As technology becomes more complex and embedded in all aspects of society, so does demand for Building Industry Consultation Services International (BICSI) training. No one knows this better than Marty McRae, a certified BICSI technician and BICSI training instructor with the NECA/IBEW Local Union 26 Joint Apprenticeship Training Center (JATC) in Lanham, Md.
“The Washington, D.C., area has a lot of data centers,” McRae said, who became a full-time instructor in 2012. “With so many government agencies needing reliable transmission and storage of data to function, the federal government requires BICSI certifications to work in government facilities.”
With this year’s rollout of 5G, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, the region’s public transit agency, is in the process of upgrading its telecommunications system. Both circumstances have fueled local labor demand for BICSI-certified telecommunications technicians.
BICSI, a professional association with more than 26,000 members and credential holders, supports the advancing information and communications technology (ICT) in nearly 100 countries.
ICT includes voice/data/audio/video technologies; electronic safety and security; telecommunications project management; design, integration and installation of telecommunications distributions; fiber- and copper-based distribution systems and infrastructure; commercial transportation of information and data; wireless networks; data center design; and outside plant cabling.
In the last 10 years, ICT has evolved at a breakneck pace all over the world, McRae said. “Demand for BICSI-certified telecommunications technicians is so high, many can command full journeymen wages,” he said.
Factors driving demand include the move from larger, cloud-based storage to localized data storage that affords more rapid transmission of data, the arrival of 5G and 5G data centers, growing use of radio frequency identification and audiovisual technology for remote communications, reliance on distributed antenna systems to boost cell phone signals and the need to integrate building functions— from HVAC and security access to lighting controls and more.
Across the United States, municipal, county and state governments have begun to stipulate BICSI training as a requirement to bid for public contracts, McRae said.
“What makes it so important for the nation’s capital and for many places are BICSI’s international standards.”
Those standards include the Telecommunications Industry Association, American National Standards Institute, National Electrical Code and International Organization for Standardization.
There are 65 BICSI-authorized training facilities (ATFs) operating in 23 states. Texas tops the list with 11, followed by Ohio with 9 and Indiana with 6. Not all are affiliated with IBEW or NECA. For example, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas in Austin operates its own ATF. Still, the group includes 23 JATCs in addition to JATC 26.
About 20 years ago, JATC 26 established a hands-on lab that meets BICSI standards as an ATF. Upgraded annually, it creates a low-voltage work setting with patch panels, cameras, closed-circuit television monitors, security panels, data switches and fiber optic termination stations for pulling, terminating and testing category cable up to level 8.
BICSI training is standard for second- and third-year apprentices. Night classes accommodate up to 16 telecommunications technicians already working in the field per semester. JATC 26 also offers summer classes.
With so many different manufacturers creating technology for the ICT field, BICSI instruction pushes universal principals, but there are opportunities to work with products from manufacturers that donate materials, McRae said, who holds certifications for installing Belden, CommScope, Corning, Amp, Ortronics and Zenitel products.
“A lot of people in the electrical field are trained to do the work, but they don’t necessarily understand why they do the work,” McRae said. “If they’re working with a category cable, they may be told to only untwist this much cable, but they won’t know why. BICSI training helps them understand the why behind what they are doing. Having that understanding helps them solve problems in the field and better understand how systems work.”
Course material is challenging, McRae said. “Only about 50% of people enrolled in the program pass the final exam on the first attempt.” They can retest.
To maintain certification, BICSI requires 18 continuing education credits every three years. Credits take the form of classes offered by product manufacturers. JATC 26 offers an access control class that also fulfills the requirement.
“NECA contractors are very invested in this training,” McRae said. “On contract bids, one of the first things you see is a requirement for BICSI-trained technicians. If you don’t have them, you’re out of the game.”