There’s Always More To Learn

Shutterstock/ Nizwa Design
Updating your fiber knowledge, skills and abilities

Shutterstock/ Nizwa Design
Published On
Feb 15, 2020

I like to think of training as updating your KSAs—knowledge, skills and abilities. I learned about KSAs many years ago from the NJATC’s apprenticeship programs.

When the Fiber Optics Association was started 25 years ago, we analyzed the jobs done by fiber optic technicians and determined the KSAs needed by competent techs to set the standards for FOA fiber optic certification. Our training included classroom lessons and hands-on labs. The FOA’s Certified Fiber Optic Technician certification exam tested knowledge. We left it to instructors to judge students’ abilities and decide whether they were adequate to develop the level of skill needed to be a successful fiber optic tech.

Graduates that pass a certification exam are not experts. We like to point out that after certification, they are ready for on-the-job training. It takes work experience to develop basic knowledge and skills and become a competent tech. That’s right—practice makes perfect.

In a field such as fiber optics, where new technologies and products are being developed all the time, a tech needs to stay up to date. Fiber techs installing and terminating premises cables 25 years ago were gluing connectors on fiber ends and polishing them. A decade later, they were probably cleaving fiber and installing factory-terminated connectors with mechanical splices inside the connector. Today, they are probably using a fusion splicer to install splice-on connectors.

Outside plant techs splicing cables in the past were splicing individual fibers. Today they are probably fusion splicing ribbons of fiber in a fraction of the time, which is often necessary because many fiber optic cables have a lot more fibers in each cable.

Experienced techs are good at mastering new tools and techniques, and learning by doing is their preferred method. Give them a new tool and they can watch a video or two, read about it online, (maybe even read the manual), and then try it themselves. Usually, after a few attempts, it’s just a matter of spending time polishing their technique.

Sometimes, it helps to have a manufacturer’s field representative demonstrate the product or give a short lesson. Manufacturers usually have application customer service call centers that can talk users through problems. Conversations with applications engineers can also help pinpoint trouble spots or help improve techniques.

At FOA, we have even been experimenting with a “basic skills lab” online course. Generally, online courses are limited to learning the knowledge part of the KSAs, but given some online instruction, many techs can teach themselves how to use their own equipment or learn new techniques.

The first few times on a new job, you need training or someone to help you. Microtrenching and blowing cables or ribbon splicing are specialized enough and require expensive equipment, so taking a manufacturer’s course is a good investment. Often, companies will rent  out the equipment and send an experienced tech along to demonstrate how to use it for first jobs.

Besides learning new things, it can be valuable to take a refresher course on things you have not done for a while. If you have not used that fusion splicer, OTDR or cable certifier in the last few months, it’s a good idea to grab it off the shelf and spend some time relearning how it works before you take it into the field. It’s a lot more efficient doing this in your office, where you have access to manuals, your computer and other equipment, than trying to figure it out at a customer site. Besides, during this time, you can ensure it is working properly, has all the needed accessories and is fully charged.

Bookmark sites you might need for assistance on the job, such as where to download manuals, videos instructing use of equipment and contacts at manufacturers for applications assistance.

In my office at home, I have a bumper sticker that says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Need I say more?

About the Author

Jim Hayes

Fiber Optics Columnist and Contributing Editor

Jim Hayes is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at

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