical colleges, and even in high schools. The Electrical Training Alliance has also been contributing to this effort. Electrical apprentices get fiber training at over three dozen locals already, and more are adding programs. Programs like these can build the local workforce we need. / Zakhar Marunov

About The Author

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





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